It’s often said that dogs tend to look a lot like their owners over time, which is just one of the many endearing qualities of our canine companions. However, given the sad reality that over one-third of adults in the United States are considered obese, the tendency of our dogs to mirror our looks ceases to be cute when they begin to pick up some of our weight issues as well.
A National Pet Obesity Awareness Study published in 2014 claimed that around 53% of the dogs living in the United States were obese. While some people may find the sight of a pot-bellied canine adorable, the reality is that excess weight is a sign of poor health. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, liver issues, bone/joint damage, and stroke are just a few of the serious problems that can develop as a result of obesity in dogs (and humans).
Fortunately, weight issues can often be improved and even reversed with increased, consistent exercise and sensible dietary changes. While health-conscious dietary changes often include such actions as diminishing portion sizes and the number of meals eaten by the dog per day, new research published in the American Society for Microbiology’s mBio, an open-access scientific journal, suggests that the nutritional content of a dog’s food can also have a significant impact on his weight.
Researchers wanted to test diets that focused on different nutrient combinations and their effects on the gut flora (healthy bacteria that assist the body during the digestive process) of dogs. They gathered 64 dogs, with half of them being considered overweight or obese, for the experiment.
Initially, all of the dogs were given the same food for four weeks so that researchers could gain an understanding of the dogs’ baseline gut flora through stool samples. After the baseline samples were collected, the researchers put the dogs on diets that either emphasized high-protein/low-carbohydrate content or low-protein/high-carbohydrate content, studying the dogs’ stool samples for gut flora changes.
According to the results of the experiment, the dogs that were fed a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet showed two-times more Clostridium hiranonis, Ruminococcus gnavus, and Clostridium perfringens gut flora when compared with their baseline stool samples. It is believed that the presence of additional gut flora may boost the body’s metabolism abilities.
Ultimately, the researchers who conducted the study were encouraged by the results, but they maintain that further testing will be needed to determine whether or not high-protein diets can truly be helpful to overweight dogs. Additionally, high-protein diets can have their risks for certain dogs (such as those with compromised liver and kidney functionality), and food that is high in protein but not properly balanced can actually increase weight gain. So, while the results of this experiment may have researchers optimistic, it will probably take some time before new and improved dog food formulas that take advantage of the science are introduced to consumers.