Dogs join owners in battle against the bulge

On a humid Sunday morning, Tammy runs briskly, panting, tongue dangling, on a five-kilometer (three-mile) course, before rolling onto the cool grass. The English Shepherd's owner Marika Krausova said the dog was "a little chubby" at around 50 pounds (23 kilos) but has shed three pounds since starting exercise program, which included a "pack" of half a dozen dogs and their owners.

"We've been running so she has been slowly losing weight," Krausova said after she and other dog owners sweated out the course through a local park.

These canines and their owners are on the front lines in the battle for improved dog fitness in the face of what some experts see as a growing problem of pet obesity and related problems.

Dog races, boot camps, fitness session and other programs are springing up across the United States to help prevent and fight the epidemic, attributed to the same problems of weight control in humans - a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

"It upsets me when people have overweight dogs," said Jeff Lutton, owner of a pet store in Alexandria, Virginia, who runs the weekend program for dogs and their owners that includes runs of various distances.

A Centers for Disease Control study in 2006 concluded that between 23 and 41 percent of American dogs were overweight, but some who work with dogs contend the figure may be higher.

Dog fitness programs and "boot camps" try to combat this by allowing canines and their owners to be their own workout partners.

Nina, a bulldog-pit bull mix on the Sunday run, "is one of the laziest dogs on earth, but being with other dogs motivates her," says owner JP Dhillon. "Running and long walks help keep her trim.

Riley's, a Border Collie-Labrador mix, has been running in the program to help cope with hip dysplasia, and in the process has pushed owner Shaunda Adams to become a better runner.

"It took us two months to complete the three miles, but how he has inspired me," she said. "Now I'm signed up to my first marathon."

Jill Bowers, founder of the Thank Dog Boot Camp in Los Angeles which gets dogs and their owners to work out together, said the animals need exercise every day and that exercising together helps both the canines and their two-legged friends

"If the dog gets on an exercise regime they have to stick with it too. It doesn't seem as much of a chore."

Many pet owners who are forced to leave their dogs at home during the day deprive the animals of needed exercise. But the owners are often tired after work, and will give the pets treats out of guilt.

"When I see an owner who is overweight you can guess the dog is overweight," said Carol Brooks, co-owner of DogOnFitness, which offers exercise programs for dogs.

"People are working longer hours, they are away from home and they are feeling guilty," she said.

Ernie Ward, a North Carolina veterinarian and personal trainer who wrote a book on dog obesity and founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, said the problem requires an effort on several fronts.

"Pet obesity is now the biggest health threat to pets in the US," Ward says.

Pet exercise is important but cannot solve the problem alone without diet changes, he said.

"The key really is diet. We are now feeding our dogs a diet similar to that we are feeding ourselves," he told AFP in an interview.

"The milk bones and dog bones people give their dogs are not the same as they were years ago. The manufacturers are loading up these treats with fat and sugar. Dogs like the same things we do, so they are changing the brain chemistry of the dogs."

Ward, who speaks on the subject around the world, said the problem is not confined to the United States, with weight problems growing in Asia, Europe and Canada.

"Even in Paris and Nice you are starting to see heavier dogs and cats," he said. "If you look at who makes the dog foods and treats, the US is exporting our obesity problem."

Ward, who cites data showing 51.5 percent of US dogs and cats are overweight and 15 percent obese, said momentum to solve the problem must come from pet owners demanding healthier foods and working out more with their pets.

He says overweight and obese pets have a higher risk of developing other health problems including osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer.

"We think food is love, so we give the dogs treats," he said. "But the last few years of the dog's life is miserable. It's needless and it's avoidable."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

    £7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'