Just like humansits calories in and calories out when it comes to weight loss in dogs

May 9, 2016
Kathryn Primm, DVM
Kathryn Primm, DVM

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, but has a growing career as a writer, a speaker and an online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike.

So how are you going to help that BCS 5/5 yellow Labrador retriever in your exam room? Diet, sure, but what about exercise?

Overweight dogs are now so common that we think it must be common knowledge how to fix it. But not much has been truly explored about obesity management in dogs. We know that obesity contributes to other diseases that affect our patients' quality of life. Because of the prevalence of obesity and the damaging side effects, what to recommend to pet owners is very relevant to all of us.

For years, we have told people to be mindful of the amount of food the pet gets and watchful of treats and people food. The results of this restriction have been that some of the patients lose weight, but some people express concern that when calories are restricted, lean body mass is also lost. The role of exercise in the management of obesity in dogs hasn't gotten much investigation, but now we have a study that we can cite about a secret weapon in the war against obesity. It is a weapon we've known about all along-exercise.

An exercise on exercise

A study was designed to investigate obesity management for canine patients. The study looked at 12 overweight privately owned dogs. The dogs were divided into a weight loss program based on calorie restriction with a commercial low-fat high-protein diet alone and a weight loss program based on the same diet in conjunction with physical training.

Gene expression in muscle and adipose tissue was sampled, through biopsies, and studied before and after the 12-week program. The genes that were selected for study are key genes and microRNAs relevant to energy metabolism. Some genes that were studied were more beneficial for health when they are upregulated and some when downregulated.

In the diet restriction only group, the dogs' bodies responded with changes in fatty tissue, but beneficial gene expression seemed to be lessened in muscle tissue, which suggests that although the body weight was reduced, the muscles were impacted in a negative way. These findings seem to confirm the concern that calorie reduction alone, although effective at reducing body fat, can reduce lean muscle mass.

In the diet and exercise group, fatty tissue showed altered gene expression, indicating a reduction in fat, but other beneficial genes were more expressed in muscle tissue when compared with the diet only group, suggesting a positive impact on the muscles. The exercise appeared to have exponentially increased the positive effects.

Exam-room application

This study's findings support that even though reducing dietary intake is a good idea, if we can couple it with an increase in exercise, we can significantly impact overall health for the better. Even mild exercise was sufficient to induce beneficial changes in muscle and fat tissues. Weight reduction is a beneficial change, but when paired with even a modest exercise program, positive health effects are compounded. So make sure every bag of weight-reducing food you recommend also comes with the recommendation for an exercise plan!

Uribe JH, Vitger AD, Ritz C, et al. Physical training and weight loss in dogs lead to transcriptional changes in genes involved in the glucose-transport pathway in muscle and adipose tissue. Vet J 2016;208:22-27.

Link to abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26701817