Overweight Beagle
February 11, 2008 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Does my fat beagle need prescription food from the vet?

My 5 year-old beagle was pronounced overweight by the vet at her checkup. She has chubbed up in the past year, despite getting what I think is enough exercise (playing in the yard, walking to the bus stop). Her thyroid function is normal. The vet wants to prescribe Hill's R/D diet food, which ain't cheap. Do we need this prescription stuff? Anyone have any experience with the diet dog foods they sell at the grocery store/Pet Smart? My impulse would be to buy the over-the-counter diet food and try to walk her more. Thoughts?
posted by Beckminster to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO i don't think science diet is a great food, and certainly not worth the cost. since it doesn't seem to be a medical problem with her, just get some good food at a pet supply store (innova, natural balance, wellness, solid gold, etc), feed her less and exercise her more.
posted by violetk at 4:17 PM on February 11, 2008

My vet did the exact same thing to me recently, put my dog on a diet of "special" dog food that had to be measured out every morning. I don't think vets do stuff like that without a good reason, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. My girlfriend is convinced he was talking through his arse though.
posted by ReiToei at 4:18 PM on February 11, 2008

violetk is correct, science diet is terrible and you can buy much better foods that cost the same as the big brands. innova, solid gold and natural balance are great; wellness is still good but not as awesome as they used to be when the brand was smaller. just be better at portion control and take your dog out on either longer walks or more shorter ones!
posted by lia at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2008

Peanut's old vet said she was too fat and had to go on a diet and gave her some of the Science Diet stuff. Peanut expressed her displeasure with the food by puking it up on my pillow. Twice. I put her back on her regular food and the cat I and appeared to have agreement on the issue. The cats were due for a checkup later and I took them to another vet. She said that yes Peanut was chunky but she didn't need that special food. Pea is still chunky but has lost a few pounds w/o the Science Diet.
posted by birdherder at 4:44 PM on February 11, 2008

The rescue I'm involved with gets pudgy dogs quite often, and one of the first things they do is start cutting their normal food with vegetables (frozen green beans seem to go over particularly well, cooked in weak chicken bouillon for the pickier pooches.) In fact, my mom just had great luck getting her newly-adopted dog back down to optimal weight via the green bean method. And yes, longer walks will also help immensely!
posted by bunji at 4:46 PM on February 11, 2008

We feed our weight challenged beagle Natural Choice Lite, available at any of the pet superstores.
posted by COD at 5:10 PM on February 11, 2008

Not that I am second-guessing your vet, but it's normally the case that the weight loss prescription diets (and ALL "light" diets for that matter) are just food with filler to reduce the calories per cup, and vets tend to recommend them because some pet owners can't seem to grasp the concept of just measuring the food properly and feeding the dog 30% or so less. Plus, that filler is usually carbohydrate-based, which actually tends to make it harder for dog to lose weight. IMHO, you would be better off feeding your dog a high-quality high-protein/low carb diet (like Innova EVO, Wellness Core, Taste of the Wild, Barking at the Moon, etc.), and just feeding her a whole lot less. As with humans, exercise is very important for dogs, but most of weight is related to diet, and you need to both bump up her exercise and markedly reduce the amount you feed, plus consider feeding her a high quality grain-free diet (which incidentally, no Hill's product is, whether it's Science Diet or Prescription Diet, with very few Prescription Diet exceptions, they all contain a ton of grain and low-quality protein sources). Good food isn't cheap, but you feed less of it and may have an easier time getting your dog's weight down.

And do not follow the guidelines on the bag, those are massively inflated, plus every dog is different. To give you an idea, the bag guidelines of the food I'm currently feeding say that a 30 pound dog (feed according to the dog's correct weight, not its actual weight) needs a cup of food a day, my 30 pound dog gets under half a cup a day (a scant 1/4 cup twice a day) in order to maintain an appropriate weight. My friend has a big dog and a small dog, and the small dog eats twice as much as the big dog to maintain appropriate body condition.

Adding low-calorie fillers yourself (like canned pumpkin, NOT pie filling, plain canned pumpkin, or green beans) can help your dog feel fuller if you feel guilty or if she's acting like she's starving. But really, the basics are no different than with people: count calories (which means treats too, if you give treats, try to make them lower-calorie or high-protein, and remember to reduce the day's regular food to account for the calories from treats, or just measure out the day's food and use that as treats), and have more going out than going in. Also, feed meals rather than leaving the food down all the time, and divide the day's ration into at least 2 meals.

Here is a good body condition chart, feed your dog according to how they look and feel (you should be able to see the last 2-3 ribs on a dog with a short coat like yours, and you should be able to feel a couple of vertebrae on the back, behind where the ribs end), not according to the directions on the bag. Weigh your dog weekly (on the same scale) to see if you're going the right way.
posted by biscotti at 5:22 PM on February 11, 2008

My girlfriend and I have an overweight beagle mix and an overweight cat. We've just started feeding the dog less and trying to exercise him more. The cat's been on diet food, but not prescription diet food. This is because the dog always acts like he's hungry anyway, so we're used to it, but the cat becomes a phenomenal pain in the ass if she doesn't get fed a lot. The cat seems to be losing weight just fine (only time will tell for the dog).

We have put the dog on prescription food before, but this was because he's gotten some sort of indigestion or another a few times, and he ended up making a mess on the floor (out of one end or the other). We could have just cooked up some chicken and rice and probably achieved the same effect more cheaply, but we're lazy. I bring it up because this worked as a short-term (1-4 weeks) solution. If our vet had recommended anything more long term, I'd get suspicious. Actually, I was very slightly suspicious anyway since the vet was pretty much the only place we could buy the food.

My recommendation: ask the vet why they recommended the prescription diet food and if there are feasible alternatives (store-bought diet food, smaller servings, some other kind of filler). It might just be that this was the simplest solution and that they were just trying to make your life easier by not giving more complicated instructions. If they've got a good reason (I dunno, maybe the food's got a higher concentration of vitamins to go with the lower calorie intake or something), go with it. If the answer sounds like BS, it just might be. Maybe ask another vet (or ask one of the assistants when the vet leaves the room, preferably one that looks the least happy to be there) for a second opinion.

violetk and lia: Why do you think Science Diet is so bad? I ask because we're currently feeding it to our dog, and I'd like to know if there's any reason not to. We feed the cats Iams and would have done the same for the dog, but this was the first brand we found that came out of the dog solid, so we stuck with it. Is there something we should know?
posted by ErWenn at 5:54 PM on February 11, 2008

Definitely try walking her more -- I'd do that before trying new food.

Daily walks of at least thirty minutes would be the minimal for a dog that age. Is playing in the yard fetching or just running a lap or so? A daily walk in addition to about ten to fifteen minutes of fetch or other types of sprinting activity (playing with another dog) would really help her.
posted by red_lotus at 6:03 PM on February 11, 2008

Science Diet contains corn as the second ingredient (after chicken, not even chicken meal, which means that the bulk of the food's amino acid profile comes from corn, not meat (since ingredients are listed by weight and "chicken" includes water), dogs aren't cows). It also has grains and grain fragments all through the ingredients list (grain fragments are by-products). Plus it contains meat by products (which are a problem because the standards for both content and handling are very low as compared to specific meats and meat meals like "chicken" or "lamb meal")
posted by biscotti at 8:17 PM on February 11, 2008


I won't go to a vet that sells that crap.
They get huge profits from the sale of it.
And it's horrible food.
Makes me nuts.

I would go with a high quality food like those mentioned here (Innova or Wellness) and give her a good walk everyday or doggie daycare a day or 2 a week?

These are the ingredients in the presciption food you mentioned:

\\Ground Whole Grain Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose 10.4% (source of fiber), Soybean Mill Run, Soybean Meal, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dried Beet Pulp, Soybean Oil, Iron Oxide, DL-Methionine, L-Lysine, Potassium Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, vitamins (L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Choline Chloride, Taurine, minerals (Manganese Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), preserved with BHT, BHA and Ethoxyquin, L-Carnitine, Beta-carotene.

Mostly corn, by-product meal (feet and intestines) and SAWDUST??

And here's the acceptable chicken by-product meal:
Chicken by-product meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.
posted by beccaj at 9:02 PM on February 11, 2008

nthing feeding the dog less. Don't guesstimate, don't leave the food on the floor - give her a fixed portion that you measure in a measuring cup. Have you tried feeding her less? Does she act starved?

I do not understand how vets can prescribe low cal food with a straight face, but maybe I'm missing something. It seems like the biggest scam.

If you're looking for a good food, I feed my dogs something called Organix by Castor and Pollux. You can get it at Petco or other mainstream stores. Not all the ingredients are organic (infuriatingly, considering the name), but some of them are and there's no corn - the protein is meat-based. My dogs eat it up and digest it much better than the many others I've tried.

I don't know if pumpkin is fattening but it's full of fiber and good for digestion. Most dogs like it and it could help fill her up if that's a problem. My dogs won't touch vegetables, so good luck with that.

Another way to get her more exercise, if she's so inclined, is to get another dog! Mine run each other ragged.

Good luck getting her weight under control - it's probably the best thing you could do for her health.
posted by walla at 11:27 PM on February 11, 2008

ErWenn–what biscotti and beccaj said, essentially. you don't want corn or meat by-product as one of the first few ingredients listed as ingredient listing order goes from what something contains the most of to the least of. you want to see some meat meal up as the first or second thing listed.

i generally don't trust anything i could buy at a supermarket or a big chain pet store. and anything a vet sells, he gets a big kickback from the manufacturer (my dog's vet is a holistic vet who sells treats but never food—tho the whole office feeds their dogs a raw diet).i would buy pretty much anything carried by your smaller pet supply. with the better foods, the initial cost might seem more (for instance, i pay $42 for a 30lb bag of innova) but if you follow the guidelines for the weight/amt of exercise of your dog, you really do end up feeding less because the food is higher quality and more nutritious and thus your food lasts longer and the cost evens out in the end.

i used to have my cats on science diet back in the day when i didn't know better. when i switched them to natural balance, it was amazing how much less i was feeding them (though they were cranky at first). my dog has been on innova his whole life (with raw meals thrown in on special occasions).
posted by violetk at 12:46 AM on February 12, 2008

biscotti - Thanks for the info on Science Diet foods, which I also feed my pets. Are there any objective, science-based resources you could point me to so I can learn more? I would hate to be spending such big $$ on it if it really is so crappy, but I'd like to make an educated decision. Thx.

Beckminster, I also have a beagle that would balloon up to blimp-sized proportions if we weren't hyper-vigilant about the amount of food we feed him. Carefully measuring out his food (Science Diet for Large Breeds) based on the recommendations on the food label and then subtracting a bit is working for us. It's really amazing how poor my ability is to estimate a half a cup of kibble.

Speaking of large breeds (our beagle is bigger than most beagles - he may be a mix, we don't know)... We find that he eats less when the food is in larger chunks that are too big to swallow whole and therefore require more chewing. Every once in a while, we will accidentally buy the kind of kibble for regular-sized dogs. The bits are smaller, and he'll just gobble them up with barely any chewing and look for more. So if you have the option to get a larger-size kibble in whatever food you go with, that might work to slow him down and make him chew.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:57 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

nthing the "Science Diet is not great food" thing, though it used to be (vets used to give you "science diet" recipes to make at home).

Also agreeing with the green bean/pumpkin plus smaller amounts of non-grain-based food where actual meat is the first (or first few) ingredients. I used to do the raw diet for our pug, and she was at her fittest. Sadly, too many dogs and too little time don't allow me to do that regularly, but we still do every once in awhile.

Pet food company reps are just as bad as drug reps; they offer vets all kinds of incentives to push their food to their clients. They also sponsor lots of the vet research that gets done, and some of them even have scholarship programs for vets going through school. The potential for bias is basically built into the system.
posted by answergrape at 7:15 AM on February 12, 2008

You don't necessarily need prescription food. Weight loss for dogs is the same as weight loss for humans -- calories out needs to exceed calories in. So yes, more walkies. And LIMIT FOOD INTAKE (which is admittedly hard to do when your beagle starts giving you hound face... cowboy up, friend). But the brand of food doesn't matter as much as the amount of calories you're feeding everyday (INCLUDING treats and table food, if you swing that way).

That said, if your furbaby only gets x calories a day, obviously you want to be sure those are coming from high quality food rather than junk that's mostly filler (which includes most diet foods I've ever seen, to be honest). You can tell the good stuff from the junk by looking closely at the ingredient list.

As for how many calories to feed, that's where a good vet can help. When we rescued our then-47lb (!) beagle, the vet gave us a feeding plan that reduced the amount of calories we fed her every 2 weeks over 2-3 months. At the end of her "diet," she was (and remains today) a svelte 25 lbs. That's with normal (non-prescription, non-diet) food and lots of walkies and playtime. Good luck.
posted by somanyamys at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2008

Owner of a former fat beagle here.

Shelby went from a thin, happy dog to huge in just a few months of too many treats, edible bones, lack of exercise, and large portion sizes. At her heaviest, she was 37 pounds. After simple changes of more walkies, fewer treats and bones, and actually MEASURING her twice daily meals, she's now a little over 22 pounds. It took a while to do this, but like humans, the longer it takes, better for you.

For the record, we haven't changed her food - it's non-diet. But her treats are the less fatty biscuits since we load up her rolling Molecuball with it and let her wander the house and yard for activity.

And kudos to Shelby: she was on our vet's weight-loss awareness promotion, with before and after pictures.
posted by fijiwriter at 8:56 AM on February 12, 2008

There are some links to understanding pet food and pet food labels here. There's no science yet, really (and in fact studies do show that some of the Prescription Diets do actually do what they are said to do, no argument here, but their foods are still full of low-quality ingredients and they would still have the same effect if they were formulated with better ingredients), and the truth is that most dogs can survive on really crappy foods - the way I look at it is that out of the myriad variables which engender good pet health, food is one of the only ones I have any direct control over, so I feed a varied diet (with the theory that balance over time and dietary variability may reduce food sensitivities and provide for better long-term health), I fed high-quality foods only (with the theory that my dog shouldn't be eating sawdust and the cheapest ingredients possible), and I feed grain-free (dogs are carnivores, they can digest vegetable matter, but a carnivore's diet should be primarily meat based). However, not least because of the whole melamine thing, I also only buy foods now which disclose their manufacturing locations and ingredients sources, I do not buy foods made with generic ingredients.

There is also not much unbiased opinion about this topic, it tends to get people riled up and there are die-hard evangelical fundamentalists on both sides. I tend to look at it from a common sense viewpoint: people can survive eating nothing but fast food, but few would argue that it's a healthy long-term diet, GIGO, and there's no reason to think that dogs are any different. I also can see with my own eyes that the dogs I've fed only high-quality food to both look and act healthier than the dogs I fed crap food to. Confirmation bias? Maybe, but I rarely see a dog fed crappy food that doesn't LOOK (and smell) like it's fed crappy food. There is good food with high-quality ingredients available almost everywhere (except the supermarket) now, I don't see any reason to employ the false economy of the bottom of the barrel foods (less bioavailability means you feed more and have to clean up more poop, regardless of long-term health effects).
posted by biscotti at 9:59 AM on February 12, 2008

Wow folks, thanks for the info. I'm reading this thread and taking notes. As I digest what y'all have said, it seems clearer and clearer that the beaglette is not really getting enough exercise, certainly not enough of the sprinting that red lotus mentioned. She is more of a moseyer unless we really get her going. I think that's got to be the first thing we change.

And my eyes have been opened about the food quality thing. We DO measure her portions now, but the weak link in our chain has got to be our toddler. The dog sits right by his high chair as he eats, and vacuums up any morsel that falls. I didn't think it amounted to much, but maybe it does. And that hound dog face is a killer, too!

So I'm gonna get a high quality food, probe the vet a little about the diet food thing, and do more doggy aerobics. With spring on the way, this could be good for the whole family. Many thanks, y'all!
posted by Beckminster at 12:53 PM on February 12, 2008

« Older Is "skirt" still used as slang for "woman"?   |   How would one identify a good mortuary school? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.