Your dog’s veterinarian can be a tremendous resource in your quest to optimize your dog’s health and fitness. Vets are full of unique specialized knowledge and usually have years of experience helping dogs just like yours. They can diagnose latent problems, recommend the most effective interventions, and give you lots of helpful tips and tricks for helping your dog lose weight and get fit. A consultation with a veterinarian can be a great thing for your dog.
So why do we say that your dog’s vet “can be” a resource, and not “will be”?
In short, because a quality consultation with a veterinarian should be a two-way street, but all-too-often the traffic is only flowing one way.
Here’s what we mean: It’s your vet’s responsibility to bring to your consultation a properly-developed knowledge base and skill set, to show up energized and focused, and to provide the relevant medications, tests, and other supplies that will allow her to provide maximum value to you and your dog. But if you want to have a quality consultation with your vet, the kind where you walk out of the office knowing that you have tangibly improved the quality of your dog’s life forever, you’ve got responsibilities too. And all too often dog owners shirk those responsibilities and wind up failing to derive maximum value from their veterinary consultations. And who’s left holding the bag? Their dogs, of course.
The purpose of today’s post is to outline your roles in your dog’s veterinary consultations and to give you a couple checklists that you can use as references to help ensure that you excel in those roles.
Essentially, you’ve got two primary responsibilities when it’s time for your dog’s next veterinary consultation: (1) providing your dog’s vet with the information that she needs to do her job most effectively, and (2) shaping the discussion with your dog’s vet in a way that best serves your dog’s needs. We can help you with both.
(1) Providing your vet with useful information about your dog. Your vet’s bountiful knowledge and professional expertise are useless without data around which to weave her skillful analysis. She can obtain some of that data by examining your dog, but there are many other pieces of information that you have to supply yourself. So be sure to show up for your consultation equipped with the information that you’re likely to get asked about. Think of this information-gathering aspect of your preparations as cultivating the raw data that your vet needs in order to make accurate diagnoses and suggest proper interventions for your dog. In our opinion, the information described below is a good start when it comes to managing obesity and optimizing your dog’s physical fitness:
- List by brand-name all of the food products that you feed your dog on a regular or semi-regular basis, including food “treats.” Include the amount (in standardized volume, mass, or quantity terms) that you feed each day.
- List any food products and ingredients that your dog is allergic to, refuses to eat, or has difficulty digesting properly.
- List all exercise activities that your dog participates in on a regular or semi-regular basis, including the relative intensity of the activity and the average amount of time that your dog spends on each activity every week.
- Describe your usual weekly schedule and the amount of time that members of your household are willing and able to devote to exercising your dog.
- Other than eating, describe the activities that elicit the most enthusiastic responses from your dog.
- Rate in your own terms your dog’s enthusiasm for actively playing with humans, other dogs, and toys.
- Rate in your own terms your dog’s ability and willingness to learn new directed behaviors.
- Rate in your own terms your dog’s relative activity level during the day. When she is in her “home” environment, regardless of whether that’s inside or outside, does she spend more of her time pacing and exploring or just lying around?
- Describe the extent to which your dog has regular access to open roaming spaces, such as a fenced-in yard.
There are, of course, many other details about your dog’s life that your vet might want to know. But when it comes to crafting a strategy for helping your dog lose weight and get fit, we think the information above is a great start. Now on to your next responsibility.
(2) Shaping the discussion with your vet to best serve your dog’s needs. A veterinary consultation is your opportunity to have your concerns about your dog’s health and welfare addressed by an educated professional. And while it’s our opinion that any properly-credentialed veterinarian is entitled to significant deference when analyzing your dog’s physical health, we also believe that every dog owner who cares about the health and welfare of his or her canine companion has a duty to participate in shaping the animal’s veterinary examinations. This doesn’t mean that you should criticize or second-guess your dog’s vet, at least not without a very good reason for doing so. But it does mean that you should identify your key concerns ahead of time, then express them to your dog’s vet and ensure that they are covered to your satisfaction during your consultation. It also means that you should conduct some background research into those concerns prior to your consultation, so that you can speak intelligently about them with your dog’s vet when the time comes.
To help ensure that your next visit to the vet improves your understanding of how to help your dog avoid the dangers of obesity, here some questions and topics you might want to consider raising:
Diagnosing Canine Obesity
- Is my dog overweight? If so, how overweight is she? And what method are you using to determine whether she is overweight?
- How much should my dog weigh and what should her body look like, given her age and breed?
- What are the best ways for me to determine from home whether my dog is overweight?
- How many calories should my dog consume each day in order to maintain her body weight and composition?
- How many calories should my dog consume each day in order for her to lose body fat at a safe and healthy pace?
- In order to keep my dog as healthy as possible, what is the optimal balance of fat, carbohydrate, and protein that my dog’s food should provide?
- Beyond fat, carbohydrate, and protein, what key vitamins and minerals should be considered essential parts of my dog’s diet?
- In order to keep my dog as healthy as possible, what types of food product(s) should my dog eat — dry kibble, canned wet food, raw food, home-cooked food, and/or food “treats”?
- What food brands and specific food products should I feed my dog and why do you recommend those specific products?
- How much food (in terms of mass, volume, or quantity) should I feed my dog in order to maintain her body weight and composition?
- How much food should I feed my dog in order for her to lose body fat at a safe and healthy pace?
- What role do food “treats” play in shaping my dog’s body weight and composition?
- What brands of food “treats” (if any) should I use to reward my dog and why do you recommend those specific products?
- How can I reward my dog without feeding her food “treats”?
- Does my dog need vegetables in her diet? If so, which ones and how much of them?
- How should I transition my dog from her current diet to the one that you recommend? Is the transition likely to lead to any strange behaviors that I should look out for?
- Will “organic,” “all natural,” or “free range” foods help my dog to lose weight more quickly or healthfully? Do you recommend those products?
- How much water should my dog consume every day? How can I tell that she’s getting enough? And will the amount of water that she drinks every day play a role in her weight loss?
- What is the nutritional significance of grains and other carbohydrates in my dog’s diet? Should I remove grains from her diet? Should I remove all carbohydrates from her diet altogether?
- What additional informational resources would you recommend to me in order for me to learn more about optimizing my dog’s diet?
- What types of exercise activities should my dog avoid, given her age, breed, weight, and specific health problems?
- What types of exercise activities will help my dog to lose body fat and achieve optimal body condition in the most efficient manner possible, without jeopardizing her health or causing her to suffer?
- How much exercise should I provide my dog with on a daily or weekly basis in order to help her achieve optimal body condition without jeopardizing her health or causing her to suffer?
- To what extent is the growth and maintenance of skeletal lean muscle mass important to my dog’s body composition and her overall health?
- What types of exercise activities will help my dog to grow skeletal lean muscle mass without otherwise jeopardizing her health or causing her to suffer?
- How do I know when my dog has had enough exercise for the session/day/week?
- What guidelines should I use to ensure that I’m properly hydrating my dog before, during, and after exercise?
- What guidelines should I use to ensure that my dog’s diet meets the demands that exercise activities place upon her body?
- How can I prime my dog’s enthusiasm for exercise activities?
- What additional informational resources would you recommend to me in order for me to learn more about safely and effectively exercising my dog?
Consequences of Obesity
- What health risks generally are associated with canine obesity?
- Has obesity contributed to any of my dog’s health problems?
- What health risks will my dog become exposed to if she does not lose weight and improve her body condition?
That’s probably enough to get you started. If you’ve got some additional questions, comments, or pieces of information that you think every dog owner should bring to their next veterinary consultation, we’d love to hear from you.
Have a wonderful weekend.