Inspiration for addressing weight issues in dogs
Overweight pets are on the rise and more than a third of our beloved dogs are now classed as overweight or obese. However, it can be difficult to recognise if your dog is the correct weight when you see them on a daily basis and when our perception of what is normal is skewed. At our in-house vet practice Vet’s Klinic, we see overweight animals on a daily basis. With the busy lives we all lead, many owners think it’s down to a lack of exercise but yet studies have shown that exercise plays a much smaller part than thought in keeping humans and pets trim… it’s all down to what we eat and how much we eat. Recognising that diet is the main culprit inspired us to produce a lower calorie version of our most popular adult food, Light Chicken and Brown Rice.
Knowledge and Expertise – What being overweight means to a dog?
Why is there such a focus on trying to keep pets’ slim? It’s because there are so many illnesses linked to being overweight including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. On top of this, studies have shown that being overweight can reduce your dog’s lifespan by up to 2 years.
Being overweight is not just a case of overeating as every dog is different. Some breeds are more obese prone than others and with other dogs weight gain can be a result of an illness or a side-effect of medication given to treat an illness. Exercise can make a difference but ultimately the amount of calories usually has to be adjusted to aid weight loss.
Unfortunately, dieting is not always as easy as simply eating the same things but cutting down the volume. By reducing the amount you are offering your dog this can leave them hungry (which may then lead to unwanted behaviours such as scavenging and stealing food) and severe restrictions in food may reduce the calories but could lead to deficiencies in other nutrients. What’s more, rapid weight loss can be dangerous and a steady rate is preferred and has shown to keep the weight off the pet long term.
Research and creating a lower calorie formulation for dog’s food
We knew that we needed to research ingredients that would help create a lower calorie formulation, promote weight loss and help dogs to feel more satisfied…
Traditionally, lower energy diets contained less protein and fat in a bid to reduce the calorie content. However, research has shown that increasing the amount of protein in a diet, often at the same time as reducing the level of carbohydrate can have beneficial effects on weight loss. Protein helps dogs and cats (and humans) to feel fuller and more satisfied. However, it also has other benefits. Protein has a much higher ‘thermic effect’ than fat or carbohydrate. A thermic effect is the amount of calories burnt (for digestion, absorption and storage of nutrients) after eating. In simple terms it means that the body uses more energy (and therefore calories) to digest and absorb protein than it does to digest fat or carbohydrate.
Fibre and water have also been indicated as nutrients that can help promote that feeling of satisfaction. Soaking dry food or feeding a wet food can help our pets feel fuller simply because the stomach has been filled with liquid.
There are different types of fibre and both soluble and insoluble can be useful. Fibre can be an important nutrient for weight loss and as such the fibre level is usually increased in light or weight control diets. Like protein, fibre – particularly the soluble type can provide that satiety effect (feeling of fullness) whereas insoluble fibre is poorly digestible, which means the overall diet will have a lower calorie density. The downside is that it can cause your pet to produce larger stools and it may cause gastrointestinal upset (loose stools) in some pets.
L-Carntine is the bioavailable form (ready to use by the body) of the amino acid carnitine. L-Carnitine helps to transport fats to cell structures called mitochondria where the fat is metabolised into energy. Several studies in dogs and cats show that diets supplemented with L-Carnitine can increase the rate of weight loss and amount of weight lost when compared with similar low fat diets that are not supplemented with L-Carnitine.
Formulation - The ideal balance of nutrients to help dogs slim down
Based on the information we found when researching weight loss diets, we started to formulate the ideal balance of nutrients to help dogs slim down. Protein levels were kept the same as for a normal, adult dog but fat levels were reduced. Although fat provides the most calories per gram of food (compared to protein and carbohydrate) some fat in the diet is necessary as they are not all bad – for example there are vitamins that require fat before they can be properly absorbed.
There are so many illnesses linked to being overweight including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
Like our adult Chicken & Brown Rice formulation, we used chicken as the main protein source as it is highly digestible and tolerated by most dogs and we used brown rice as a gluten free source of complex carbohydrates. Along with oats, the brown rice in our light diet provides a good source of dietary fibre as well as energy, vitamins and minerals. Pet owners with an eye for detail will notice though that in our Light diet the brown rice is the first ingredient, instead of the second ingredient in the adult food. This slight reduction in chicken and increase in rice helps to increase the overall fibre level, whilst reducing the fat.
Like our adult diets, aside from the changes in fat and fibre levels in the Light diet and the addition of L-Carnitine we have formulated this to be suitable not just for pets trying to lose weight but as an all-round complete food that will benefit healthy adults trying to maintain a lean body condition. It therefore, still contains all the ingredients to promote the health of the whole body; beta glucans and nucleotides for the immune system, prebiotics to help keep the gut healthy, supplements to maintain healthy joints and antioxidants to help protect the body against wear and tear. (going to talk about this in the puppy article). It’s still suitable for sensitive dogs as it is hypoallergenic and made without chemical preservatives, flavourings or colours.
Anyone who has been on a diet knows that in order to stick with a diet regime, the food also needs to be tasty! We only ever use willing volunteers– usually staff pets or client pets from Vet’s Klinic to try our food and determine if it gets ‘Paws-Up approval’, only then does a new recipe get approved for production. If you are interested in how taste testing works, we’ve written a handy guide to explain.
Why not read more about our Light diet and the dogs it has helped.
We are proud to use real pets on the front of our packaging. We call these our brand ambassadors because not only do they eat the food, it has made a difference to their long term health too. The cover star of our Light diet is Saxon.
Here’s Saxon’s story:
“Since we started him on Vet's Kitchen Light, Saxon has lost weight and he seems much more satisfied and less hungry. He is also really happy and energetic, and his coat seems to have been revitalised and is much softer than it used to be.” MARK WETTON.
M. Chandler, DVM, MS, MACVS, DACVN, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, MRCVS (2014) Obesity in Companion animals part two – prevention methods
R, J, Silver, DVM, MS, CVA. Animal Wellness Magazine, 3 effective supplements for weight loss
Laflamme, DVM, PhD (2006) Understanding and Managing Obesity in Dogs and Cats
Roudebush, et al (2008) An evidence-based review of the use of nutraceuticals and dietary supplementation for the management of obese and overweight pets, JAVMA, Vol 232, No 11.
Adams, Watson, Carmichael, Gerry, Penell, Morgan. Exceptional longevity and potential determinants of successful ageing in a cohort of 39 Labrador retrievers: results of a prospective longitudinal study. Acta Vet Scand. 2016 May 11;58(1):29.
Kealy, Lawler, Ballam, Mantz, Biery, Greeley, Lust, Segre, Smith, Stowe,. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association May 1, 2002, Vol. 220, No. 9, Pages 1315-1320