Old Saw New Science

March 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm 11 comments

A article recently published by William Marshall, Herman Hazewinkel, Dermot Mullen, Geert De Meyer, Katrien Baert and Stuart Carmichael (Marshall et al) in Veterinary Research Communications provides us with the not-so-startling news that weight loss causes a significant decrease in lameness in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis and other orthopedic problems.

Obesity and osteoarthritis are two of the most common health problems in dogs. The literature indicates that 20% of dogs suffer from osteoarthritis and 24–41% of all dogs are clinically obese. Marshall et al’s goal was to provide subjective and objective measures of the effect of weight loss alone on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis.

Fourteen adult dogs of various large, medium and small breeds with clinical signs of lameness were included in the study. Intact and neutered dogs of both sexes participated, and all the dogs included in the study were clinically obese. The dogs ranged in age from 10 months to 13 years.

By the end of the 18-week study period the dogs had lost an average of almost 9% of their initial body weight and 82% of them showed decreased evidence of lameness.

Surprising news? Hardly. In a time when prescription diet pills for dogs are hot sellers, the idea that excess weight exacerbates joint problems is hardly controversial. The more interesting (and depressing) part of the story is the small number of dog owners that participated in the study. As Marshall et al. put it: “Stimulating and maintaining client interest in canine weight loss programs can be challenging and this hindered recruitment of cases.”

Fat is the new norm. I’m disturbed by the number of people who tell me they think my dogs are too thin. Apparently they’ve gotten so used to seeing fat dogs that a lean, fit dog looks weirdly out of place.

via ihasaHOTDOG

It’s a common misconception. A recent study conducted by Pfizer Animal Health found that while veterinarians believe that 47% of their canine patients are overweight or obese — only 17% of dog owners agree with them. Deep in denial, pet owners argue that their dog is big-boned, that he’s solid, and that he can’t possibly be fat because they feed him exactly what it says to on the package.  Or they say that it isn’t a problem because the dog is only a few pounds overweight. While being ten pounds overweight may not be a problem for you or your Saint Bernard – that same ten pounds represents 20% of a 50 pound dog’s weight and 50% of a 20 pound dog’s weight. That’s the difference between a healthy weight and morbid obesity!

Adding to the problem is that fact that veterinarians aren’t always comfortable telling people that their dogs are fat. Some pet owners feel insulted when they’re told that their pet is overweight and when the owner is obese too, discussing a weight problem can be uncomfortable for both parties. A recent study published by Nijland et al. that found a strong correlation between the body mass index of dog and its owner indicates that this is often the case.

So now there is some scientific basis to the old saying that “if your dog is fat, you aren’t getting enough exercise!”

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ruthcrisler  |  March 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    It’s true many dog owners take fit dogs to be underweight. I have a wonderful client with an English bulldog that I regularly trot out of the kennel to demonstrate the breed’s near-pathologically under appreciated capacity to in fact have a waistline. He is a very handsome dog, which helps a bit, but even so I am rarely able to make the case compellingly enough to have any real effect.

    And I find it both frustrating and ironic that many veterinarians seem unwilling to educate either themselves or their clients in the area of proper nutrition, while the veterinary community becomes increasingly jealous of their role as gatekeepers for advice on all things health related, including mental health and behavior.

  • 2. H. Houlahan  |  March 24, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    I’m sadly not surprised that they had difficulty getting study participants. Bet if the study was for a miracle pill that would eliminate joint pain, everyone would have been piling on.

    Years ago Perfesser Chaos was in a weight loss study. He was lucky to be in the control group (calorie restriction) rather than the study group (calorie restriction via a nasty-tasting liquid diet thing). He was, as they say, the biggest loser in the control group, and this by a wide margin. His secret? He actually followed the instructions. (And continues to do so to maintain.) People won’t even do something simple to make themselves feel better, if it calls for impulse control and self-discipline.

    As you know, my advice to dog owners is that if strangers on the street are telling you your dog is too thin, he’s probably about right.

    It requires consistent diligence to keep my easy keeper lean, but it isn’t difficult. She just gets less to eat than the others do. All I have to do is not give her any more than she needs.

  • 3. Mike  |  March 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    What I don’t get is that keeping a dog thin requires almost no impulse control on the part of the owner. You just a) use a cheap plastic measuring cup to scoop out food and b) put one less scoop in the bowl every day. The dog can’t even really whine and make your life miserable about it the way kids will if you don’t get them treats for lunch.

    I mean, losing weight yourself *is* hard. Food tastes good, and food that’s bad for you tastes better. I know a lot of people who have few greater loves in life than a good meal with family and friends. Exercise is hard work, especially if you’re already overweight.

    But you don’t even have to exercise your dog properly to keep them in shape! Just reduce the food until they’re at a proper equilibrium for their activity level. It amazes me that people get that caught up in the serving on the back of the bag that they ignore what’s actually happening to the dog.

  • 4. Mongo  |  March 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    I am sure they had difficulty finding participants!
    Giving dogs treats is FUN.
    I don’t believe for one minute the people questioned ever actually measured the dogs food according to the bag’s instructions, either.
    People fill the pretty bowls they bought.
    Even the idea of feeding once a day puts many people off as they believe free feeding to be the ideal.

    Besides, people have an investment in having a “100 pound Lab”-
    It explains why the dog is never walked- he’s such a huge powerful beast he pulls them off their feet.

    I would guess that fewer than 10% of the American public is aware that healthy dogs should have a rib or two visible and an actual waistline.

    I don’t blame the vets- they get tired of talking about something no one wants to hear they same way I get tired of hearing my dogs are too thin when they aren’t.

  • 5. YesBiscuit  |  March 25, 2010 at 6:36 am

    I’ve had some personal experiences where people commonly regarded as “dog experts” have told me my dogs were either emaciated or too fat. Of course I thought they were just fine. I figure as long as the experts are evenly split on emaciated and too fat, I’m probably doing ok.

  • 6. Eleanor  |  March 25, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Ah yes. The 100 Pound Labradors… Funny how most people have a few Labs over the course of their lifetimes and run into these with such regularity. Between my foster dogs and my own, I’ve lived with over 100 Labs in my lifetime (so far!) and have never had one.

    The fattest dog ever sheltered under my roof was a 2 year old yellow bitch who came to me at 88 pounds. She WAS a big bitch, but she looked like an engorged tick.

    Two measured meals per day and adequate exercise brought her down to 73 pounds. She looked fabulous.

    They didn’t tell me how fat she was before they sent her to me, but they did tell me she had luxating patellas. This poor dog couldn’t run across the lawn without her knee slipping. Once her weight came down, she never took another unsound step.

    Currently, I have three Labs and a Golden. All in standard for height, and the heaviest is 65 pounds. I cannot imagine trying to pack another 40 pounds onto any of them. It really should be grounds for animal cruelty and neglect charges.

  • 7. SmartDogs  |  March 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

    It was funny how often I ran into 100 and 120 pound labradors when I had the Leonbergers. Oddly, these dogs were always quite noticeably smaller than my 120 and 130 pound dogs…

  • 8. SmartDogs  |  March 25, 2010 at 8:13 am

    &%$#% opposable thumbs have been screwing up my weight loss program…

  • 9. H. Houlahan  |  March 25, 2010 at 8:49 am

    German shepherds are also, apparently, sold on a commodity basis, by weight.

  • 10. stone soup diaries  |  March 25, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    So are American Bulldogs apparently…

    I saw one that was “rescued” by a couple.

    He weighed 90 pounds when they “rescued” him.

    Beautiful dog. Beautiful condition. I saw him. In person the day after they hooked him.

    4 months later, the dog weighed 144 pounds.

    He was creaking under his own weight.

    He couldn’t walk 50 FEET without having to sit down and rest.

    The owners were told by a VET of all people that the dog was too thin when they “rescued” him.

    “But we followed the directions on the BAG. Just like the vet told us to”

    “Would that have been a bag of Hershey’s Chocolate Bars?”

    Now, I’m a pretty big gal. I likes to eatz. But dammit, that’s MY CHOICE!

    I told them I wouldn’t take the dog for love nor money til he dropped the 50 plus pounds they stuffed him with.

    That’s a risk I am so not willing to assume.

    Needless to say I didn’t hear from them again.

    The two things I hate most is when “dog experts” call my Pointer a Dalmatian or my little Lab bitch a ‘mix’ or when they pontificate on their streamlined physiques.

    Thin? Huh. I should be so thin.

  • 11. thetroubleis  |  March 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I’m fat, but I don’t find it a lot of work to keep my dog thin and muscled. I think part of the issue is that a whole lot of people don’t measure the food at all and refill the bowl whenever it get empty.

    My late Samoyed, that i had as child, was over weight until we stopped free feeding her and she slimmed right down.

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