Psychological and Behavioral Modification
                You guessed it…this is your section

Owner mis-perception of an obese dog’s BCS presents a major obstacle in weight management. Owner underestimation of a dog’s BCS was nearly 20 times more common in dogs that were obese than in normal or underweight dogs. Parents consistently fail to recognize (or acknowledge) obesity.

Animals can have psychological fixations on food like people, but they can’t get the food themselves.  E.g. My lab

If they could I’m pretty sure they’d want to forget their worries like we do by enjoying the pleasure of eating (and ideally not what comes out of a processed bag)

Fat cats are probably our best example of excess eating out of boredom because many owners give food ‘ad-lib’.  They usually get their bowls filled twice daily and they may or may not eat it all.

Often cats will eat so much that they vomit their food after eating because they ate too fast or simply didn’t need the food. These cats are often in overweight to obese condition.

Dogs that get table food will eat the table food regardless if they need the food or not.  The taste as we know is ‘light years’ better than the regular food we give them.

So how can we help?

We have to change our psychology and modify our behavior in regards to our feeding and exercise ideas. 


1. Being overweight or obese is a serious problem.   e.g.   Childhood obesity in the USA is a huge problem. One mother got charged for abusing her child and her child was put into foster care because she overfed her to the extreme. By not regulating and feeding our children properly, are we not abusing them when studies show it leads to chronic health issues, social inadequacies, mobility issues, etc. and decreased life expectancy?   How are our pets in our care different?

2. We don’t have to give lots of treats, leftovers and bottomless food dishes of high quality food in order to show them we love them.  As was indicated earlier there are so many other ways to show our love and spend time with our pets.

 3. Food is not a substitute for the active lifestyle and        personal attention we don’t have time to give our pets. It actually makes it worse in the long run leading to ill thrift, mobility problems, skeletal problems, immunity and disease issues, some cancers, and decreased life span by 2 years on average.

 4. Extra treats, table scraps, high calorie dog chews are not   healthy for dogs or cats.  They throw off the balance of the food being fed. However, human food alone can be fed to dogs if it’s properly balanced  and fed in moderation to the proper weight, and avoiding high caloric foods (vitamin/mineral supplements recommended). This is not true in cats (they have much stricter requirements.

5.Treats are used in initial training only. They are only used until the dog (or cat) learns the behavior then they are discontinued or used only intermittently to maintain a learned behavior long term. A very small treat to a pet is psychologically identical to a large treat in pets

6. A pet’s happiness and calm submissive behavior depends on a regular active life with a lot of exercise, rules, boundaries and limitations (even cats to an extent), regulated quantities of quality balanced food to maintain ideal body weight and a loving kind human household that cares to provide the aforementioned.

          Behavioral Modification

This will be critically important if this weight loss program is to succeed.

This will need to be present throughout the weight loss program and then after ideal weight is achieved. It has been noted that approximately 50% of dogs that successfully lose weight rebound afterward and regain the lost weight.

This rebound effect’ is due to long standing beliefs, old behaviors in regards to the feeding and exercising of the pet, conflict, lack of uniformity and concern among family members.

Once ideal weight is achieved it’s key to monitor the weight weekly and food adjusted accordingly. It will help to feed a diet for weight management to help prevent weight gain after the target weight is reached.      

What Behaviors can I adopt?

  • Enrich your pet’s activity and enjoyment level by creating a schedule for your pet.  (Based on life enrichment, psychological issues and exercise ideas. Make Exercise Fun!)
  •  Until your pet has reached ideal body weight all family members must be on board with the understanding not to give any dog treats and human food. 
  •  During weight loss, and once targets are achieved all pet or human treats must be given in very small proportions if at all.  It could be win-win, but the size and type of treat must be selected carefully!
  • All foods including treats should be placed in the pets bowl and not given directly.   (This should reduce successful begging as there is increased effort to put it in the bowl)
  • Your pet should be kept away from areas where food is prepared, or where humans are eating. (This helps psychologically for the pet and the human. This decreases temptation.)
  • Pets should be shown love with non-food related affection. (Don’t give food treats for beauty)
  • Substitute exercise and play for praising good behavior instead of a food treat. Counter condition by redirecting the begging behavior to performing a command (down, stay, etc) and praise that good behavior with affection and attention.
  • Weigh your pet on a weekly basis if not more frequently and a graph should be kept until 6 months after ideal target weight is achieved, then weigh-ins can be done every 2-4 weeks indefinitely
  • Purchase a gram scale to weigh the food and keep the kilocalories down to a level that maintains ideal weight.  The approximation of ‘# of cups’ is far too inaccurate and leads to inconsistency in quantity fed to pets. We need to base our feeding on the actual kilocalories /grams of the diet fed.
  • Enroll your pet in a weight loss program with one of our technicians.  They will take personal efforts and ownership in helping you to reach your pet’s goal of ideal body weight and a healthy lifestyle.
  • Veterinary visits should be done twice yearly long-term to review on going weight issues and keep on top of early changes in life style to avoid the ‘rebound’ effect. Recheck visits scheduled at 2-3 months and at 6 months after starting a weight loss program are recommended.
  • You should enroll in the ‘rebound’ program with the technician who was responsible for the success of the weight loss program  in order to prevent the early ‘rebound effect’ that occurs in approximately 50% of successful dogs.  You need to be very careful at this time period.               

 Pharmaceutical Agents

       2 drugs now approved for obesity control in dogs

                    1. Dirlotapide (see client only section for details)

                    2. Mitratapide (licensed in Europe only)

Both block the assembly and release of lipoprotein particles in the blood stream. (microsomal triglyceride transfer protein inhibitors)

Human obesity researchers have used drugs that either are intestinal lipase inhibitors or drugs that inhibit the reuptake of the hormones noradrenalin and serotonin and have found in general a modest benefit:

  • Increased weight loss by 4-6 kg over diet alone.
  • Maintain weight loss by 2-15kg below a baseline level
  • A range of side effects are seen with all medications which can limit the overall benefits

Feeding Plan

Feed restricted Kcal from a weight loss diet based on the calculated mean energy requirements(MER) or the resting energy requirements (RER) as calculated by your veterinary technician.
Weigh pet every 1-2 weeks and adjust the Kcal restriction based on the set goal of 1.3-2.6%/week

 **If <1% restrict Kcal by another 10%. 

 **If >3% increase Kcal by 10%

Ideally feed the Kcal desired by the weight in grams and not by a measuring cup in volume (ml). This is much more accurate.

Measure the total daily food and place this in a container (‘meal box’). From this feed multiple meals through out the day. ‘Treats’ should be taken out of this box.Do not feed other foods unless the kcal content is known. Then exchange it with the same kcal quantity in the mealbox (eg commercial restricted calorie treats like meditreats). **Feeding multiple feedings comforts hunger and there is an increase in meal-induced thermogenesis (heat production). Timed feeders can help do this.

If treats have to be given due to set routines and the owners reluctance to hold to the plan, ‘healthy’ treat options are: raw vegetables, popcorn, commercial restricted calorie biscuits, fruits, ice cubes, cheerios etc.   These should be restricted in size given and frequency for success in this program.

All food given including ‘treats’ are to be placed in the pets bowl and not given directly to the pet.

For Cats:  Be slower at initiating weight loss initially.Don’t change too many things at once. Let the cat get used to the diet for a few days then restrict daily food access to twice daily initially before restricting quantity or divide daily Kcal’s feeding multiple times during the day (frequency change first, then quantity). You must not starve a cat to make it eat the food. It needs to eat something every day. Restrict food gradually to maintain the appetite.

 Rebound Program

  • Specific technician is committed to preventing the rebound effect and is supervised by your veterinarian 
  • Frequent weight checks on a monthly basis for 3-6 months up until the total program end at 12 months (6-12 months)
  • Discussion of behavior modification when indicated
  • BCS each visit
  • Exercise review as specific for each pets needs
  • Update computer weight loss graphs
  • Set up a long term follow-up plan including annual to biannual veterinary consults and/or technician appointments every 3-6 months to maintain the new healthy ideal body weight.

**** Obesity should be managed like other chronic diseases

  • Ongoing care for the duration of the pet’s life
  • Pets need to be weighed at home every 2 weeks (to allow early adjustments in diet/exercise/behaviors)
  • Consider ongoing appointments with a technician every 3-6 months for discussion, updates and review of principles.
  • “Big sister/ brother effect”
  • Technicians/vets monitor success of each patient and monitor the total program to maximize the success in all our patients.


Good luck!!  Please call to book an appointment with a technician today to start your pet on the healthy road to an ideal body weight!