The biggest loser


In this weight loss competition, being a big loser is a good thing.

As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Anne Chauvet of Veterinary Neuro Services in Sarasota, Fla., saw the consequences of pet obesity firsthand. She was doing way too many back surgeries on overweight dogs. So to raise awareness, she began the Big Loser Weight Loss Competition for markedly overweight dogs in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Winnie, a 10-year-old schnoodle, earned the top prize, beating out seven other competitors. Her owners received a check for $2,000 and a year's supply of natural pet food, provided by sponsors.

Before and after: Winnie snatched the title of Big Loser after starting the weight loss competition "massively overweight"-more than 40 percent over her normal body weight. Before the competition, the schnoodle weighed in at 27.3 pounds. Her finishing weight bottomed out at 20.4 pounds after 12 weeks of hard work, a healthy diet, and lots of exercise. She also lost four inches from her chest and seven inches in her waist.

To reach the goal of losing 3 percent of their starting weight each week, the closely monitored contestants exercised three times a week on an underwater treadmill at Dr. Chauvet's practice. They also attended weekly obedience classes and received a free supply of diet food. The dogs' owners attended weekly educational sessions about their pet's weight loss. The result of all the hard work, Dr. Chauvet says, has been worth it. "Dogs that would just lie down and refuse to walk have much more energy now," she says.

Contestants were judged on weight loss and body condition compared to breed standards, as well as attendance at the educational sessions and their obedience scores. All the competitors had the option of continuing the program to achieve their goals. The only cost to participate was an initial exam with a veterinarian to determine that the dog was healthy enough to participate.

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