“Humphrey” waddled into the exam room and sat in front of the counter housing the jar of Pup-
Peronis. He gave me an expectant look, then stared at the goodies. Using a Pup-Peroni as an enticement, the technician lured him onto the scale. Fifty pounds! The poor guy was 40% overweight!
I wish that were a noteworthy event, but about half of the dog and cat population is overweight. There’s a long list of health risks linked to obesity in dogs and cats, including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, arthritis, ruptured ligaments, skin disorders, immune dysfunction, bladder stones and fatty liver disease in cats. Most pet owners are aware of at least some of those risks. What excuse could we pet owners possibly have to justify shortening our furry friend’s lifespan?
Veterinarians hear a litany of rationalizations from pet owners when the digits on the scale surpass the previous year’s weight: It’s been too cold/hot to take him for walks; he pesters us for food so relentlessly that we give in; he’s always been fat; and my favorite: He’s not fat, he just needs to be groomed! Further examination of the clients’ feeding patterns usually reveals the culprits: too much food, too many treats, not enough exercise, and feeding from the table.
Obesity research in people has exploded in the past decade, and many of the findings in the human field have also been found to be true for pets. It used to be thought that fat exists to provide energy storage, thermal insulation, and support and protection for organs. We now know that adipose tissue is metabolically active in both pets and people, and is actually the largest endocrine organ in the body. It’s an oxymoron, but there is actually lean adipose tissue, and the genes in that tissue are different from the genes in obese adipose tissue. The genes in properly functioning lean adipose tissue are fat-burning genes. When dogs and cats get fat, those “good” genes are down-regulated and become fat-storing genes.
Is there a way to turn portly pets into fat-burning machines without having them act famished? The good news is that feeding obese pets a weight-loss food can shift the metabolism to a lean genomic profile. However, weight loss alone doesn’t alter gene expression. It appears that the best results come from weight loss due to feeding diets with specific nutrient profiles. If that sounds familiar, it’s the reasoning behind the explosion of human diet books, each of which purports to have the panacea for weight loss.
In my experience, most of the “weight loss” dog foods work fairly well. But they’re usually based on a model of added fiber and decreased calories, so in addition to creating the need for extra poop patrol in the yard, many of them do not satisfy dogs’ hunger.
That’s why I was interested when the Hill’s representative recently gave us a lunch-and-learn about their new weight loss diet, Metabolic Advanced Weight Solution. By combining key nutrients such as fiber, carnitine, lysine and antioxidants — “a proprietary bundle of synergistically effective nutrients” — the new diet (which is sold in both dry and canned varieties) helps up-regulate the good fat burning genes and down-regulate those nasty fat-storing genes. During trials, 96% of dogs and 86% of cats lost weight in two months while maintaining gastrointestinal health and feeling satisfied.
The food from Hill’s is relatively new, so the jury’s still out. But so far, the dog and cats in our practice who have been fed this food have lost weight, and their people seem to be pleased that the diet is regulating their pet’s appetite pretty well. So we’re cautiously optimistic; maybe there is hope, after all, for the “Humpreys” of the world!