Old Saw New Science
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.
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!”