Culture Dish

The other day I took my dogs to the vet for a checkup and saw a woman with her morbidly obese dog waiting to fill her prescription for Slentrol — the first obesity drug for dogs — which made me feel the need to resurrect this post below, which I wrote the day the FDA announced they’d approved the drug for use in dogs:

The FDA just announced that they’ve just approved the first-ever obesity drug for dogs, which really makes me cringe. Why? Because dogs don’t have eating disorders — their owners have feeding disorders.


 
This
summer, I adopted a new dog after she ran in front of my car on an
interstate. She was starved, so I took her home and fed her. And fed
her. And fed her. She weighed 20 pounds and could eat a heaping cup of
food in 28 seconds (yes, I timed her). But that was fine, because she
needed all the extra calories she could get. Then, about three months
later, during a good wrestling match, I realized I couldn’t feel her
ribs anymore. Suddenly, she’d gone from being emaciated to being pudgy.
So I did exactly what everyone else with a pudgy dog should do: I
started feeding her less. Instead of getting a heaping cup at each
meal, she got 2/3 of a cup. Three weeks later, she wasn’t pudgy
anymore. That’s the amazing thing about dogs and weight: Humans control
their calorie intake, and there’s nothing dogs can do about it. If your
dog needs to lose weight, you feed it less food.

It’s true that
there’s an epidemic of canine (and feline) obesity right now, just like
there’s an epidemic of human obesity. Which is no coincidence: People
don’t exercise, which means their dogs don’t exercise. When people eat,
they feed their dogs scraps, so the dogs gain weight right along with
their owners. And don’t even get me started on the ingredients in dog
food.

But there are other less obvious problems: Owners often
have no idea how much they should feed their dogs, and if they follow
the guidelines on most dog food bags, they’re probably going to have
obese dogs, because pet food companies encourage overfeeding. I had a
125 pound dog who lived to be 16 and was never an ounce over or under
weight. If I’d followed the guidelines for his food, he’d have eaten 2 1/2 times what I actually fed him, and surely become obese. My very healthy 17 year old dog Bonny eats 1/4 the recommended amount, always has.

During
my years as a veterinary technician, I saw many dogs die or become
paralyzed from obesity. Today, when I see an obese dog on the street, I
want to walk up to its owner and say, You love your dog, right? Then
why are you killing it?

If it’s come down to this, and people
are unable to control themselves when it comes to feeding their dogs,
I’d rather see dogs medicated than dead. But I hope vets who prescribe
this stuff paste a sticker on every bottle that says, Dogs
don’t need obesity drugs. They need owners who will feed them the right
amount, cut back when necessary, and make sure they get exercise.
(Perhaps the FDA should consider a self-control drug for humans with dog feeding disorders.)

Update: Due to the many questions I got in response to this post, I’ve decided to start a (brief) series of follow-up posts that address the most common questions and offer tips. The first post: How to Prevent Obesity in Your Pet — also see the comments thread for some good stories about the crazy things we do to keep our pets from gorging themselves. I hope others will join in with stories of their own.

Comments

  1. #1 Eivind Kjørstad
    October 27, 2009

    You’re right, offcourse. On the other hand, we also have obese 5-year-olds and your entire argument above about dogs apply to them too.

    Just saying.

  2. #2 Rebecca Skloot
    October 27, 2009

    Agreed completely. I just posted about this on Twitter the other day, but there was just an article in Time called “Should morbidly obese children be taken from their parents?” http://bit.ly/2jyRIC … the same question could be applied to pet owners.

  3. #3 Frank the SciencePunk
    October 27, 2009

    Was this designed specifically for dogs? Or did an anti-obesity drug simply not make it past human trials, and the company decided to recoup costs by licensing it for animals?

  4. #4 speedwell
    October 27, 2009

    I have three large-to very-large cats, and collectively they eat less than one and a half cups of dry food and about ten kitty treats a day. Their food dish is never left empty, because they freak out if the food level gets too low (even if they aren’t hungry!). They are naturally medium-weight for their size and obscenely healthy. To feed them what it said on the side of the cat food bag, I’d have to use a gastric tube.

  5. #5 ERV
    October 27, 2009

    When I first adopted Arnie, he was skin and bones too. So I fed him everything. Everything I ate, he ate half of.

    While I eat very healthy (okay, except for the cherry poptarts), my food + dog food + breaking into his dog food hamper = chubby puppeh.

    When he hit 70 lbs, my vet suggested I cut back on his calories, and I did (cut out all the peanut butter, watched his food intake better). Next checkup, he was at 59. My vet was shocked I actually did it. He said he tells that to everyone with an overweight dog, and basically no one changes their feeding habits.
    :(

  6. #6 Paul Browne
    October 27, 2009

    Frank “Was this designed specifically for dogs? Or did an anti-obesity drug simply not make it past human trials, and the company decided to recoup costs by licensing it for animals?”

    You’ve guessed right, in fact the WP article gives the very reasons why it failed in human trials.

    “But the new drug, called a selective microsomal triglyceride transfer protein inhibitor, is only for dogs. How it works is not well understood, but it blocks absorption of fat and seems to control appetite. It is given in liquid form under a veterinarian’s close supervision. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. ”

    I think the diarrhea was described as “anal leakage” in the human trials. Probably not such a problem for dogs, which tend to be more relaxed about such matters, but I doubt their owners will find it much fun.

    I’m with Rebecca on this, it’s a false solution to the problem. Pets may not have rights, but that doesn’t mean their owners don’t have responsibilities.

  7. #7 Tony P
    October 27, 2009

    Friend of mine have a female English Bulldog. She’s a sweet dog but has some medical issues. She’s lost about 10lbs now that they’ve started regulating feeding.

    But she recently had surgery for a mass removal that turned out to be adenocarcinoma. The vet thinks the prognosis is good since there was no serious peripheral involvement, or any lymph involvement.

    Now she gets about 1/2c of food per day. And she’s down from 65lbs to 55lbs. She actually looks better. Plus I think the dog has a wheat allergy. Switching her to a rice based food lessens some obvious allergic reactions.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    October 27, 2009

    That’s the amazing thing about dogs and weight: Humans control their calorie intake, and there’s nothing dogs can do about it.

    Up to a point …. Just don’t starve the dog too much if you are a heavy sleeper….

  9. #9 Ahcuah
    October 27, 2009

    I just took a look at the side of my dog’s can of dog food. The recommended feeding: 1/2 to 3/4 of a can per 10 pounds (!) of dog weight. Wow.

    We feed her half a can per day, plus an early morning reward of a slice or two of American cheese for fetching the paper. And a few milk bone snacks per day.

    And she’s slightly overweight on that.

    So, yeah, as you said, “pet food companies encourage overfeeding”.

  10. #10 Ahcuah
    October 27, 2009

    Oops. Posted before I included that our dog weighs 70 pounds. At 3 1/2 to 5 1/4 cans a day, she’d asymptotically collapse as a black hole.

  11. #11 Srvp
    October 27, 2009

    Is there a good guideline for how much to feed dogs, then, if the back of the bag isn’t reliable? Our dog doesn’t tend to eat too much, and we just let him have what he wants (he was also underweight when we got him a month ago), but now that he’s up to normal weight, I’m not sure exactly how much to feed him.

  12. #12 sgw
    October 27, 2009

    And lets not forget that vets make money off every prescription that gets filled at their office.

  13. #13 Gruesome Rob
    October 27, 2009

    And lets not forget that vets make money off every prescription that gets filled at their office.

    And ridiculous amounts. We had a prescription that we ended up refilling OTC at 1/3 the price for 30x the pills.

  14. #14 frog
    October 27, 2009

    Srvp: here’s how you do it.

    You feed the dog X amount. If you notice that they’re getting fatter, you cut down. Continue until the dog is no longer fat. If the dog gets too skinny, add a bit more. Convergence is guaranteed within 6 months.

    This is not just snark — dog shapes, sizes and metabolic rates vary a great deal (that’s one of the reasons why they’re great domestics). The best measure is the empirical one — how much does your dog need so that you can just feel their ribs (unless they’re a boxer, in which case the ribs should really, really be showing — they should look starved).

    If you don’t have time for that — you don’t have time for a dog.

  15. #15 Brandon
    October 28, 2009

    I found it ironic that the article shows an Asian kid eating a rice ball. Isn’t rice the reason Chinese people are (statistically speaking) shorter and lighter than Americans?

  16. #16 Rebecca Skloot
    October 28, 2009

    Thanks for all the great comments, all. You inspired me to do a few follow up posts where I’ll answer questions I got here and via email, and I’ll talk about various things people can do to make sure their pets aren’t obese. Here’s the first one, posted this morning.

    @Frog: You’re exactly right.

  17. #17 Barbara Passero
    October 28, 2009

    Here’s a related item. Have you noticed how many dogs are getting cancerous tumors and serious gastrointestinal disorders? Guess what? Dogs are low to the ground…they spend considerable time on your grass…they eat grass…and they come into contact with all the toxic herbicides and pesticides that unaware people put on their lawns. Don’t ask the FDA or EPA what pesticides are safe. They haven’t read Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring or seen the PBS show, A Plague on our Children. Every once in a while, they’ll retire a chemical after many horror stories. They allow people to use ChemLawn, one of the biggest dog killers ever. And think about all those poorly paid people without healthcare who spray that deadly stuff, with only the protection of a useless mask. Read all about this and the next item on the Silent Spring Institute’s website. http://www.silentspring.org

    If people were serious about protecting their dogs’ health, their own, and the water supply, they would get rid of their lawns and replace them with native species that don’t require pesticides or herbicides and tons of valuable water.
    On another related item. Have you noticed how many young women have breast cancer? Have you noticed how many babies are being born with autism or related disorders? Human sperm are delicate — very easily damaged.

  18. #18 Christine
    October 30, 2009

    Beagles are famous for having a never-ending appetite and there a lots of roly-poly beagles around. I have two of them — 12 and 14 years old. They have never been overweight in their lives. Other beagle owners are always askng me how I can keep them at a healthy weight. Duh. DUH!