Overweight dogs respond well to a diet high in protein and fiber

A study of overweight dogs fed a low-calorie, high-protein, high-fiber diet for 24 weeks found that dogs’ body composition and inflammatory markers changed over time in parallel to the positive changes seen in humans. with similar regimes. The dogs achieved a healthier weight without losing too much muscle mass, and their serum triglycerides, insulin, and inflammatory markers all decreased with weight loss.

All of these changes are beneficial, said Kelly Swanson, a professor of animal science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the new research.

Previous studies have shown that being overweight and obese lead to shorter lifespans and lower quality of life — in dogs and humans, Swanson said.

“Some of the problems we see in obese humans also occur in companion dogs,” he said. “There’s added stress on the joints, there’s exercise and heat intolerance; there’s also glucose intolerance, insulin resistance. And if you look at the insurance claims for pets, obesity is a big factor there.”

Reported in the Journal of Animal Science, the study is unusual in that it also measured changes in the dogs’ fecal microbiota during weight loss, Swanson said.

Even though there are similarities in the metabolism and digestive processes of dogs and humans, dogs and humans differ in the species of microbes that inhabit the gut, he said. These microbes perform similar functions, however. They metabolize proteins, carbohydrates and other food-derived molecules but escape digestion by the host; and they break down fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids that are important for regulating glucose and appetite, reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, and providing energy to colon cells.

Some of the microbial changes seen in the dogs were difficult to interpret, Swanson said, but a reduction in fecal ammonia — likely the result of consuming less protein on the calorie-restricted diet — was likely beneficial.

“High concentrations of ammonia are toxic,” he said.

Dogs that lost weight also had an increase in the proportion of bacteria of the genus Allobaculum. Higher Allobaculum populations correlated with an increase in fecal butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that is a byproduct of dietary fiber fermentation. Previous studies have shown that butyrate has anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects in the gut.

However, total short chain fatty acid concentrations did not change over time. This may reflect the fact that most of these organic acids are absorbed, not excreted, the researchers report.

Most gut microbiota studies focus on humans, so the new research offers insight into the similarities and differences between dogs and humans, and how they respond to dietary changes and weight loss. Further research will be needed to clarify the findings, Swanson said.

Funding for this project was provided by Perfect Companion Group Co. Ltd., Thailand.

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Material provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Press Office. Original written by Diana Yates. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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