Hobbes, a 5 ½-year-old golden retriever, was clearly overweight at 135 pounds and owner Janet Pellerosi and her family had been successful in helping him drop to 107 pounds. Janet recalls, “It was hard. The family was gone all day, and at night and on the weekends we were giving Hobbes foods he really shouldn’t have been eating. I guess there was some ‘guilt-feeding’ going on. We knew our dog had gotten fat.” That was when she and her family began the process, cutting out snacks and really making a point to exercise him. However, with a weight loss of 28 pounds, they hit a road block, and she knew that Hobbes still needed to lose more weight. Hobbes’ primary care veterinarian had conveyed to her that Hobbes was a ‘walking time bomb.’ That was when Foster Hospital came to the rescue.
Janet recalled an article she read about the Foster Hospital Obesity Clinic and the success they have had in helping owners manage weight loss for their pets. The draw to Foster Hospital was reinforced when Janet’s daughter Sophia Topolus, a student at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts, sat in on a lecture that was led by Deborah Linder, DVM, DAVCVN, head of the Obesity Clinic at Foster Hospital.
Last August, Dr. Linder had the pleasure of meeting Hobbes and they began the weight loss journey. Janet recounts what a wonderful experience it has been to work with Dr. Linder. “She held our hand along the way, was never judgmental and encouraged us to forget the past and think about the future.” says Janet.
Dr. Linder is the first to acknowledge that weight loss is not an easy process. The initial discussion focused on understanding how many calories Hobbes was consuming and educating Hobbes’ family about nutrition. Next they had to figure out what would be the best diet strategy; in his case volume of food was more important, which meant providing the lowest number of calories per cup. Veterinary therapeutic food formulated to be low in calories, high in protein and a higher nutrient-density was the food of choice. Fresh cut-up vegetables were also to be given at meal time and as treats or snacks. Dr. Linder also incorporated exercise into the weight loss program. In addition to the basic exercise of daily walks, she prescribed one extra 20-minute walk or extra swim a day.
Dr. Linder explains that the hard part about exercise is that it takes a lot of exercise to burn calories. “You may think that you can give a pet more calories because they are exercising, but it doesn’t work that way. The goal is to have the dog lose fat, not muscle and the exercise ensures the lean tissue is activated. Another benefit to exercise is that you are keeping your dog busy, and not bored and asking for food.” Janet says that she was responsible for the diet component of the program and her son, Nico was diligent in ensuring Hobbes got the proper exercise. Throughout the process, daughter Sophia, veterinary student, was also directly involved, getting instruction from Dr. Linder and learning firsthand how she would manage a weight loss plan for one of her clients someday. It has been a family project and Janet shares how Nico and her husband George provided moral support, helping to keep her from giving in when Hobbes’ gave her the puppy dog eyes. Dr. Linder agrees, “They did an excellent job and were very compliant throughout the process.”
By October 2013, Hobbes was down to 95 pounds. The monthly check-ins are an opportunity for Dr. Linder to look at Hobbes’ progress and make diet modifications. In fact, last fall when Hobbes started eating, grass, pine cones and dirt, they changed up the plan to add more cut-up vegetables, since it seemed he wanted more food. More recently, when Hobbes’ rate of weight loss was slowing, they uncovered that he was eating an extra meal a day. Dr. Linder explained that this happens and it’s call “diet drift.” She then counseled the family on whether they were comfortable with the slower weight loss, or if they wanted to employ a strategy to speed up the weight loss. A compromise was reached and they decided that instead of giving Hobbes a whole extra meal, they would give half. Today, Hobbes is down to 75 pounds, having lost 32 pounds since beginning the weight loss program at Foster Hospital, a total of almost 60 pounds since the initial weight loss began.
The weight loss program at Foster Hospital is unique; it is the only veterinary school in the country that has a nutritionist solely devoted to obesity. While some primary care veterinarians can handle the basics, Foster Hospital’ program is appropriate when families find that what they are doing is not working. The program consists of an initial hour-long appointment and six follow-up weigh-in appointments.
Janet is thankful for everything that Dr. Linder has done. They continue to see Dr. Linder, for maintenance, where she is helping to introduce and add foods back in to Hobbes’ diet. “We are so lucky to have Foster Hospital in our backyard. I come from upstate New York and my relatives still live there. When their pets get sick they have to drive 3 ½ hours to be treated.”
Hobbes’ story is one that truly demonstrates when you combine nutritional expertise with commitment, perseverance and teamwork that owners can be successful in helping their pets achieve a healthy weight. Janet, George, Nico, Sophia and Dr. Linder all can attest to that!