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19 October 2010


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H. Houlahan

My own reaction to this drug and its marketing comes from fifteen years of experience in counseling dog owners and learning exactly what kinds of evasions people will offer in the face of the effects of their own behavior on their dogs' health and welfare.

From Pfizer's own boilerplate:

Diet and exercise - the traditional approaches to weight loss - can be effective if followed. However, many dog owners experience frustration with these measures because of lack of time to exercise their dogs, and difficulty restricting food and treats.

Which I read when the news story about side-effects hit.

This does not say to me that veterinarians are being cautioned to prescribe this drug only in cases where the owner is providing appropriate exercise and is compliant in feeding the dog appropriate amounts and kinds of food, and the dog is not responding with weight loss.

It also does not point to a proactive caution that the dog must be evaluated to rule out underlying disease, such as Cushings, before taking this appetite suppressant / fat blocker.

I cannot tell you how many times I have insisted that a dog be tested for hypothyroidism -- a problem that is often very apparent to me based on behavior, appearance, and how the dog's flesh feels under my hands -- when the owner says that "He was just at the vet and the vet says he is fine." I have always been right about the dog's thyroid, except when I've been wrong and the dog has Cushing's. This is with dogs who are showing classic symptoms, from high-risk breeds, and the vets' approach has been to sell Science Diet r/d.

Now will the suffering, sick dog be offered a diet pill instead of treatment for his medical condition?

I saw no cautions that this drug was only for animals that had crossed the threshold into clinical obesity. Nothing about being used only when the client was compliant on diet and exercise.

Like most diet pills, it is being marketed as a substitute for sensible diet and exercise rather than as a last resort.

Dogs don't have a choice. They don't have a choice about getting exercise, they don't have a choice about what or how much they are fed, they don't have a choice about which diagnostic tests they get, and they don't have a choice about taking a pill that may make them sick.

If Pfizer was marketing a diet pill for fat kids, and was telling doctors "Hey, you know that your patients' parents are just going to feed them junk food and let them sit in front of the game console all day, so forget about healthy diet and exercise, just give the tots this drug -- and bonus, you can sell it to them yourself! New profit center!" -- would everyone who cares about children not be at their gates with pitchforks and torches?


But the majority of people and the majority of pets don't have a medical disorder that makes them fat.

There is an interesting article on the Huffington Post Web site, "Food addicition: Could it explain why 70 percent of Americans are obese?"

The addictive properties of highly processed foods explains a lot about why people can't lose weight, don't stop excessively eating foods they know are causing them harm over time.

If there was a pill you could take to cure drug addictions or alcoholism, there would be a pill to cure obesity.

For people and animals, I think the issue is less medical than the foods that we eat.

Highly processed foods make you fat, a calorie is not a calorie. That is vaguely debateable but I can only base that on my own experience.

And for pets it doesn't help that on the side of the bag of their highly processed food…or even on a container of pre-prepared raw food, the feeding recommendations are outrageous.

Christie Keith

Sheyna writes:

The addictive properties of highly processed foods explains a lot about why people can’t lose weight, don’t stop excessively eating foods they know are causing them harm over time.

I certainly believe those foods have those properties. The problem is, I was morbidly obese and am still fat without ever, and I mean EVER, eating anything like that. I got to my highest weight after years, decades, of eating only whole foods, nothing processed, and no sugar.

I live in my body. I may not have hypothyroidism or Cushings, but I have something. And someone with a functioning metabolism simply can't weigh what I weighed, or even what I weigh, just because they're being careless about how they eat.

Lastly, you wrote:

But the majority of people and the majority of pets don’t have a medical disorder that makes them fat.

I agree. But I believe the majority of obese people and pets do.

H. Houlahan

Christie, I just looked at the human study you linked to.

Interestingly, I have some direct contact with that study, or rather, its precursor.

PC was in the control group of subjects when the same research group first tried out the methods on adults who were overweight but not clinically obese.

I agree that 27 pounds of weight loss in a year by a clinically obese adult is insufficient to justify the regimen described in the abstract.

As it says in the abstract, the diet was not entirely liquid -- one or two meals a day.

PC was lucky to be in the control group; his boss at the time was put in the group that got the liquid lunch, and she reported that it was *awful.* So the probability that compliance was problematic on that part of it is high. Daisy drank the horrid shakes and was highly compliant and slimmed down a lot.

PC lost over 40 pounds in the course of the study -- calorie-counting and exercise -- and continued to lose on his own after the study period, which was six months or less -- don't recall exactly. He lost the most weight of anyone in the control group (absolutely and controlled for ideal weight), and lost more weight than most of the people in the experimental group.

He did this by being anal-retentive about the calorie counting and the exercise. I tried to steer him towards whole foods, as I always do, with no success. Cannoli is love, doncha know. Until I can get his photo posted at every bakery in town, he will continue to make crappy choices about how to "spend" his calories.

I experienced similar weight loss when I used the same calorie-counting program and just counted calories and exercised, but I also made sure to make better food choices.

Many of the people in the study lost little weight. The reasons were not mysterious. They were noncompliant. They did not count every frikkin breath mint on their Palm Pilots. They couldn't force themselves to drink the godawful shake. They didn't go to the gym. They didn't strap on a 40# backpack three times a week and power-hike with their dogs. (Imagine my joy when I discovered that just adding rocks to my pack could buy me a couple of pork chops!)

I also lost over 40 pounds -- in fact, lost too much, had to bring it back up. And I've kept most of it off without calorie counting -- about four years now.

That's regular overweight people. So I don't think this newer study tells us that much about the difference between obese and overweight people. It tells us something about the limitations of diet shakes (or, I would argue, any processed food full of contrived fiber and chemical "sweeteners") as substitutes for food. It tells us a lot about how hard it is for people who SAY they are highly motivated to lose weight and get healthy to keep with it.

PC and I had some serious motivation. We were looking at not being able to do the things we love most. My knees and feet were starting to tell me about what that extra weight was doing to them. His bunions were just about crippling (they did need surgery in the end). If our feet didn't work, the days of crashing through the woods behind a SAR dog would be at an end. No more backpacking. No more caving. The world would shrink.

So I think the difference between us and most of the overweight study participants was that our motivation was very real, very present -- the fear of losing a huge part of our lives. Or, rather than fear, to put it positively, perhaps the love of those things.

Christie Keith

Heather, I went to a fair amount of trouble to distinguish between issues of this particular drug and the concept of treating obesity medically. This isn't about THIS DRUG.

It is about the nearly-universal scorn with which people reacted to the idea of treating obesity medically.

I think people and animals should eat healthy, whole foods and get lots of exercise. I just think that obesity doesn't get cured by those things except in extraordinary circumstances -- mine certainly isn't cured, but I did lose 187 pounds with whole-foods Atkins and weight lifting. And I do think obesity can, in many cases, be PREVENTED even in susceptible individuals by healthy, whole foods eating and exercise early in life, although I think there are other factors involved than lifestyle, such as research suggesting a correlation with certain viruses, in utero exposures, and of course, genetics.

I mean, all you have to do is look at the many households where the people have a number of cats, and only one of them is fat. Same food, fed free-choice. Same exercise opportunities or lack thereof. But not all the cats are obese or even fat.

Kelly Byam DVM

I prescribe Slentrol (the drug in question) only when nothing else has worked and the pet is still suffering from obesity and other illness has been ruled out. Does restricting food make an animal lose weight? Yes. Do owners suffer when a pet who feels s/he is being starved constantly begs for more food? Yes. Slentrol is a drug of last resort, not of first choice. Thanks for the article!


Rori, your post made me laugh out loud. Our culture's dysfunctional relationship with food colors so much of who we are. Processed foods engineered to get us hooked just like cigarettes; sprawl and the car culture that separates exercise from our daily lives so that we have to go to gyms to burn calories instead of doing chores or walking as a method of transportation; rampant advertising, product placement and outright solicitation (junk food vending machines in schools, for example.) It's an uphill battle for people under the best of circumstances.

I hope our conversations continue to be nuanced, because every situation is different. I wanted to thank everyone for such a thoughtful and intelligent discussion about an issue that touches us all so personally. I fall squarely into the category of "get off your a** and eat less", but I have known animals and people for whom it is simply and obviously not the case.

All I can add by way of my own experience is that anyone who has known a smart, completely food obsessed dog, knows that the whole notion that we "completely control what our dogs eat" is ridiculous! I've seen fat dogs build scaffolds to get to cupboards 7 feet high, open locked safes to get to cookies or bullion cubes or whatever they find. I've seen them make totally sane adults think they've lost their minds - "I know I put that pound of asparagus on the counter a second ago... where on earth could it be?"

What I can say is that I do my best... hopefully we all do, but Rori said it - "It's not a fair fight."


I was going to post a comment here, and then I was struck typeless by the completely, honestly unintentional gastronomic "flavor" of my thoughts, which went something like this:

1) Boy, I’d like to post a comment, but I’m not sure I have the stomach for it.

2) Christie, I understand and share your distaste for the scorn the medical aspect of obesity and weight loss elicits.

3) Those simpletons who loudly profess that losing and keeping weight off is simply a matter of calories in/calories burned make me want to bite their faces off!

So, now that I have reflected on those thoughts, I distill them down to this comment:

Food has taken over my vocabulary. Ugh. It's so not a fair fight.


There was a very interesting study done not too long ago about adenoviruses contributing to weight gain (in humans). About 60% of obese kids tested positive for immunity to this virus versus very few normal-weight kids. A doctor in the study said he found some kids had "very brisk weight gain" without any real cause - that is, they weren't sedentary, and they weren't overeating. Here's a link:


I believe overweight is multifactorial - sometimes it is a lack of exercise and bad diet, but reading about that virus makes me think that there are people who "do everything right" and still can't lose weight. And of course, blaming them doesn't help! I'm a huge proponent of the "Health At Every Size" movement.

My surmise is that a virus may contribute to overweight in SOME pets as well. In any event, pet overweight is multifactorial just as is human weight. I have a cat who eats what she wants, when she wants (I feed her a high-quality organic pet food) and her weight is normal. And yes, she's spayed. But I had another cat who was Mr. Tubby Tabby, he looked like the feline equivalent of Luciano Pavarotti, on the same food and free-feeding regimen. So pets, like people, are different.

Christie Keith

Kelly, I'd argue that the PET suffers too.... not just the owners.


There is a lot of transference going on here.

We all agree that there are people, and pets, with medical problems causing obesity. Those have been pointed out. There are simple and available tests for those conditions for people, and maybe from vets if you can find one smarter than a paper bag to treat your animal.

However, the truth as a medical provider, a dog trainer/owner/breeder/companion, and am adult "chunky monkey" myself I have to say that the number once problem with humans I see is not medical. Nor is the dogs...

There are no pills without side effects. Cutting calories, increasing food quality while decreasing amounts, reasonably increasing cv exercise does not have negative side effects for most.

Show me someone of any species who's legitamately gone to bat with the latter and I'll take a hard look at the safety and efficicy of a pill.

A Hard Look.

I've got friends who still suffer from the lifelong side effects of the last miracle diet pills... Fen-phen anyone?

All the dogs are on the thin side here. Maybe you guys can do something about people, including vets and those who should know better, thinking a fit dog is starving to death? Reminds me of the human syndrome of considing a chubby child "cute" and laments a skinny (healthy) child as "too skinny, does she eat ok?".

Coincidentally, our dogs live about 4-6 years longer than the statistics listed for the show (typically kept overweight) version of their breeds.


After gum surgery, I have been having a soft diet (nothing to chew) and I lost 2 pounds so I can see how a liquid diet might work in the short term. The diet is so limiting, though.

About trying not to have fat cats, I did have two fat cats before and it was hard controlling them.

With these two present cats, I do not give them anything with gravy as I did with the other two that passed. The main reason is that my vet said that the ones in gravy (Fancy Feast) were a whole lot more calories than the ones without. I cannot stand the gravy ones since I learned that those were the ones that were poisoning my cats in 2007 made by that unmentionable Canadian firm.

These present two cats I got complimented on instead upset being criticized for actions. However, these are young and active cats so I hope their good weight-in continues.

Christie Keith

I believe it's multifactorial and different for individuals as well. I don't think it will ever be "pop a pill and be healthy weight." But I do believe that there are appropriate chemical/hormonal inverventions that can reverse many cases of obesity, and we're on the brink of discovering more of them than just Cushings and hypothyroidism.

There's a streak of moralizing that accompanies a lot of these discussions. The fact is, a lot of people, at different times of their life, don't take good care of themselves. They don't get enough sleep, they skip meals, they eat junk food, they spend too much time in front of the TV or sitting at a desk, they date losers, overdraw their checking accounts and let their bosses take advantage of them.

Most of us, as we grow up, manage to keep our list of character flaws below a certain critical threshhold, LOL. I mean, we all have weaknesses and strengths, character-wise, right? And we try to not let the weaknesses impact our ability to hold a job, pay our bills, feed our families... whatever our baseline and critical needs, we try to take care of them.

Getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating right, though, fall off the charts for a lot of people. They can decide to turn that around at some point. Just like some people can do booze and drugs in college, then clean up their act and become responsible about substances later in life. Or sleep around and then settle down with one person. Etc. And when some people start eating and sleeping and exercising right, they will find that any extra weight they were carrying drops off, and they feel much better.

But for others, making healthy lifestyle choices does NOT reverse their obesity, just as some of us who "partied too much" in our younger years learn we can't drink in moderation later on -- we really have to stop. We're not like those people who just cleaned up their act.

It's like Leo on West Wing said when someone asked him about being a recovering alcoholic, and if after all those years of sobriety he couldn't have one drink. He said he didn't want one drink, he wanted ten drinks, and he didn't even understand people who had one drink. Because he was an alcoholic.

Alcoholism, too, is a chemical/hormonal/physical condition. That doesn't mean that non-alcoholics can't drink too much, let substances ruin their lives, or drive drunk. They can. But it does mean that, if they turned their lives around, they could probably have a glass of wine with dinner without triggering some catastrophic cascade of events. And for THAT, there almost certainly will one day be a pill -- because the chemical reaction that turns one drink into ten does have the potential to be interrupted.

We're conditioned to treat both alcoholism and obesity as moral issues. And yes, it does take a certain amount of character, awareness and determination to not have that first drink or bite of cake, yes. But those things are USELESS once you've had the first bite or sip. That's just how it is. It isn't a moral issue, it's a medical issue. The answer doesn't lie in my character, it lies in my biochemistry. Period.

And when they come out with a pill that breaks that chain reaction, assuming the risks are slight, I'll take it, because in fact, there's nothing at all "wrong" with having a glass of wine with dinner now and then, or a small piece of cake on your birthday.

But for a lot of people, that's unacceptable, because to them, it's a moral issue, or a character issue, or an education issue, or a lifestyle issue. I believe those elements are involved in how we DEAL WITH our condition, but it's still a condition and I still believe that we will never overcome widespread obesity until we have good medical solutions.

Barbara Saunders

I used to be a personal trainer. I think what most of us don't understand is that ANY successful weight loss effort (beyond a very few pounds, probably fewer than 5) actually requires "healing the metabolism."

The couch potato who takes up walking to and from work doesn't lose weight because of the calories burned during the walk but because of the physiological change that gets triggered by the new stressor.

That is precisely why it does not work for an active person who's been playing sports on an ongoing basis to lose weight by simply adding an additional walk to the day: not enough of a stimulus for an adaptive response.

So, the idea of triggering the necessary physiological responses with a pill rather than with behavior is not solely a matter of "laziness" or poor moral values.

Linda Kaim

Biggest Loser for pets anyone?

The success of that one show alone gives rise to the question of whether there is a decided genetic or other biological influence to weight gain and retention or not.

Having struggled with being overweight almost my entire life, I know what I have to do; and it's calculated down to the nth calorie. But still, it's a matter of mind over donut if I want to keep it off.

Christie Keith

Linda wrote:

Having struggled with being overweight almost my entire life, I know what I have to do; and it’s calculated down to the nth calorie. But still, it’s a matter of mind over donut if I want to keep it off.

Of course, but our bodies aren't designed to work that way. Appetite and fat storage are much more automatic than that, and while, in our society, it's true that we may need to pay some attention to our weight and what we're eating, it shouldn't be that kind of white-knuckled, spreadsheet kind of thing.

Sure, a few individuals can live like that their whole lives, but it's a doomed strategy for a widespread problem. I mean, I don't know how you are about housekeeping, but I'm sure we've all made these resolutions about not letting the laundry pile up or that we'll take the recycling in before it's filling the garage, or whatever. And we can make these resolutions, and sometimes they turn into lifelong habits, but for most of us, a month or a year later, the laundry's reaching to the ceiling or the garage is full again.

That's how the white-knuckle spreadsheet approach to weight loss and maintenance is. Yeah, there are those people who make it work (and there are also those naturally organized people who can't stand it when there's even one single piece of unfolded laundry in the dryer when they go to bed at night), but for the majority of us, vowing to stay on top of things falls apart as soon as we have a deadline or a sick child. You know what I mean?

There are all kinds of other factors involved, too, including that I, at least, become so STARVING when I cut my calories below a certain point, or raise my activity level above a certain point, that I can't stand it. It's like I want to consume the dry wall. That's why I can't lose the rest of my weight, because it's like when I cut below my current level of calories, the hunger monster gets unleashed. And I eat really well -- zero junk food, zero fast food, zero processed food, no grains, no sugar. (Okay, not ZERO processed food because sometimes I do eat in restaurants and it's hard to avoid, but almost zero.)

It's like caloric restriction gives me Cushings, LOL -- because it makes me act and feel just like my Cushingoid dogs did before I got them treated!

H. Houlahan

I just remembered one of our (NESR's) foster dogs last year.

The mature bitch was obese. OBESE. More than 40% over her ideal body weight. Panting and working hard to keep up on a moderate-speed walk of a few hundred yards. Could not climb stairs. On Rimadyl for joint pain -- she couldn't rise at one point.

She had been very "loved." Snausages = Love. It had taken a previous custodian eight months to take her from a rather lean BMI well into obesity.

It took her foster person about six months to get her to a normal weight, but this was done with just calorie restriction and a good-quality diet, plus increasing moderate exercise as she tolerated it. Rimadyl discontinued after a weight reduction of about 15%, and no stiffness or pain. Spring in her step again.

Is this dog an easy keeper? Yes.

Did she suffer from a medical condition that caused her obesity? Not at all.

She wasn't really even that much of a food hound.

Just as when FHOTD shows pictures of an emaciated horse that the owner claims is "sick," and then the "after" shots of the horse at normal weight, after the extraordinary medical intervention of *feeding the horse,* the mystery of this dog's "condition" was easily solved. (It is more fun to put weight on a thin animal than it is to take it off a fat one, but both are duties that may not be shirked.)

There are medical conditions that can make a horse emaciated. The easiest way to rule them out is by feeding the horse. The converse is true when an animal is overweight or obese.

Do I believe that obesity can be a sign of an underlying medical condition? Sure.

Is ADHD a real disorder? Probably.

Does that mean that the majority of obese dogs or antsy little boys have a medical condition that requires them to be dosed with dangerous drugs with their whole suite of side-effects?

I do not believe it.

There have always been a few obese individuals. If the veterinary industry is telling us that obesity is an "epidemic," then they either need to find verifiable cause in some *new* pathogen, medical practice, or feed ingredient, or they can man up and admit that they've been standing by watching their clients overfeed their patients for the last few decades.

The dog genome did not suddenly explode in the last twenty years.


Christie wrote:

I agree. But I believe the majority of obese people and pets do. (have a medical condition that causes them to be fat)

That may be the case, certainly your situation sounds like there would be some underlying cause.

That there would be medical condition affecting such a huge swath of the population would be staggering though not unthinkable... for instance there are thousands of new environmental toxins we expect our bodies to deal with and who really knows what kind of affects they have on us.


'On ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Health Can Take Back Seat' - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/25/business/media/25loser.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

Whenever I see anyone promoting this show, I get the heebie-jeebies. This is not health, folks. It's starvation theater.

Christie Keith

Heather, you wrote:

Did she suffer from a medical condition that caused her obesity? Not at all.

So what you're presenting here is a dog who was enticed to eat high calorie foods by her owner, who the minute she was put on a reasonable diet, very happily dropped the weight without hunger or suffering.

And those would be the dogs I mentioned in the post that respond to "eat less move more."

I'll tell you this, Heather: We don't really know the percentages of people, or dogs, who are like this dog, or like me. I see many, many fat dogs with aware, despairing owners. You see, apparently, enough dogs like the one you describe here to pooh-pooh my observations. Neither of us has data to back up a percentages claim, so there's no point in arguing about it.

So I'll just say this: when you say obesity "caused by" a condition, that's only part of what I'm talking about. I'm saying obesity IS a condition. Some of the effects that are so distressing when you calorie-restrict an obese person or pet are the result of the presence of large amounts of body fat.

I can't find the citation, but there was a study done a long time ago (probably why I haven't been able to find it) on prisoners. If my memory is correct, they were all normal weight, and they deliberately ate very high calorie diets to see how much weight they could gain. All or most of them did gain weight, but the minute the study was over, they went back to their normal weights.

Now, what if this study went on for ten years, and they had body fat on their bodies for a decade? What if your "easy keeper" had not been fat for less than a few months, but for years? Would it still have been so easy to get that weight off without suffering?

Obviously, neither of us knows for sure, but I would guess it's highly possible, even likely, she'd have developed endocrine imbalances that would have made it much, much harder to get her weight off without suffering, or at all.

Christie Keith

Heather wrote:

If the veterinary industry is telling us that obesity is an “epidemic,” then they either need to find verifiable cause in some *new* pathogen, medical practice, or feed ingredient, or they can man up and admit that they’ve been standing by watching their clients overfeed their patients for the last few decades.

When I interviewed vets for my articles on canine and feline weight loss for SFGate.com, several didn't want to be interviewed because they said they had no luck to share, because it was very rare for their patients to lose weight, even with what they called "highly motivated" owners.

Now, we can say, all these owners are oblivious "food is love," can't lay down the law, permissive indulgent whiners who don't know how to say no to their furbabies. And sure, some of them are.

But it's a lot like the idea that shelters are full because of "irresponsible pet owners," or that fat people, like me, are fat because we must be secretly living on donuts and potato chips and have no will power and don't get off our fat asses and get some exercise. A LOT of people I meet in the park, with overweight and obese Labs and Beagles and so on, are almost starving those dogs. I know when I had my Chow mix, Colleen, who had what I now believe was undiagnosed Cushings, I was starving her -- and I was doing it with a food scale and the blessing of my vet. She was miserable, and fat, all her life, although I managed to get her down from a high of 93 to 75 by starving her. (She should have weighed 60.)

I think at a certain point we have to stop making these assumptions that all these fat people and owners of fat pets are being non-compliant, and at least open our minds to the possibility that something else is going on.

When "eat less, move more" don't work pretty easily -- there IS something else going on.

Gina Spadafori

Like Christie, I do have a dog in this fight, so to speak, having once weighed 450 pounds myself.

Anyway ...

This morning I was at the kennel of the Iroquois Hunt, doing a meet-and-greet with about 70 working hounds and a dozen or more retirees. A working pack of the happiest hounds you've ever met, given not only the best food and medical care but also countless miles exercise daily. Put your hands on these dogs and they are rock-solid, muscles rippling with fitness.

And guess what? The houndsman told me some maintain weight effortlessly, some need extra food to keep weight on and some must be watched to keep weight off. These are not couch-potato pets, but a working hound pack -- and even near-identical litter brother hounds on identical regimens have different metabolic needs.

Like Christie, I am maintaining a rather dramatic weight loss (I got here through weight-loss surgery, circa 2000, leveled off for years and have lost 30 more pounds in the last three years) but am still fat. Like Christie, I walk lots, work out at the gym regularly and eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods in moderate amounts and I will not touch anything with high-fructose corn syrup in it.

I would like to lose another 30-50 pounds for my knees' sake, but I can't ramp the exercise up more and if I start to eat less I am miserable and obsessed about starving. All my vitals are excellent, which makes my physician a little crazy, since I think she wants to have something like high blood pressure or diabetes to hammer me with, and she can't.

Since I live with my metabolism, I'm perfectly able to imagine that there is variation within other animals as well, and it's not just "too much 'food is love'" and too little "get your fat ass off the couch and your little dog's, too."

There ain't no couch in a working hound pack's kennel, and ain't no overindulgence from a kennel man who clearly loves the dogs but needs a pack that can hunt, with a level of fitness that'll take a dog for up to 26 miles in an afternoon in all kinds of weather.


I can’t find the citation, but there was a study done a long time ago (probably why I haven’t been able to find it) on prisoners.

Likely the Vermont Prison Overfeeding Study done by Ethan H. Sims, published in a series of articles in various medical journals from the late 60s through the 70s. I don't have any specific refs either, though.

Christie Keith

Sheyna, I do think there are medical conditions that "cause" you to be fat, like Cushings. But I also believe that obesity in and of itself causes a number of endocrine system disorders that maintain obesity. It's not really that I'm saying that an underlying medical condition causes obesity, but that obesity itself IS a medical condition.

Susan Fox

I recall reading somewhere, sometime (How's that for data rigor?) that eating too little, in other words, "starving" oneself, can cause the body to react by hanging onto every calorie because an ancient survival reaction has been activated. Which makes it even harder to lose weight.

Christie? Heather?

Christie Keith

Susan, LOTS of studies indicate different things, depending on how long the studies go, how severe the calorie restriction or over-feeding is... but yes, at least in the short run, it's been demonstrated that caloric restriction lowers the amount of energy the body burns, while over-feeding amps it up. But when you monkey with variables, you can influence that. And it differs from individual to individual.


That's what I thought you meant...obesity is a medical condition itself. But then I got confused after reading your response to me.

I'm not even sure if that's where I got confused. I'll just stop typing now and lay my head down on my desk.

Mary Mary


The book "Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell" makes that very argument.

I heard the author speak a long time ago. What she said made a lot of sense.


That there would be medical condition affecting such a huge swath of the population would be staggering though not unthinkable… for instance there are thousands of new environmental toxins we expect our bodies to deal with and who really knows what kind of affects they have on us.

We evolved in circumstances that made the ability to store energy for times of scarcity a survival characteristic. And certain kinds of food, specifically fats and sugars, we could not regularly get enough of to be a problem, so that there's no "had enough" signal in our bodies as there is for most nutrients in most healthy people.

That overweight and obesity should be problems in modern settings where shortages of food in general, and shortages of fats and sugars in particular, is completely unsurprising. Given what constituted genetic fitness in terms of being able to survive regular food shortages, it is, I think, totally predictable that your body's programming wrt to handling fats and sugars wouldn't need to be off by much at all in order to produce obesity that doesn't respond easily to "normal" weight control measures.

Dee Green

Christie, I believe we 1st met on the "Big BARF" list, where I went in search of answers for my (recently diagnosed) diabetic Chow Golden X, Aki (1994 - 2008). Through that list, I learned to feed a (not BARF approved) raw meat diet on which she thrived for 8 years, something none of my vets had encountered (canine life expectancy post diabetes dx was 18 months - 3 years at the time). Aki required 1/3 - 1/2 the amount of injected insulin for her body weight, which probably slowed the inevitable organ damage. In 8 years we had 2 hypoglycemic episodes, both near the end.

I credit the raw meat diet for 70% of the above blessings (30% = exercise). I know it was the food because I immediately began home testing Aki's blood sugar twice a day, before and after meals, and I made charts! Food, exercise, insulin, time of feedings/injections, vitals, were all tracked daily for most of her years post-diagnosis.

The diet switch alone caused my Rottie, Stevie (1994 - 2007), to lose 20lbs. She lived to 13.5 years. 8 - 10 was the life expectancy of the average Rott when she died in 2007.

Before this diet, my dogs typically suffered at least 1 vet-worthy illness a year, sometimes more. Since I began feeding raw, I have not had an illness-related veterinary expense other than old age and a flea allergy. This benefit has extended to 18 dogs to-date

When I 1st started BARF, around 2000, vets told me this diet would kill my dogs. Today, you can buy a dozen or so different ground, raw mixes at retail outlets in Southern California. This change happened largely because of what you, Gina, Susan Thixton, and others have written about the pet food industry in the wake of the 2007 recalls. Sadly, it's not because the veterinary profession has embraced the truth about the effect of processed foods on dogs.

I'm grateful veterinary medical research and resulting canine obesity therapies are evolving. But when you couple a distasteful history of "lose weight quick/easy" Big Pharma marketing at the expense of patients (Fen-Phen, Avandia) with the shameful promotion of a processed food diet by most vets, and backed by a $15 billion dollar industry, pets and pet owners are exceedingly vulnerable.

I'd be a lot less skeptical about a canine weight-loss drug if they 1st promoted the idea that adding fresh, whole food to a dog's diet is a really good idea.

Martha M


Martha M

I have been dieting since I was 11 years old. I know the ins and outs of just about every weight loss program of the last 45 years. My gosh, I could have been a Nobel prize winner with half the effort I have put into dieting. Right now I am about twice the weight I should be. But my dogs are fit and trim. I measure their homemade raw food to the 10th of an ounce. I couldn't stand the thought of anyone saying "no wonder her dogs are fat, look at her." No, the dogs are slim, active and seem happy. My friend says they "beg", and must be hungry. What constitutes this begging? A look. A Springer looking at someone else eating food? How *unusual* (snort). Begging is in the eye of the beholder.

I am reducing my weight now. The type of food I eat is very satisfying. High fat, moderate protein, and low carb. This is the only formula with which I have success. (Not the conventional advice I have had from my doctor's office.) It quiets the constant internal craving dialog that has been with me all my life. I would love to have a pill to make my constant effort easier, but I am not confident that anything like that would not have serious side effects. Not a risk taker, me. Just older, and finally seeing success with the subversive high-fat and raw-feeding underground.

Christie Keith

First, hi there, Dee, and thank you for the lovely things you said, and I'm so happy you had such great luck with the raw diet!
You said:

I’d be a lot less skeptical about a canine weight-loss drug if they 1st promoted the idea that adding fresh, whole food to a dog’s diet is a really good idea.

Of course. I understand that perfectly. But throughout the years I've been feeding raw and using holistic care, I've grown to understand that we're never going to have that huge revolution in how we feed and care for our pets. Most people are going to go on as they have been, and some things will get better and some will get worse. We need to live in the world as it is, and we need to do what works for ourselves and our animals right now, not in the some idealized future.

If -- and I say IF -- a safe and effective medical therapy for obesity was introduced, it seems to me that many people who I have spoken to in the last few days would be against it on the grounds that obesity should be cured by "eat less, move more." Some people refine the "eat" part of that to include WHAT you eat.

Don't get me wrong; I eat a whole foods, grain-free, extremely low carb diet. I feed a raw, whole foods, grain-free, extremely low carb diet to my dogs, too. No sugar for them or me. I think everyone (and their dogs) would be a lot healthier if they ate that way and fed their dogs that way. BUT... it's not going to happen, and based on my experience, even if it did, it's not a panacea. If it were, none of my dogs would have gotten Cushings and I would have been able to lose the rest of my weight.

We can't say we won't trust an obesity drug until Big Pharma and Big Food and Big Ag change. They aren't going to change, or if they do, it will be too far in the future to help any of us today. If someone does find a good intervention point for obesity in people or humans, and is able to create a safe and effective therapy -- be it a drug, hormone replacement therapy as we use for hypothyroidism, hormone suppression therapy like we use for Cushings, or some other treatment -- we should look at it, consider its efficacy, risks and benefits, and decide if it's something we want to try for ourselves or our dogs.

Christie Keith

Martha, low carb (Atkins, whole foods only, no "low carb processed/junk foods") is how I lost my 187 pounds, too. I still eat that way. :)

Linda Kaim

There have been a lot of studies that reflect whole populations (indigenous populations on all continents,including islands in the Pacific) demonstrating a 'rebound' effect that suggests a 'feast or famine' physiological preparedness. In lean times, when food is scarce, the metabolism slows to spend as little energy as it can get away with and in times of plenty, the body stores fuel in the form of fat.

Cultural shifts in eating habits of these same populations have increased diabetes, heart disease, infertility and other afflictions directly related to diet within generations.

The consumption of processed foods, high sugar content, synthetic additives and convenience foods are major contributors to the obesity epidemic, I feel, both in dogs and in humans.

I think the 'condition' is a matter of fine tuning the types of and quality of food being consumed, not the restriction of calories.

For me it was percentages of protein vs carbs vs fat, or 4-4-9. I didn't count calories, I rearranged them.

Weight loss techniques are as much a science and art as anything else and the variety of successes and failures are as unique and as individual as the folks who employ them.

Dee Green

Christie, I don't think the world has to be perfect for dogs to "deserve" a medical intervention for obesity, nor do I think Big Pharma or Big Food/Ag needs to evolve for vets to stop colluding with them. It boils down to:

1) Processed food diets are far from native for dogs or cats. Lots of anecdotal evidence suggests they do much better without processed grain of any kind, let alone corn/rice/wheat based diets. Wish the lucrative beef neck or chicken back industry would do some studies. In other words...

2) Whole foods do not have ginormous ad budgets.

3) Without going Lonsdale on you, the vet industry has chosen, thus far, to promote/proselytize/defend a grain-based, low quality diet that they profit from on a number of levels. They will no doubt happily dispense (profit from) whatever pharmaceutical comes along to treat obesity, too, without ever addressing the cause of much canine suffering: processed food diets.

I live under no illusion: without Pedigree, Purina, et al, many dogs would suffer a much worse fate. But that's no justification for the veterinary profession to sell dogs down the profit river and argue AGAINST them eating fresh meat, veg, fruit, etc.

The world doesn't have to change, but if vets want us to believe they're in the business of promoting canine health, they really should.

Christie Keith

Dee, I understand. I really do. I'm just saying: None of that is going to happen on a large scale. It simply isn't. You can do it, I can do it... but even though I believe it is a growing movement, it's simply never going to become common enough that we can say, let's work on getting everyone onto whole food diets before we start worrying about drugs to help these dogs. And people.


Thank you for this discussion. I have no comment other than to say I appreciate the opportunity to learn and think and open my heart and mind. (And now I'm going to go eat cake for breakfast...because I am a lazy schmuck. But the dogs are mostly not too fat, although I logged on before I got them their morning biscuit, they're all sleeping nicely at the moment.)


Wow, lots of fascinating discussion with detailed citing of studies and personal experiences. Obviously a topic that affects so many of us. I care for many dogs at my boarding facility who are overweight and obese. I talk with the owners about it and recommend they try feeding the dog less. I always preface that with taking the dog to the vet first to try to rule out any medical conditions. Having worked at a vet clinic for many years, seeing pets who were overweight or obese was very common. Most dogs were over fed, a few were hyper thyroid or diabetic. There is no pat answer to resolve the problem.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950's and '60's we fed our Collie mix dog 2 Gainsburgers twice a day along with table scraps (I'm sure a lot of that was animal fat) and the dog cruised the neighborhood and got into people's garbage. (I cringe when I think about that but that's how a lot of dogs lived in those days). This dog lived 15 1/2 years in spite of what she ate. I'm not advocating this kind of care (or lack of) I just find it interesting.


My kitties are fed a diet of raw meat and absolutely thrive on it. They all maintain ideal weights and stay active and healthy.

I on the other hand eat no meat and haven't for 30 years. I maintain an ideal weight and stay active and healthy.

If anyone cares to analyze that, please do!

Sara Jo

This is a fascinating discussion. I think pets are a reflection of us in a lot of ways, and I have always kind of thought they are a reflection of us in terms of obesity as well, and I don't mean just in terms of overeating and under activity. I think obesity is a complex issue, especially when it comes to population trends. Just in observing different dogs while out and about with my own dogs, it also seems that certain breeds are more prone to obesity, like labs and pugs. My own dogs are difficult to keep weight on, and the vet wants me to try and get my English pointer to put on about 5 more pounds. This is really, really hard to do, and I am stuffing her with food and adding fat to her foot, etc.


Heather - in regards to your first comment I can not say loudly enough how spot on you are in regards to the numbers of undiagnosed endocrine disorders in dogs.

I have had that EXACT conversation with hundreds of people. I suggest the dog get a thyroid panel immediately upon laying eyes on the dog (whose back is flat enough to play checkers on) only to be told that the dog was vaccinated a few weeks ago and SURELY the vet would have said something. Grrrr...

However, I have to add another issue to the mix - and that is R/D. I have NEVER seen a pet lose weight and keep it off using these diets. Never.

I have, however, seen dogs AND cats lose weight using canned food, home made food, high protein/low carb/low fat kibble, and an increased exercise regime.

The issue, I believe, is that conventional weight loss kibble is high carb, low fat, low protein. Leaving the dog with a sugar spike and subsequent hunger pains. Studies have proven that high protein low carb diets do much more not only for reducing fat, but also for retaining muscle mass which often wastes on conventional "diets".

This pill has a much higher potential for abuse and misuse than for good as far as I can see - and they're not doing much to hide the fact that that's exactly how they're marketing it, too.


Today's "Draw the Dog" cartoon is a good complement to this conversation. There's a link at the left for those that don't have it bookmarked.

My dogs don't need to worry about their weight, but I should pay more attention to what I eat.

Dee Green

Just discovered this fascinating look at Pfizer's attempts to keep the testing of Selentrol to a minimum, prior to release.


Here's a short URL for the above:


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