Dogs who eat less live nearly TWO YEARS longer and developed fewer chronic diseases than those allowed to eat as much as they wanted.
The 14-year study, funded by Nestle Purina Pet Care Co., involved 48 Labrador retrievers from seven litters. The dogs were paired off, with one fed 25% less than its sibling starting at age 8 weeks.
The thinner dogs lived for a median 13 years and had fewer diseases, such as painful and debilitating osteoarthritis, compared to their all-you-can-eat partners, who lived for a median 11.2 years.
“Just as obesity in children and in adults is not something to be looked at casually, neither should obesity in pets,” said Dr. Gail Smith, a researcher and clinical studies chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
“We hope this study will motivate interest in diet and increase awareness that keeping fit is a good idea for dogs as well as people,” Dr. Smith said.
The study was conducted by Nestle, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois, Cornell University, and Michigan State University, and presented recently at a symposium in St. Louis.
Partial results of the study, believed to be the first-ever life-long canine diet restriction research, were published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Julie Churchill, who runs a weight-loss clinic at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, called the findings groundbreaking.
“Most people belittle obesity and its impact [on their pets]…They think it’s cute,” she said. “This research is powerful because it allows me to tell people, `Your pet is likely to have more health problems and die younger if he is obese.'”
A dog at the proper weight has a waist that creates and hourglass figure when viewed from above and ribs that are visible when viewed from the side.
Scientists have long known that calorically restricted rodents live up to 40% longer than usual. Preliminary results of research on monkeys have shown similar results, with monkeys eating a well-balanced, reduced-calorie diet suffering fewer age-related ailments.
One theory is that caloric restriction caused metabolic shifts that may affect the rate of aging, slowing down some of the metabolic processes that cause cell damage and can lead to disease. Some surmise that the same effect likely holds for people, too.
K.C. Armstrong of Collingswood, NJ, owns three English sheepdogs, two of which were obese when he adopted them from an animal rescue group. It took nearly two years, regular weigh-ins and stringent food monitoring but Armstrong says the health improvements were marked in 15-year old Weezer, who went from 90 pounds to 58 pounds. Twelve year old Casey dropped from 88 pounds to 73 pounds.
“You need patience and discipline, just like when you’re trying to lose weight yourself,” Armstrong said. “But, it’s worth it when you see how they improve.”