Canine Fat Camps

New trend in the pet obesity epidemic
By JoAnna Lou, October 2013

Last year I wrote about a local doggy daycare's "fat camp." At first I thought it was a marketing gimmick, but the idea has been catching on as the pet industry reacts to the growing obesity epidemic. It's estimated that more than half of American dogs are overweight.  

It's become such a serious problem that the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine offers both an inpatient and outpatient obesity management program. Many daycare and boarding facilities have also added fat camp programs that include treadmill runs, swimming, and playing with other dogs. With so many pets coming in and out of their doors, these businesses see the obesity problem firsthand. Loyalville, a kennel and training center in Hatchbend Fla., started a boarding weight loss program after finding about two-thirds of their clients were overweight. 

Weight loss can make a big difference in a dog's health and quality of life. Boarding facility Indigo Ranch in Veronia, Ore. started a fat camp after working with a rescue Lab named Butters.  He was a friendly pup, but at 142 pounds he was considered unadoptable and was about to be euthanized. By changing his diet and adding more exercise, Butters dropped 54 pounds in five months. Now he's an athletic pup who loves jumping and catching balls in the air.

Pet obesity is a big problem these days, so the more resources people have to combat it the better. But I'm afraid that the idea of a fat camp promotes a magic bullet solution. Weight loss, whether we're talking about humans or canines, is all about behavior and lifestyle change. A dog sent away to one of these programs can come home and go right back to the same habits of overfeeding and inactivity. 

Obesity is a problem for both humans and canines. I would love to see a program that focuses on diet and activity change for both people and their pups together. I think that's the key to solving the epidemic. Plus I can't imagine sending one of my pups away for a month!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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