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Here, Fido – it’s time for your slimming drug

1/07/07

Robert Winnett

THE first slimming drug for dogs has been approved by the American medical regulator amid fears about growing levels of pet obesity.

Pfizer, one of the world’s biggest drugs companies, has developed a “weight management” drug that reduces dogs’ appetites and their absorption of fat. In clinical trials dogs’ weight was reduced by an average of between 18% and 22%.

Veterinarians estimate that about 40% of dogs in Britain and America are overweight. A survey last year found 81% of British vets considered obesity to be the biggest health threat facing dogs.

The drug, called Slentrol, will initially be sold in America and will cost up to £1 per day. However, it is expected to be quickly introduced to this country.

“This is a welcome addition to animal therapies as dog obesity appears to be increasing,” said Stephen Sundlof of the American Food and Drug Administration which regulates pharmaceuticals.

Slentrol is taken in a liquid form and dog owners will be strongly warned not to take the drug themselves as it can damage human livers. In trials on 550 dogs, no liver damage was observed; instead, potential canine side effects are vomiting and diarrhoea.

George Fennell, Pfizer’s vice-president for “companion animal health”, said: “This is not a passport to abandon exercise or diets. But you hear pet owners say, ‘the dog really wags his tail when I give him a treat. It’s hard to hold back’.”

The drug has gone through full clinical trials normally associated with treatments for humans. The canine volunteers lost about 3% of their weight a month without changing their diets.

One five-month-old dachshund reacted so strongly to the drug that it had to be removed from clinical trials and hospitalised with anorexia.

Obesity is linked to a range of increasingly common dog problems seen by vets including cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, torn ligaments, sores on elbows and backs and arthritis.

Some breeds such as beagles, dachshunds and labradors appear to be particularly prone to becoming overweight.

The problem has become so prevalent that some owners are unable to accept how fat their pets have grown.

The owner of one overweight female rottweiler told a documentary interviewer last year her pet was “not a fat dog”. The dog weighed 14 stone.

The owner of Wallace, an obese spaniel, was warned the animal could die from obesity; but hours later the dog was filmed eating six slices of cake.

Pet-food manufacturers have developed diet dog food to help tackle the problem and some US vets have begun offering liposuction operations.

Why don’t owners just feed their dogs less and allow them more exercise? The problem is that the lifestyles of owners and pets are intertwined.

John Bauer, a veterinary expert at A&M University in Texas, said: “The parallels between human obesity and canine obesity are striking. They live with us. So when we eat too much, they eat too much.

“When we don’t exercise enough, they don’t exercise enough. And when we snack between meals, they probably snack between meals.” He added: “They are often there with us at the [fast-food] drive-through and often end up getting their own burgers.”

Multinational pharmaceutical firms increasingly see remedies for pets as a profitable area. Pfizer’s American animal health website says it understands that “dogs aren’t just pets, they’re members of the family”.

The firm has also developed drugs to treat “cognitive dysfunction syndrome” in older dogs — when the animals become lonely, forgetful and confused.


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