Getting the Fat Off
By Shawn Messonnier, DVM

As our season turns to summer, many pet owners find more time to spend exercising their pets outdoors. This is good, as obesity is the most common nutritional disease in pets, and increased exercise is an important part of a weight control program. This article will focus on a natural approach to helping control weight in our pets.

First, we start with a proper diagnosis. Obesity, defined as an increase in body weight at least 15% above what would be normal for the size of the pet, is a medical problem. Any program must begin with a veterinary visit to make sure that other problems that contribute to weight gain, such as hypothyroidism or diabetes mellitus, are not present. Assuming that the obesity is simply a result of increased calorie intake compared to calories burned off, the following ideas can be beneficial for most overweight pets.


There’s no question that weight loss can only occur when less calories are taken into the body than the animal requires. This means some type of low calorie diet is an important first step in reducing weight. There’s a lot of debate about what is the “best” diet. I believe homemade diets are the best because pet owners control every ingredient in the diet. An example of such a diet is included in the box in this article. If preparing a homemade diet is not possible, a veterinary-prescribed reducing diet is my next choice. “Lite” foods purchased at pet and grocery stores have too many calories in them for most pets that are trying to lose weight, and many of these diets contain potentially harmful by-products and chemicals. Feeding small frequent meals (snacks) works best to prevent hunger pangs and burn off additional calories.

Homemade Diets for Dogs and Cats, adapted from “The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats”, Shawn Messonnier, DVM, Prima Publishing, Copyright 2001.

Weight Control Diet for Adult Dogs


1/2 pound of cooked chicken
2 cups of cooked long grain rice
1/4 tsp salt or salt substitute
Vitamin/Mineral supplement

This diet provides approximately 624 kcal, 49.4 gm of protein, and 4.7 gm of fat. It supplies the daily caloric needs for weight loss in a 45-50 pound dog. Divide into 2-4 small meals.

This diet supplies the calories required for weight reduction in a dog that normally weighs 47-48 pounds (non-obese weight.) In other words, it should be fed to a dog that weighs more than 47-48 pounds but whose ideal weight would be approximately 47-48 pounds.

Weight Control Diet For Adult Cats

5 ounces salmon, canned with bone (low-salt)
1/3 cup rice, long grain, cooked
1/4 tsp salt or salt substitute
Vitamin/Mineral supplement

This diet provides 284 kcal, 30.2 gm of protein, and 10.4 gm of fat. Feed 75% of this recipe to a cat that would normally weigh 11 pounds, 67% to a cat that would normally weigh 10 pounds, and 60% to a cat that would normally weigh 9 pounds. Divide into 2-4 small feedings.


A sensible program of moderate and appropriate exercise will burn off calories and decrease appetite. Your doctor can prescribe an exercise program that fits your pet’s needs. Start exercise gradually under veterinary supervision.


While no supplement functions as a magic pill, the following supplements may help as part of an overall weight loss program.

1.Hydroxycitric Acid. Hydroxycitric Acid, also called HCA, is a product extracted from the rind of the tamarind citrus fruit of the Garcinia cambogia tree. It suppresses hunger in people and helps prevent the body from turning carbohydrates into fat by inhibiting the ATP-citrate lypase enzyme. The recommended dose of this product for dogs is 100 mg of 50% HCA per 25 pounds given twice daily; the recommended dose for cats is 50-100 mg of 50% HCA per cat given twice daily.

2.Chitosan. Chitosan is a dietary supplement made from the outer skeletons of shellfish. The product is purported to bind to fat in the intestines which prevents the absorption of fat. Studies are inconclusive regarding how well the product works in people or pets. Time will tell if it will be of value in any diet programs for pets.

3.Coenzyme Q-10. Coenzyme Q-10 is used to transport and break down fat into energy. In people, coenzyme Q-10 levels were found to be low in approximately 50% of obese individuals. Supplementation with coenzyme Q-10 resulted in accelerated weight loss in overweight people. While coenzyme Q-10 is often used in pets with heart disease, periodontal disease, and gastrointestinal disease, I have not seen any reports showing its use as part of a weight control program. It may be of benefit in overweight pets and at the recommended dosage (1 mg per pound of body weight daily); no side effects have been seen. Consult with your doctor about using coenzyme Q-10 to help in a weight reduction program for your pet.

4.Herbs. Herbs such as cayenne, mustard, and ginger increase metabolism in people and may also do the same in pets. Your doctor can prescribe a safe dose of these herbs if he feels they might help your pet.

Regardless of how helpful supplements may be, they are no substitute for a lifestyle change. Properly feeding and exercising your pet, especially from puppyhood and kittenhood, are the most important factors in weight management. Since obesity is a medical problem, work with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your pet.

About the author:
Dr. Shawn Messonnier is the author of "The Arthritis Solution for Dogs", "The Allergy Solution for Dogs", and the award-winning "The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats". For your weekly dose of holistic pet care, read Dr. Shawn's column, "The Holistic Pet", in your local paper, distributed by Knight Ridder.