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Prairie Fare: Walking a Dog Linked to Weight Loss

Animals face similar health issues as humans do when they gain weight.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

"Mom, we're going to be in great shape this summer after walking these guys every day," my 11-year-old son said as we briskly walked our dachshund pups on their 1-year birthday.

"Yes, that's a good plan," I agreed.

I was trying to rein in my chestnut-colored hound as he scampered after every moving object, whether it was a rabbit, bird or leaf.

"I'm going to teach them to jump through hoops this summer," my son said enthusiastically.

"Seeing these guys jump through hoops would be amazing. I'll be happy if they start walking beside me," I said as I trotted after a pup.

My son was right about dogs promoting fitness and health. A 2005 study highlighted the role of pets in weight management.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia reported that participants in a project that involved walking a dog 20 minutes per day, five times a week, lost, on average, 14 pounds in a year. The specially trained dogs were part of a program for disabled people offered through the university's college of veterinary medicine.

Besides weight management, physical activity provides numerous health benefits for humans, from improving blood pressure to lowering stress. Just like two-thirds of the U.S. adult population that are considered overweight, more dogs are becoming obese.

Animals face similar health issues as humans do when they gain weight, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and joint problems.

As with humans, a heavy coat on a dog can give a false impression of weight status. While determining if a dog is above or below weight is best left to veterinary professionals, there are a few clues. Can you feel the dog's ribs easily? Does the dog have a discernible waist?

The Food and Drug Administration approved a prescription drug to manage obesity among dogs. To ward off use by their human friends, the drug carries a warning against human use, citing potential side effects, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence and vomiting.

Taking regular walks sounds more pleasant to me.

Health professionals use a measure called body mass index (BMI) to determine weight status for humans. To determine BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 704.5. Divide the result by height in inches, and then divide that result by height in inches a second time. You also can use the online BMI calculator at

According to the National Institutes of Health, having a BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 puts you in the "healthy weight" category. Having a BMI from 25 to 29.9 places you in the "overweight" category and above 30 is considered "obese." Be aware that muscular people may have falsely high BMI readings.

Consider these weight management tips. They work for humans and pets.

  • Eat smart. Eat moderate portions.
  • Play hard. Get some new toys, such as balls and Frisbees, and use them regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week for health.
  • Drink plenty of water. Keep your favorite container filled and nearby.
  • Accept praise as a reward and try not to beg for treats.

Here's a tasty, nutritious beverage to enjoy after a walk with or without a pet. The recipe is from the California Department of Health Services.

Cantaloupe Cooler

1 ripe cantaloupe

2 1/2 c. cold orange juice

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Crushed ice

Wash melon and cut in half. Scoop out the seeds, remove the rind and discard. Cut melon into 1-inch cubes. In a blender or food processor, blend the melon with 1/2 cup orange juice until smooth. Pour puree into a pitcher and stir in remaining juice and sugar. Stir. Pour into glass filled with crushed ice. Makes eight servings. Each serving has 70 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 45 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A and 40 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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