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Dogs and Weight Loss: Can Fido Help You Get Skinny?

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Dogs can be a great support system when you’re trying to lose weight.

Can dogs help you lose weight?

It stands to reason that since our four-legged furry friends need to go on walks dog owners would be more physically active than non-owners.

But here’s the problem. More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. And that’s leading to an obesity epidemic among pets as well.

Just like their owners, more than half of dogs (52.7%) in the U.S. can also be categorized overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. That’s a staggering 43.8 million dogs; 13.9 million of which are considered obese.

So, can owning a dog really help you shed those pounds? The results from a study attempting to answer that very question were surprising.

Researchers looked at two aspects of weight loss: physical activity and social support. Both are critically important components that can make the difference between success and failure.

The year-long study followed 36 overweight people with an obese pet and 56 overweight people without. Both groups received counseling on nutrition and exercise and the dogs were put on a calorie-restricted diet.

“The cause of pet obesity is the same as human obesity: overeating plus under-exertion,” said Dr. Robert F. Kushner who conducted the study.

Surprisingly, the non-pet owners had a slightly higher average success rate by shedding 5.2% of excess weight compared to 4.7% among pet owners.

Despite the findings, Kushner maintains getting a dog can help you lose weight. Because many owners view pets as members of the family, they can be looked upon for support and motivation during a fitness journey.

“If you don’t have someone to walk with, get a dog,” he said.

In case you were curious, the dogs were the big winners of the study. They experienced a mean weight loss of 15%.

Other research shows that dog owners who live near dog parks and other high quality walking areas are more likely to reap all the health benefits Fido has to offer. Sadly, the percentage of owners who meet that criteria seems to be low. One study finds only an estimated 40 percent of dog owners take their pets for a walk.

Researchers are finding that overweight pet owners tend to have overweight pets. For that reason, experts now say strategies need to be developed that target weight loss for both the pet and the owner.