At the beginning of January, Pfizer introduced a veterinary drug called Slentrol, for use in dogs that are obese. About 5 percent of dogs in the United States are so overweight that they are considered obese; another 20 to 30 percent are overweight. Any extra pounds on a pet can lead to health problems, just as they do in humans.
The Food and Drug Administration, which approved the drug January 5, says it seems to reduce the amount of fat that a dog can absorb, as well as trigger a feeling of fullness. However, it can also cause side effects, including loose stools, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite. Pfizer recommends it be used as part of a diet and exercise program, and given for a period of three months.
“This is a welcome addition to animal therapies, because dog obesity appears to be increasing,” said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, Director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “Veterinarians are well aware that overweight pets are at a higher risk of developing various health problems, from cardiovascular conditions to diabetes to joint problems.”
Some breeds, such as basset hounds, are more at risk for becoming overweight because they have larger chests and tend to be less active. For the most part, though, obese and overweight dogs get that way because of an overenthusiastic owner. First, find out from your dog’s vet what his or her ideal weight should be, and what amount of food you should give each day.
Commercial dog foods vary a great deal – there are fantastic ones and not-so-great options. Dogs are generally not picky eaters, so it can be tough to tell what your pet prefers. Do some research and sample a few kinds. Not all vets are nutrition experts, so don’t feel confined to stick with the one brand they offer at the clinic. Ask at your pet supply store for sample sizes of premium foods. I have a hard time leaving out Animal Crackers Pet Supply in Corvallis when there’s a discussion of pet nutrition – they have several excellent foods, lots of samples to try and an educated staff who can help you make a good decision.
A premium dog food will have better ingredients and fewer grains. Although some grains are important for a healthy diet, dogs should have higher amounts of protein – about 20 percent for an adult dog. They also need more fat than many mammals, such as humans, do.
Check food labels carefully. Some may list an ingredient like beef first, then have a whole grain, a grain flour and grain middlings. The grain, when added together, is of a larger quantity than the meat. It’s also best to buy a food that you know contains real chicken meat rather than “by-products,” meat and bone meal or nondigestible parts like feathers.
There are mixed opinions about whether to feed a “light” or diet dog food when you’re trying to get your pet to lose weight. Personally, I think a high-quality food, in the right amount, coupled with plenty of exercise is the way to go. The “light” foods may be an option, but you should speak with your vet before putting your dog on one of these foods right away.
Note that in some cases, someone in the family is giving the dog extra treats and food, which may not be known to the primary caregiver. If you are unable to figure out why your dog is gaining weight, and a vet exam rules out any physical problems, ask the other people in your household to help you keep a dog journal that shows all the food and exercise the dog gets in a day. You may find that your spouse is giving the dog a mid-afternoon snack and your child is feeding extra treats.
Exercise is the real key to preventing obesity in dogs. It also makes your dog a better member of your family and improves his or her temperment. Not everyone is a fan of Cesar Milan – aka “The Dog Whisperer” – but his ideas on exercise to eliminate or prevent behavior problems are worth considering. I recommend his book, Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems to learn more about how exercise improves dog behavior. You could end up with a slimmer and happier dog as well as a slimmer and happer you by increasing the amount of activity you both get.