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Fat Camps...For Your Dog

Caitlin Plummer |
September 29, 2013 | 2:02 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Kansas State University Veterinarian Dr. Susan Nelson says dogs should be exercised twice a day in increments of 15 minutes to an hour, depending on their needs. (Creative Commons/Flickr)
Kansas State University Veterinarian Dr. Susan Nelson says dogs should be exercised twice a day in increments of 15 minutes to an hour, depending on their needs. (Creative Commons/Flickr)

The epidemic is real. Obesity is not only affecting the children and adults of America, but the pets living here, too; it just seems that not everyone has acknowledged it yet.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) 52.5 percent of American dogs are overweight or obese. This represents about 36.7 million dogs here in the United States. Yet according to APOP, 45.8 percent of dog owners referred to their obese or overweight dog’s weight as “normal”. Canine obesity is identified in dogs that are 20 percent over their ideal body weight; dogs 10-20 percent over their ideal body weight are also defined as overweight.

To combat this reality, and tap into a bit of the profits of the fitness phenomenon, "doggie fat camps" have sprung up all over the U.S. One such camp, the Morris Animal Inn of Morristown, N.J., was recently featured in a CBS news clip. The Inn exercises dogs by taking them to work out on treadmills, swim, and run up stairs. The dogs also receive individual attention from trainers. Then, after long days of exercise, the dogs are rewarded with healthy snacks like yogurt parfaits. The owners of participating dogs at the Morris Animal Inn testified not only to weight loss, but also to an increase in their dog’s energy level.

Another self-proclaimed “doggie fat camp” is found at the Indigo Ranch in Vernonia, Oregon. The Indigo Ranch boards dogs Monday through Friday and then sends them home to their families over the weekend with specific food portions and instructions to keep them on track. The average weight loss program at the Ranch lasts from four to eight weeks, depending on the needs of the dog. The four-week programs cost $800 plus food, and the eight-week programs cost $1600 plus food.

However, "doggie fat camps" are not the only direct reaction to America’s pet obesity epidemic. Various canine diet programs have emerged in an effort to control poor nutrition found in pet households, a problem that has arisen from overly loving owners who enjoy rewarding their pets with extra food and treats. Purina especially has cashed into this phenomenon with its Project: Pet Slim Down. The Project uses a Body Condition System scoring guide that focuses on the shape of the dog, not the weight, in consideration of the body differences in each breed. The scores ranges from one to nine, with a four or five as the ideal score.

The website boasts of the online aspects of the program, such as tracking progress, getting reminders, sharing successes with friends and receiving award badges for milestones. If that isn’t enough, you can find a Purina Certified Weight Coach to help with everything from motivation to creating a custom exercise and diet plan for your pet. The Project aims for a “healthy weight loss” of one to two percent per week. There are even success stories to read for those who are skeptical.

Though these programs may seem like they are merely capitalizing on the worry of attentive dog owners, they are actually addressing a serious problem. APOP identifies osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, cancer and decreased life expectancy as just some of the direct risks of canine obesity. And if any of the testimonials found on the websites of both the "doggie fat camps" and diet programs have any truth, the tactics are working. Concerned dog owners everywhere are giving back to their best friends by providing them with the best treat a dog could beg for: the opportunity for a long and healthy life.


Reach Staff Reporter Caitlin Plummer here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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