New Diet Drug Is Approved for Pudgy Dogs - New York Times
January 6, 2007
New Diet Drug Is Approved for Pudgy Dogs
By STEPHANIE SAUL
Too many dogs are lounging around at home all day while their owners work, then stuffing on table scraps in front of the television at night, so much so that veterinarians say there is an epidemic of canine obesity in this country.
Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration announced one possible way to address the problem: the first prescription drug to treat obesity in dogs.
“This is a welcome addition to animal therapies, because dog obesity appears to be increasing,” said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the food and drug agency, announcing the approval of the drug.
Veterinarians define obese dogs as those that are 20 percent overweight. About 5 percent of dogs in the United States are obese, and another 20 precent to 30 percent are overweight, according to the drug agency. In all, Pfizer, the maker of the dog drug, called Slentrol, estimates that four million American dogs are obese and potential candidates for its therapy, which will cost $1 to $2 a day.
“This is not a passport to abandon exercise or diets,” said George J. Fennell, Pfizer’s vice president in the United States for companion animal health. But Mr. Fennell said the drug would be a big help for dog owners who find it difficult to cut back on doggy treats.
“You hear pet owners say: ‘The dog really wags his tail when I give him a treat. It’s hard to hold back,’ ” Mr. Fennell said.
The epidemic of obesity in dogs mirrors a similar problem in humans in this country. And veterinarians say that humans are mostly to blame for fat dogs. “People are treating their dogs like children,” said Dr. Hal Taylor III, a veterinarian in Columbus, Ohio, who calls obesity one of the biggest health issues dogs face. “They overindulge them, they get them heavy.” Dr. Taylor has conducted research for Iams, the dog food manufacturer, to help find weight-loss food formulas.
Slentrol is unlike any drug for human weight loss, but similar drugs have been studied as a way to reduce harmful fats in the blood of humans. The drugs were never marketed for people because of potential liver problems. In fact, the Slentrol label will carry a warning that it should not be used by people, and Pfizer said it should not be used for other pets.
One researcher who has studied the drugs said they could turn the liver into something resembling foie gras. Roger Davis, a heart researcher at San Diego State University who has no connection to the Pfizer product, said similar drugs might be used in the future by humans to reduce lipids in the blood, but only with another agent that blocks liver fat. Dr. Davis has been researching that drug combination.
Dr. S. Kristina Wahlstrom, a veterinarian and Pfizer executive, said liver problems were not an issue in dogs treated with Slentrol during the company’s studies of 550 dogs. The primary side effect in dogs, she said, is vomiting.
Slentrol is a liquid that can be added to a dog’s food or placed directly in its mouth. The duration of treatment will depend on the amount of weight a dog needs to lose. In clinical studies of the drug, dogs on Slentrol lost about 3 percent of their weight a month, without changing their diets.
The problem of pudgy dogs has been cropping up more and more in veterinary clinics, where dogs are treated for cardiovascular problems, diabetes, torn ligaments, sores on their elbows, hip and back problems, and arthritis, all related to obesity. Some breeds, though, like beagles, dachshunds and Labrador retrievers, appear to be more prone to obesity than others.
Deirdre Chiaramonte, a Manhattan veterinarian, said obesity caused particular problems for large dogs. “They will get pressure sores, they will clearly be laying down a lot. They’re going to have more arthritis because they’re carrying around a lot of extra weight,” she said.
For humans, an industry of diet centers, gyms and weight-loss doctors caters to a national obesity epidemic. Slentrol is part of a similar industry springing up for animals. Animal Medical Center in New York is considering an obesity program for dogs, using two underwater treadmills, Dr. Chiaramonte said.
But Dr. Taylor said he would emphasize diet and exercise for his dog patients and prescribe Slentrol only for the most obese and infirm, citing the hypothetical example of a 13-year-old dog with severe arthritis.
“We can’t stop people from eating Big Macs. We can dogs,” he said. “To me, the problem is very fixable.”