In this video Dr. Karen Becker debunks the myth of low fat pet diets and explains why your pet might be gaining weight not losing it.
Today I want to discuss commercial low fat diets for dogs and cats and the reasons they rarely work in helping your pet lose weight.
The pet obesity problem in the U.S. is very similar to the overweight and obesity trend in people. Pets, like their owners, are getting fatter and fatter.
Most owners of a too-heavy dog or cat know their animal has a weight problem and want to do something about it. But thanks to common misperceptions about low fat diets coupled with ill-conceived veterinary recommendations, owners of overweight pets are getting bad advice about how to slim down their dog or cat.
The low fat craze has gone a little crazy overall – not only for humans but also in the veterinary community. Many veterinarians have bought into the hip-and-trendy low fat pet diet fad.
Unfortunately, the formulation of most low fat diets for pets is based on a completely flawed premise about the biological requirements of companion animals.
Why Your Dog or Cat Might Be Gaining Weight on a Diet
If you're looking at low fat commercial diets to help your overweight pet slim down, the first thing you should know is that a pet food formula that is "low fat" is automatically "high carb."
The carbs added to commercial pet foods are starches like corn, wheat, rice, potato and oatmeal. And although these starches are low in fat, they are high in calories. Excess calories, unless they're burned away, will be stored by your pet's body as fat.
The bottom line is even if a pet food is labeled low in fat, if it's high in carbs and therefore calories, and your pet isn't moving around enough to burn off all that extra fuel, it will be stored as fat.
This is how low fat diets can actually cause weight gain in your pet. It's terribly frustrating.
Is Your Pet Protein Deprived?
More important to me than the fatally flawed high carb premise of low fat pet diets is the fact that these formulas do not supply your dog or cat with species-appropriate nutrition.
Cramming processed food full of carbohydrates means something must be displaced – and that something is protein.
Many low fat diet blends are 80 percent carbs and 20 percent protein. Some even contain a 90 percent carb-to-10 percent protein ratio. These diets are protein deficient! Ten or even 20 percent protein is simply not enough for your carnivorous dog or cat.
Carnivores are designed by nature with a high protein requirement. Protein is the essential fuel required by your cat's or dog's body.
When your pet is protein-deprived, eventually he will become symptomatic of an animal with serious nutritional deficiency. Symptoms can include:
- Continued weight gain
- Flakey skin and nails
- Dry, dull, brittle coat with patchy hair loss
- Poor muscle tone
Too Much Fiber is NOT Good for Dogs and Cats
Another concern I have with low fat, higher carb pet diets is that they often contain an enormous amount of fiber.
The theory behind adding fiber is that it makes pets feel full. However, your dog's or cat's natural, appropriate fiber consumption is nowhere near the levels found in these pet foods -- up to 40 percent in many cases.
All that fiber not only causes your pet to poop excessively, it can also block absorption of healthy nutrients into the small intestine. Too much fiber acts as a mechanical barrier, preventing trace minerals, vitamins and antioxidants from getting to and through the walls of your pet's gastrointestinal tract.
Fiber may make your pet feel temporarily full, but he's not being satiated at the cellular level where it really counts. Chronic deprivation of nutrients to the cells can result in feelings of constant hunger. This is because your carnivorous dog or cat isn't getting enough protein to adequately sustain his biology.
And if his constant hunger keeps you shoveling more low fat food at him (because, after all, the label on the bag says you can feed three or four times more of the stuff than a higher protein food), what you'll wind up with is a still-fat or even fatter pet that is over fed but under nourished.
Next to water, protein is the most important nutrient for your dog or cat. Every cell of your pet's body requires protein and when he doesn't get enough of this essential nutrient, a host of negative side effects can occur.
Tips for Helping Your Pet Lose Weight
Practice portion control. Remember that regardless of her weight, your pet still needs a diet high in protein. Translation: feed your dog or cat a high protein, low carb diet and moderate the portions to control the amount of calories she's consuming. Obviously, you can't serve an all-day, all-you-can-eat buffet to an overweight pet.
Exercise your pet. An overweight body slims down by moving more and eating less. So along with calorie restriction through portion control, it's also really important that you set up a good exercise program for your dog or cat. Daily aerobic activity is one of the best ways to build muscle tone, and muscle tone decreases the amount of fat that your pet carries around. Muscle mass also increases metabolism, which helps burn calories.
Minimize those treats. You can still give your pet treats, but make them protein-based and feed very small amounts at scheduled times throughout the day. Make sure to include the calories in treats as part of your portion control plan.
In managing your pet's weight, you want to keep her satiated at a cellular level with a high protein diet, while practicing strict portion control to get her down to a healthy size.