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Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 14 - July 20, 2005 Edition
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There is no new Visiting Vet column this week.
Fat is fat
Michelle Gerhard Jasny, VMD
Now dont be shocked. Im gonna get personal. Ready? I have
spent most of my life as a fat person. People often look embarrassed
when I describe myself this way. Oh, youre not fat,
they demur. Sure, I am. When an animal, human or otherwise, takes
in more energy than it expends, the result is a persistent energy
surplus that is stored primarily as adipose tissue. In other words,
fat. If you are 10 percent above your recommended heft, thats
defined as overweight. At 20 percent over ideal, you get the lovely
moniker of obese. Its a physical description, I remind people,
like tall, or blonde. Its not a value judgment. Were not
bad, or gluttonous, or lazy, or stupid. Were not even undisciplined.
The reality is just that some of us have genetic predispositions and/or
emotional constitutions that make weight control more challenging.
Odds are that you, gentle reader, are fat too. OK, maybe not here
on the Island of Beautiful People, but nationwide, studies indicate
that 60 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese. What does
this have to do with veterinary medicine? Its a common scenario
at my office. Moby may be a stubby-legged Dachshund or a long-limbed
Labrador. Whatever breed, hes a whale of a dog. Over 25 percent
of pets in the United States are also overweight or obese. As Moby
waddles in, his owner waddles after him. Fat dog, fat owner. No surprise.
Now comes the hard part. What do I do when this pair arrives in my
I have had clients tell me they were afraid to bring their fat, four-legged
furballs in for fear that I would yell at them. This is exactly how
I feel about the dentist and flossing. OK, yelling at people rarely
leads to weight loss (or flossing.) I could gently but firmly lay
out the basic principles of weight loss. In fact, thats what
I should do, what I often do. But sometimes when faced with a persistently
fat dog, especially one accompanied by a chubby owner, my little inner
voice sighs Save your breath. Lectures never helped me,
and experience tells me theyre not likely to inspire Mobys
owner either. I could ignore Mobys obesity entirely, but is
that being a good health-care provider? I dont know. For decades
my doctor has not mentioned my weight, even when I came in with complaints
of back pain, joint problems, and gastrointestinal upset. Initially
I appreciated not being browbeaten and saw his reticence as a form
of acceptance. Now Im not so sure. I think for health-care providers,
human or veterinary, it may be more a sense of resignation, combined
with already hectic schedules, that precludes us from pursuing discussions
of weight control, especially when we doubt our words will make a
So heres the good news. A bunch of doctors led by Dr. Robert
Kushner, Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg
School of Medicine and Medical Director of the Wellness institute
at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, got together with a
bunch of vets and scientists from Hills Pet Nutrition, the maker
of Science Diet and Prescription Diet brand pet foods. They did a
one-year study entitled People and Pets Exercising Together ( P-PET).
The purpose of the study was to see how a weight-loss program in which
people and their pets enrolled together compared to programs for people-only
or dogs-only. We know that people do better making behavioral changes
when they have a buddy or a support system. Look at Weight Watchers.
Look at Twelve Step programs. Could dogs and people team up as fitness
The study had three groups. The first, dubbed People and Pets (PET),
was made up of 35 fat dogs with 35 fat owners. The second group was
53 Dogs Only (DO.) The third group was 56 People Only (PO). Overweight
dogs were put on specified amounts of Hills Prescription Diet Canine
r/d (reducing diet) until they reached their ideal weights, then maintained
on Hills w/d (weight control diet). They were given an exercise
plan of 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity at least
three times per week and a regular weigh-in schedule. Overweight people
were given meal plans, behavioral strategies for controlling calorie
intake, and exercise suggestions. Over one year, everybody lost weight.
People averaged about 5 percent loss, i.e., a 200-pounder lost 10
pounds. Some lost more, with one individual dropping a whopping 51
pounds! Dogs averaged around 15-percent loss. (Thats like that
200-pound person losing 30 pounds.) Some lost more, with the maximum
canine loss being 35 pounds.
Now heres the most important point for Moby and his corpulent
companion. Participants in the combined PET group did better keeping
with the program. The Dogs Only group had a 32-percent dropout rate
by the end of the year. The PET group had an attrition rate of only
14 percent, with 86 percent sticking with it for the full 12 months.
The PET group did most of their increased physical activities together.
Lets face it. Its more fun running around with your dog
than exercising solo. Another reason the P-PET approach may be successful
has to do with bonding. Portly owners may sit and snack with their
pets while doing sedentary things like watching TV. Sharing that pepperoni
pizza feels like love. By substituting exercising together for binging
together, all parties benefit. Moby and his owner spend quality time
walking, jogging, and playing frisbee. Love for Moby helps keep Mom
or Dad motivated. How many of us are able to quit smoking or cut out
other unhealthy habits for the sake of our children when we cant
do it just for ourselves? Its the same dynamic.
People really enjoy spending time with their dogs, and our P-PET
study demonstrates that dogs provide the companionship, social support,
and motivation to stick with the program until the pounds come off
and stay off, says Dr. Kushner. This just might be the
ultimate buddy system for winning the battle of the bulge.
So Im not going to lecture you. Im going to encourage
you to pair up with your pudgy pooch and take an extra walk this week,
if youre so inclined. Remember, its not about being good
or bad. Its not even about being fat or thin. Its about
making healthy choices and doing the best you can for yourself and
your dog. Hey, you might even see me out on the bike path getting
some exercise myself.
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