Low-carb fad extends to dogs, cats

Atkins-style diets have been developed to help obese pets.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It is often said that, over time, pets come to resemble their owners. With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising that an increasing number of American pets are struggling with obesity.

To combat pets’ expanding waistlines, local veterinarians are turning to a controversial approach to dieting that many humans have tried in recent years. The new diet is similar to the Atkins Diet, which encourages people to eat meat, eggs and cheese at the expense of breads and fruit.

Despite only being on the market for a few months, the diet is already being praised by local veterinarians.

“It’s based on some pretty solid research,” said Burton Schauf, a veterinarian at Pet Center Ltd. in Columbia.

Low carb diet ideal for obese cats

Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc. recently released its Prescription Diet m/d, a food for overweight cats. It’s a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that includes moderate amounts of fiber. Schauf recommends the diet to clients with obese cats because it focuses on weight loss while helping to maintain the cat’s muscle mass.

Richard Meadows, a clinical assistant professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, uses both the Hills diet and a similar diet offered by Purina.

“I like the idea of maintaining muscle mass because a lot of animals that we are trying to get the weight off are not very active,” Meadows said.

Meadows said the difference between the Atkins Diet and the Atkins-like pet diets is that the animals are given a more balanced meal.

“It’s not as strict,” Meadows said. “It’s not as radical, if you will, as the Atkins Diet, but it’s utilizing the same physiologic concept as the Atkins Diet.”

Ted Dorman’s 15-year-old cat Moe has been on Purina’s diet for three months. Dorman said Moe is diabetic and has benefited from the diet.

“He appears much healthier than before.” Dorman said. “He’s shed some pounds.”

Obese pets at risk for health problems

According to the National Academies National Research Council, 25 percent of cats and dogs are obese. This trend alarms many veterinarians because obese pets are at a higher risk of developing health problems like diabetes, liver or heart problems.

Schauf said weight control can also alleviate some of the pain that comes with other health problems like arthritis.

Local pet experts say that it is important for owners to be aware of healthy diets. Meadows said obesity usually comes about because diets are not monitored and pets can be merciless beggars.

“They enjoy it when you feed them,” Meadows said.

Schauf agrees. He said his clients often inadvertently feed their pets similar portions as they themselves would eat.

Prevention best option for pet owners

While prescription pet diets may help your pet lose weight, prevention remains the best option. Preventing obesity in pets relies heavily on a few sound principles that are well known to dieters everywhere.

Schauf said the keys are feeding animals quality, well-balanced food in proper levels and making sure they get plenty of exercise.

Veterinarians warn that dieting takes time and patience. In other words, just like humans, pets may struggle to achieve a physique that both pet and owner can be proud of.

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