PHILLIPS COLUMN: Fighting Fido’s Fat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 6, 2007

One of the top New Year’s resolutions for people is losing weight. This year humans may not be the only ones making this resolution. Your household pooch might make a pledge to reduce his or her waistline.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first drug for obese canines yesterday. Called Slentrol, the Pfizer Inc. drug is aimed at helping overweight Fidos shed extra pounds. Officials from the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA told the Associated Press (AP) the drug is a welcome addition to animal therapies, because dog obesity appears to be increasing.

Now I know what you are thinking, or at least I know what I was thinking, a diet drug for dogs, this image thing has gone too far. But has it really? If people are trying to lead more healthy lifestyles, shouldn’t their entire families, including their animals, be doing the same?

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According to the Associated Press article released yesterday, a dog that weighs 20 percent more than its ideal weight is considered obese. That tincludes about 5 percent of the nearly 62 million dogs in the United States. An additional 20 percent to 30 percent are considered overweight.

The liquid canine diet drug works like most diet drugs on the market for humans in that it appears to reduce the amount of fat a dog can absorb. It also seems to trigger a feeling of satiety or fullness, according to the FDA. But, it also can produce some unfortunate side effects, including loose stools, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Like their human counterparts, overweight dogs are also at risk for developing diabetes, heart trouble, joint problems and other complications, the FDA said. At the same time, two-thirds of Americans are also overweight or obese, government statistics show. The AP reported that the drug is not for dog owners. The FDA discourages the drug’s use in humans and lists a litany of side effects should anyone ignore that advice. Nor is Slentrol, also called dirlotapide, for use in cats.

In general, dogs need a far fattier diet than humans to thrive. Fat is an essential source of calories for dogs and is necessary for growth, development, reproduction and healthy skin, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Like all diet drugs, Slentrol is meant to be part of an overall weight management program that includes a complete and balanced diet and exercise, according to its label. Slentrol is not a cure for obesity; its effects cease within a day or two of stopping treatment. Slentrol should be available from veterinarians in the spring, according to Pfizer Animal Health. The once-daily drug should cost between $1 and $2 a dose, the company reported.

Obesity isn’t unfamiliar to me. I come from a family, including myself, that struggles with weight issues. That includes all of my family, even our pets. I have a 10-week old Chihuahua, Izzie B, which weights 3 pounds and one ounce. While that doesn’t sound that bad, we should take in to consideration that when she is full grown she should weigh approximately six pounds. So, at 10-weeks she is over half her full-grown body weight.

I also am the parent to a 6-year old Chihuahua-fiest mix, Paco Taco, which weighs 11 plus pounds. He definitely falls into the overweight Fido category. I guess it wasn’t a good idea to name him after a food product to begin with.

But, the plumpness of my family and of our pets is caused by what we eat and the lack of calories burned. Dogs are just like humans in the fact that they will lose weight if more calories are burned per day than those that are absorbed. Prior to my arrival in Demopolis, Paco and I would walk daily. We both found results in our exercise, shedding extra pounds.

I know that being healthy is just as important for a canine as it is for a person, but I am not sure that I am ready to accept the fact that my dog might need a &8220;fat&8221; pill. I am not doubting that some dogs could benefit from the medication, but I just can’t accept that obesity has gotten that out of hand in animals.

I see my pets as my children and although at times I reward them with treats that might not be the healthiest choice it isn’t an everyday occurrence. And I know that exercise is essential for animals just as it is for humans, maybe even more than humans.

The American Kennel Club’s Web-site states that a healthy dog’s weight is the result of the balance between diet and exercise. If he is getting enough nutritious food and exercise but still seems over- or underweight, he may have a health problem. It states: don’t let your dog get fat by giving him too many between-meal snacks; obese dogs often develop serious health problems.

Therefore the best bet is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for your pet that includes a regular diet and exercise. But know that as a last resort the medical world has made a breakthrough and there are options available for your pets now.

Gennie Phillips is managing editor of The Times. She can be reached by e-mail to