New findings on the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity in dogs
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Studies show that a dog’s lifespan is decreased by up to 2.5 years if they are overweight. Alarmingly, many debilitating diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, are linked to excess weight.
Body weight and fitness are important to your dog’s health, but helping your dog trim down can be a challenge as weight is regulated by a complex interplay of hormones, psychological factors and genetics. Scientists hope new findings in obesity research can give greater insight into (and help reverse) the epidemic plaguing not only pets, but people, too. Some exciting developments in the field of pet obesity include:
- Discovery of a gene linked to the development of obesity in Labrador retrievers
- Evidence that dogs may use food to soothe chronic stress in the same way as people
- Exercise plus calorie restriction is essential to weight loss in dogs just as it is in people
- Social interactions with other dogs helps stimulate physical activity
- Feelings of fullness depend on factors such as meal size and duration, and not caloric density
- Novel foods and highly palatable foods increase the risk of overeating
- Resident bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract can regulate feelings of fullness
Dr. Missy Simpson, epidemiologist for Morris Animal Foundation’s Canine Lifetime Health Project, recently analyzed baseline data on body weight and condition of participants in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Dr. Simpson found that in this cohort of dogs, older age at spay-neuter is protective against being overweight. Not surprisingly, more active dogs were less likely to be overweight. There were no regional differences in the number of dogs that were overweight or obese. As the cohort ages, we’ll be able to monitor body weight and condition as well as more thoroughly explore the potential links between body condition and the development of disease.
Obesity is one of the few diseases that dog owners can influence. By avoiding high caloric foods, making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and social stimulation, and avoiding high-calorie (especially high-fat) foods and treats, you can significantly impact the health and well-being of your four-legged friends.