There's hope for fat cats and their canine counterparts, says a local veterinarian launching a contest inspired by the popular TV weight-loss reality program, "The Biggest Loser."
To mark the kickoff of the unique three-month competition, Timberlane Pet Hospital & Resort conducted a nutrition lecture Tuesday that drew 15 men, women and children who own overweight dogs.
Timberlane director Christy Poulin and another veterinarian, Allesandra Melo of Royal Canin foods for dogs and cats, led the hour-long program that also detailed the contest, Biggest Loser - Pet Edition.
There's no entry fee, and animals start the contest with a weigh-in at the family-owned facility, available through May 9. The dog and cat that shed the greatest percentage of weight each win a six-month supply of Royal Canin pet food.
"An estimated 44 percent of dogs and 57 percent of cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, so there are many reasons as to why our pets should watch their waistlines," Poulin said.
Take 6-year-old Rudy, for example. The beefy basset tips the scales at 64 pounds, so this could be one race the short-legged hound can win.
Rudy's owners, retirees Pat and Phil Shaw of Plant City, altered Rudy's diet even before the nutrition lecture. "He lost 2 pounds in two weeks," Phil said. That was prior to weigh-in, so it doesn't count.
"He should weigh about 50, 55 pounds," Pat Shaw said.
Like most at the lecture, the Shaws worry about between-meal snacks. "Our concern was the treats, because Rudy likes his treats," Pat Shaw said.
"It is a challenge, because many times it is a painful process," Melo said of ignoring pets' begging.
"It's all on us," Poulin said, explaining owners must modify their own behavior when it comes to feeding pets.
Common mistakes include feeling guilty when pets show signs of hunger, not measuring portions, disappointment about slow weight loss and poor understanding of the calories in pet treats and table scraps.
Any pet exceeding its breed's ideal body weight by 15 percent is considered overweight, and a weekly loss of 1-2 percent is the best to be expected, Melo said.
Overweight pets face greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory disorders and arthritis, Poulin said.
Poulin recommends experimenting with dogs' diets, as many enjoy green beans, raw carrots and other vegetables.
She suggests small, lean pet treats, feeding only half at a time. A large Milk-Bone contains the total calories a 12-pound dog should ingest in an entire day, Poulin said.
To monitor contestants' progress, Poulin suggests monthly weigh-ins at Timberlane, allowing for diet adjustments, if necessary.
"It was mostly a dog crowd, but there are a lot of cats that need it, too," Poulin said after the nutrition lecture.
The pet hospital can be reached at (813) 754-7387, or go to www.TimberlaneVet.com