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Three Reasons to Measure Your Pet’s Food

First published in OKC PETS MAGAZINE May/June issue 2019

It was a warm day in a small suburb of Dallas. As I walked up the sidewalk to Jim and Natalie’s house, I heard dogs running, barking, and alerting to warn the surrounding neighborhood of the big, scary man that was approaching. As soon as I walked through the door, Jefferson, a 6 year old collie mix, jumped up on me, showering me with love as Fletcher, a 13 year old beagle, flopped to the ground to catch his breath.

I met and worked with Fletcher during one of the episodes in Season One of “My Big Fat Pet Makeover” on Animal Planet. Fletcher weighed in at a whopping 50 lbs. Based on his breed and body measurements, he should have weighed closer to 36 pounds. Fletcher lived with his brother, Jefferson, a super fit and active collie mix. Fletcher’s parents had very busy lives, so it was hard for them to keep track of when the dogs had been fed. This lack of structure and guilt over being so busy led to multiple feedings, a lack of supervision, and an abundance of treats and snacks.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs in America are classified as overweight or obese. That equates to 55 million cats and 56 million dogs. When humans are overweight, there is typically a medical issue or the humans are choosing to eat more calories than they burn. When it comes to pets, it’s not much different. There is either a medical issue or the pets’ owners are giving them more than food than they need.

How can you tell if your pet is overweight or obese? You can always consult your veterinarian. Another thing you can do is a simple “do it yourself” test. If you stand over your dog or cat, determine if their body resembles the shape of an hourglass. The abdomen should be narrower than the chest and hips. They should have ribs that are not easily visible but are easily felt when you gently run your hands across their side.

Measuring your pet’s food is the best way to prevent obesity. There are three important reasons to measure your pet’s food.

Reason #1

The first and most important reason is to prevent your pet from becoming a statistic. Obese pets can have health issues like osteoarthritis, skin disorders, kidney disease, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer. Luckily Fletcher didn’t have any underlying medical issues so a lifestyle change was the only thing on the menu.

Jim and Natalie had very busy, opposite schedules. Natalie worked in real estate and was in and out of the house throughout the day. Jim worked in television production, so his schedule could be in 8-10 hour blocks any time of the day. In the evenings, Natalie put food in the dog bowls. Jefferson ate in the bedroom and Fletcher’s bowl was in the kitchen. Natalie filled the bowls, grabbed her bag, and went to work. Soon after, Jim would come home and repeat the same process. There was no way for Jim to know if the dogs had been fed, as they acted like they hadn’t eaten in days.

Once we determined the exact amount of food Fletcher needed to start his weight loss journey, we incorporated a food chart checklist. This allowed Jim and Natalie to communicate even when they didn’t see each other at home. It was a simple, magnetic chart with words, “Did you feed the dogs?” printed on it. They could twist a knob to “yes” or “no.” Right away, this practice began to make a difference.

Reason #2

The second reason to measure your pet’s food is for mental and physical enrichment. A pet that is being offered a daily buffet of food and treats has limited motivation to “hunt” for things. They simply will not have the drive to do some of the things other pets will. Many of my clients mention that after eating their pets are so happy, they go lay down and don’t move for hours. You know when I feel that way? Usually on Super Bowl Sunday after I gorge myself with hot wings, chips and queso. I’m usually not in a “happy” state of mind. More of a gluttonous zone. Do you get my drift?

At one point Jim and Natalie mentioned that sometimes it was easier to leave the food in the bowl after the dogs finished eating, leading to a “free feeding” system. I asked them what it would it be like if people grazed on food all day long? We would all be lazy and of shape. It’s no different for our pets. Some of you reading this article might be “free feeders” and are starting to get defensive before you’ve finished this sentence. To you I say, all dogs are different. Certain breeds and metabolisms respond differently to various feeding methods. If you free feed your pet and your vet has assured you that your pet is the ideal weight for their breed and body measurements, then free feeding works for you. But for the rest of America, over half the pets in the US to be exact, this is a huge issue. If you measure your pet’s food to the correct amount of calories per day, you will be adding years to your pet’s life. A healthy pet will live up to two years longer than an obese pet.

Reason #3

The third reason for measuring your pet’s food is that it saves money! Yes, that’s right! You can save hundreds of dollars a year if you simply measure the food. Pet food manufacturers give you a range for the estimated portions. For instance, a bag might read, for dogs 5-15lbs, feed 1/4-1 cup. That’s a huge difference. Especially if you are using a scoop or a “Big Gulp” cup for measuring. When it recommends “a cup” it is literally referring to a measuring cup. Even then, it’s not taking into account the number of calories per cup. These estimated feeding guidelines are also not taking into consideration treats, chews, bones or any snack you might be giving your pet. Remember, the more food you feed your pet, the more money the pet food company makes. It’s a pretty simple business model. I wish they were all genuinely interested in our pets health, but more often than not, it is about profits.

If you have more than one pet, consider this. Jim and Natalie knew that Fletcher was eating Jefferson’s food as well as his own. To try to solve this problem, they fed their dogs in separate rooms. This proved fruitless, however, because as soon as Fletcher scarfed down his portion, he headed directly to the other room where he would force Jefferson away from his bowl and help himself to whatever was left. When one dog claims a housemates food, they are asserting their dominance over that other dog and claiming the food, bowl, and space as their own. By measuring the food, making your pets wait before they approach the bowls, and supervising meal time, you can regain control and prevent bad habits before they begin. Better yet, use their food to reinforce basic obedience commands. Pets need to be working, it’s what drives them.

This is the approach I took with Fletcher’s family:

First, we eliminated any medical issues. Then we figured out exactly what Fletcher and Jefferson required for their daily portions. We put each of their meals into a container, along with their treats for the day. When that container was gone, the kitchen was closed. We increased their exercise to three, 20 minute walks a day, and increased to 40 minute walks over the next four weeks. In six months, Fletcher lost 12lbs total! Now Fletcher is a spunky, 13-year-old beagle who is expected to live up to two years longer than he would have if he had stayed overweight.

“Fletcher is still slim and trim with a ton of energy! It’s awesome… he runs more than he ever has!” says Natalie.

Measuring your dog’s food has more benefits than you might have imagined.