Several weeks ago, I found myself in Orlando, at the North American Veterinary Association Conference. It’s the first veterinary conference of the calendar year, and the venue where the most current veterinary medical and product advances are presented.
The conference hosts 15,000 attendees from 70 countries and features hands-on wet laboratories, hundreds of speakers, dozens of different daily lecture tracks, and the largest meeting of exotics practitioners in the world. It was in this forum that I learned that companion animals (dogs and cats) are suffering from obesity in record numbers, just like their human counterparts.
I thought this statistic was fascinating, so I did some research to determine whether there’s a positive correlation between pet and owner body weights. As I suspected, there isn’t a groundswell of data about the subject, but a study published in an issue of Obesity chronicled an experiment designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of a combined human-companion animal weight-loss plan.
During the 12-month study, pet owners met with a registered dietitian (RD) and a veterinarian (DVM). The RD provided helpful tips for better human nutrition and the DVM offered pet-specific advice related to diet and exercise.
The result was that both pet owners and their pets enjoyed the benefit of weight loss by combining treatment efforts, since the etiology of weight gain is similar between humans and their domesticated four-legged friends.
Thanks to nutrigenomics, the study of the interaction between nutrients and gene expression, researchers are gaining an even keener understanding of how the human body, and those of our furry friends, will respond to nutrition. This emerging science also is influencing weight loss strategies as well as recommendations for supporting general health and wellness.
What seemed evident during this meeting was that the individual, instead of a population, is becoming more important in human and animal medicine, making the saying, “You are what you eat,” truer than ever.
Each time you sit down to a meal and enjoy a particular food, signals are coursing through the body, which responds through changes in gene expression. These changes affect your health and influence the probability of developing disease. Although diet can’t mutate our DNA, it can affect how genes are expressed and ultimately manifest in different physical outcomes.
Until medical and technical advances lead to highly personalized medicine based on insights about nutrients at the molecular level — and humans and animals receive a DNA profile during a routine, annual check-up — it’s important to consume a nutrient-rich diet, or feed your pet disease-specific or age-appropriate diets as prescribed by your veterinarian.
In the meanwhile, if you’ve tried — unsuccessfully — everything to lose weight or get in shape, try working out with your dog. Regular runs to the dog park, or any consistent exercise with your pet, just might provide the motivation you need to get in shape. Plus, your pet will reap similar benefits from exercise, including a better quality of life and a decreased predisposition to disease.