How can food help with weight management of your pet?
Question: My dog struggles with weight control – how can his food help manage his weight?
“Lazy” and “fat” are two words that are often used in the same sentence when referring to an overweight dog. But this is not necessarily an accurate description; there is more to the story with the actual journey to obesity being not that simple. There is no evidence to suggest an overweight dog is a lazy dog, and in reality the road to fat starts in the gut, or to be more precise, with the gut microbial population.
There are two groups of bacteria in the gut that are primarily involved with weight gain or weight loss; Firmicutes1 and Bacteroidetes2, and as body weight increases the population of Firmicutes increases whilst the population of Bacteroidetes decreases. The opposite change in population density occurs when the animal loses weight. The cause for this population shift is due to the ingredients in the dog’s food. Ingredients that are staple foods for Firmicutes naturally favour a population explosion at the expense of the other species. But even more telling is the efficiency with which Firmicutes assist in the digestion and transfer of energy to the body, with the excess energy then being stored as fat.
To make matters even worse, the microbial population in the gut of the dog communicate directly with the brain, and when one species gains an ascendancy over the others, their voice becomes more shrill in calling for more of the same food (yes, this is truly the way it works!), and this is why the lazy fat dog is always looking for food. In other words, the food demanding nature of obese dogs is directly attributed to the demands of the resident gut microbes.
This phenomenon also explains why it is so difficult to control weight by dieting. The dog has no control over the gut bugs and finds it almost impossible to ignore the Firmicutes call for more food. After all, the Firmicutes only exist to do what they do, and that is to process the food to allow more energy transfer to the body. This is the same process3 we see in the human population and is the reason behind the yo-yo dieting issue that plagues so many people.
Obviously, the best way to control weight in our canine companions is to feed food that contains the correct ingredient balance so as to avoid this change in gut microbial balance. But, in a world where this process is poorly understood at a commercial level, many foods unwittingly contribute to the demise of the animal.
Ultimately, the only effective course of action is to limit the amount of food to which the dog has access. Forced dieting works, but the residual effects can be quite long lasting. If you are actively portion controlling your dog’s meals, get halfway through the weight loss program then relax your vigilance, the dog will immediately stack on the weight again. Long term stability in gut microbial structure requires long term vigilance and dedication to the task at hand. Naturally, a correctly balanced diet helps enormously.
1 Firmicutes are often compared to “weeds in a garden”.
2 A higher Bacteroidetes ratio is associated with better health.
3 Dogs, like humans, are classed as “superorganisms” whereby the host animal lives in harmony with a large, influential and diverse microbial colony.
About the author… Bill Wiadrowski is a consulting nutritionist who has worked in the field of performance animal nutrition for over 50 years. His latest development is the LifeWise range of next generation foods that are rapidly gaining acclaim for their ability to repair common gut and skin sensitivities issues in domestic canines.