Discussing Pet Longevity, Health and Weight with Franny Fleishman
In 2005, a study was released that confirmed what veterinarians had long believed—weight has a significant impact on a dog’s lifespan. In the study, Labradors retrievers that were kept a lean, healthy body weight lived 15 percent longer than their heavier counterparts. In practical terms, the leaner dogs lived almost two years longer than the other dogs and were less likely to develop arthritis and other conditions earlier in life.
But for pet owners, it can be easy to overlook how body weight can impact how long our dogs and cats can live healthy lives. At least, that was the case with Mercer Island Store Manager Franny Fleishman, who’s worked at Mud Bay for over 11 years.
When Franny Fleishman started at Mud Bay in 2007, she helped her own family dog start a weight loss journey when she realized how weight loss could impact her dog’s health. We talked to Franny about her own thoughts regarding longevity and healthy weight in the following interview:
MB: It’s easy to think that just an extra pound or so won’t impact your dog or cat’s overall health. Can you talk about the link between healthy weight and longevity?
FF: A lot of dogs and cats are so small, so it’s easy for them to be easily affected by even a single extra pound. I think the biggest immediate effect of those extra pounds is limited mobility. Then mobility issues feed into everything else. If a dog can’t move around easily, and they’re more likely to have injuries, then it’s going to affect their entire life.
Even a few pounds can make them feel tired. Limited mobility makes animals unhappy, which sometimes can cause them to be grumpy or worse with family members, or more aggressive. It can affect whether they can go out to the park and play. It affects their socialization, and it can start a whole chain of health issues.
Also, a lot of people don’t understand that dogs and cats are more likely to get chronic health issues from being overweight. It may be something that people know from thinking about their own health, but the consequences can seem remote.
MB: Do you have any personal experience with dogs or cats being more mobile when they lose weight?
FF: When I started at Mud Bay, I had a fourteen-year-old beagle named Molly who I loved very much. And she had always been overweight. In fact, we called her “The Potato.” My family just didn’t know how to pick a healthy food.
Molly was also diagnosed with intravertebral disc disease (IVDD). I remember that the vet said, if you have her lose weight, it could really help her condition. And I didn’t think it would make a difference. She was fourteen. She was having a hard time moving. I kept thinking, we’re probably at the end of her life.
Then when I started working at Mud Bay, I kind of had this awakening. I realized that if she lost weight, it might improve her quality of life. Because at that time, she had these back spasms pretty frequently. Maybe every couple of months, she wouldn’t even be able to move. Then we’d have to give her muscle relaxers and put her in a crate overnight. She’d get better each time, but for a while, she wouldn’t be able to walk down the stairs very easily.
And so, what I did, was I knew that Molly was getting a lot of table scraps from my stepdad, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to change that. And while I recognized that she wasn’t getting the greatest possible nutrition, I wasn’t going to be able to change the number of table scraps.
I decreased the dog food she was eating to factor in all of the treats she was getting. And I made sure that it was enough dog food, so she was getting her nutritional needs met.
On top of that, I fed her wet food. We switched her from dry food to canned food, and I started adding some water to her canned food. Because sometimes, during that food transition, animals will feel less full. And then they’ll beg more because they feel hungry. So, I just added some water to her food to make her feel fuller.
And she shed pounds. Not too fast, but over the next couple of years, she went from 30 pounds to 17 pounds because she was a small beagle. And she lived until she was 17 years old.
Her issues with mobility went away completely. She could walk up and down the stairs without any effort. Two weeks before she died, she hiked five miles with me over a beach. It was flat, but she ran, and she hiked and had a lot of fun.
She actually ended up passing away from kidney disease. So yeah, seeing the difference in just being able to see her better mobility from losing weight convinced me that it’s something that is important.
MB: What do you think prevents people from helping their dog or cat start a weight loss journey?
FF: I think that in our culture, a dog that’s a healthy weight is considered underweight whereas a dog that is overweight is considered healthy. And with cats, I think it’s even more difficult. If a cat’s not fat, many people think that the cat is funny looking. They like big, fluffy, cuddly cats.
MB: Are there any tips that you have for customers who are ready help their cat or dog lose weight?
FF: Yes! With cats, my first tip would be either adding canned food to their diet or switching entirely to canned or raw food. With any of those foods, they are going to be getting fewer carbohydrates, more meat and more moisture.
And if people are having a hard time with their cat bothering them in the middle of the night, I recommend using a treat dispensing toy or making your own with an empty water bottle with some holes poked into it. Then you can give that to them around bedtime.
It’s also important to cater to their specific prey cycle. Hunt, eat, groom, sleep is the preferred daily cycle with cats. So, playtime should mimic hunting. Ten minutes, even five minutes playing with your cat every day before feeding can make a big difference.
For dogs, I would really try to increase the moisture by adding water to their food. It can be helpful because it can make them feel fuller.
And the simplest tip is just factoring in treats. I would say that 90 percent of people don’t think about the fact that treats are really food. If you think about the number of treats some dogs are fed in comparison to their size, it can easily become a large portion of their overall calorie intake.
Mercer Island Store Manager Franny Fleischman recently transferred to the Learning and Development team at our home office. Now she’s sharing the benefits of her 11 years of experience by creating fun and informative new training courses for all Muddies. When she’s not at Mud Bay, she’s off hiking with her dog Susie.