Obesity is the primary nutritional disorder in dogs. Various recent surveys have estimated that 34% – 59% of all pet dogs in the United States, Europe and China are overweight or obese.
Overweight dogs can have a shorter, lower-quality of life, as well as an increased risk for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, urinary tract infections, pancreatitis, osteoarthritis and some types of cancer.
In healthy dogs, the primary treatment for obesity is nutritional therapy. As excess adiposity is directly related to a positive energy balance — the most practical dietary approach for weight loss is caloric restriction. An adequate weight loss diet has a nutrient composition that supports lean mass retention, induces fat mass reduction and increases satiety.
Using Beans in Dog Nutrition
Diets high in protein and fiber have been shown in both humans and dogs to promote weight loss and maintain lean muscle mass, as well as reduce voluntary food intake in dogs. Emerging research has shown that, in addition to macronutrients, there are speciﬁc feedstuffs and dietary patterns that may promote weight loss as a function of bioactive components and phytochemicals.
For instance, in humans the consumption of non-soy legumes such as common beans, split peas, lentils and chickpeas is associated with decreased risk for obesity, reduced adiposity without caloric restriction, voluntary reduction of caloric intake, increased satiety and, in some cases, resulted in higher levels of weight loss with 30% caloric restriction compared to an isocaloric, low legume or legume-free diet intervention.
Common beans, such as navy, black and pinto varieties, are excellent candidates for a weight loss-promoting food because they contain high quality protein, have a carbohydrate proﬁle with a low glycemic index, are abundant in dietary ﬁbre and are rich sources of iron, zinc, folate and magnesium.
The high protein content and amino acid proﬁles of beans have been associated with increased energy expenditure during weight loss and the arginine and glutamine content in particular was associated with improved carbohydrate and fat oxidation. The fiber fraction from beans is abundant in resistant starch, which can augment weight loss via slower carbohydrate digestion and increased microbial fermentation.
Furthermore, bean fiber provides prebiotics sources for the gut microbiome, which contributes to energy balance via production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) which have been shown to regulate hormones involved in food intake regulation, such as glucose-like protein 1 (GLP-1) and leptin.
Common beans contain a wide range of bioactive phytochemicals such as alpha-amylase inhibitors, phenolic compounds and phytosterols which may modulate excess nutrient absorption, reduce dietary energy availability, promote satiety and improve lipid metabolism.
Common beans are safe and digestible in normal, healthy-weight dogs. Bean-based diet formulations support short-term apparent weight loss and effective at reducing low density lipoprotein (LDL), high density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides (TG) when compared to a control, bean-free diet.
A recent study demonstrated that nutritionally complete dog foods containing cooked bean powders were digestible by overweight or obese, adult, companion dogs undergoing short or long-term calorically restricted weight loss.
The dog foods supported apparent weight loss, provided utilizable energy and the dogs maintained indices of nutritional adequacy when compared to a bean-free control dog food. Furthermore, the study found that bean-based dog foods may impact canine carbohydrate metabolism.
The study concluded that cooked common beans are safe and digestible when used as a major food ingredient during canine weight loss and when fed in a nutritionally complete, extruded kibble.
Laboratory, clinical and epidemiological studies have found that dry bean intake is associated with increased weight loss and lower body weights.
Weight loss was intentionally achieved in the control diet fed dogs, as well as for experimental bean diets due to caloric restriction. The navy and black bean diets showed a trend towards enhanced effects on weight loss after one month, compared to the control groups.
Other weight loss related measurements modulated by dry bean intake include decreased waist circumference and inflammatory biomarker expression. The macro and micronutrient composition of dry beans are thought to promote weight loss by providing low glycemic index sources of fiber, protein, minerals and phytochemicals.
Increased protein intake has been shown to improve weight loss with plant proteins having higher satiety ratings than animal proteins. Dry bean fiber may promote weight loss by improving satiety with altered transit time in the intestines, increased fermentation by gut microflora that results in higher short chain fatty acid production that compete with protein and glucose for uptake and utilization and enhanced release of cholecystokinin, which may have short term effects on energy intake and gastric emptying.
Bean phytochemicals such as phenolic compounds may interfere with glucose transport in the small intestine, phytic acid may delay glucose absorption leading to improved satiety and modulated energy uptake and many phytosterols and saponins have been implicated in cholesterol reduction.
Lipid metabolism is an important component to weight loss as dyslipidemia underlies many of the comorbidities associated with obesity. Weight loss has repeatedly been shown to reduce serum cholesterol levels in both humans and dogs and increased plant fiber intake has been shown to lower cholesterol levels after only 1 week with the same efficacy as first generation statins.
A recent study showed a sustained serum cholesterol reduction after 2 weeks of weight loss. Dogs consuming beans showed the largest change at 2 weeks, whereas the decrease in the control group was similar between 2 and 4 weeks.
This finding demonstrated that serum cholesterol reduction may be an early biomarker for a metabolic response to bean intake and weight loss, wherein previous reports in dogs showed decreased serum cholesterol after 60 days, 90 days and after the full amount of time required to reach ideal weight.
Furthermore, TG, HDL and LDL were reduced in at least one of the bean diet groups, a finding consistent in human studies, with the exception of HDL which has been shown to increase in humans after bean consumption.
Beans are an effective staple food ingredient and a quality protein source during weight loss and studies suggest that consuming a diet with high dry bean intake improves lipid profiles along with other metabolic biomarkers when compared to a non-bean caloric restricted diet alone.
Furthermore, dry bean consumption has been associated with increased longevity, reduced tumor growth in colon, mammary tissue, upper digestive tract and stomach and prostate, decreased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Studies have demonstrated the ability of dietary bean intake to modulate blood lipids beyond what is expected from weight loss alone.
Moreover, the changes in blood biochemical analytes suggest a role for beans in liver and kidney function in dogs undergoing weight loss.
General Tips for Helping Your Dog Lose Weight
Of course, there are simple things you can do to help your dog maintain his or her optimal weight and lose some, if needed. Generally, if you can’t easily feel your dog’s ribs or there’s a roll of fat at the base of her tail, your dog may be overweight. Check with your veterinarian to find out if your dog should be on a diet.
- Many commercial weight loss diets are high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein — this is not the best way to help dogs to lose weight. Protein and carbohydrates supply the same number of calories, but protein is used to build lean muscle, while carbs are more likely to be stored as body fat.
- The scale at your veterinarian’s office is ideal for weighing your dog and it will give the most accurate weight.
- Canned foods are usually higher in protein and lower in carbs than dry foods. For canned foods, subtract the moisture percentage from 100, then look for protein that is at least one-third the remainder and fat that is one-quarter the remainder or a little less. If you are feeding dry food, look for a minimum of 25% protein.
- Reduce the amount you feed gradually rather than making drastic changes all at once. Slow, steady weight loss is more likely to result in long-term success.
- If you continue to use the same food you’re feeding now, start by reducing the amount by about 5%. Weigh your dog in one to two weeks. If your dog has not lost weight, reduce the amount of food by another 5%. Continue to reduce the amount of food you feed every week or two until your dog begins to lose weight, then continue feeding that amount.
- It is critical to accurately measure the amount of food that you feed to achieve consistent weight control.
- Dogs care more about the number of treats they get than the size of each treat: it’s more rewarding for a dog to receive several small treats than one big one. Avoid treats that are high in fat and calories, such as cheese and hot dogs. Crunchy, raw vegetables like carrots or broccoli are a good substitute.
- Try writing down every piece of food that your dog gets in a week, including from other family members. You may be surprised at what you find.
- Regular exercise is also an essential component of a successful dog weight-loss program. Start out with a couple of ten-minute walks per day and gradually work up to a faster pace and longer hikes.
- If your dog still doesn’t lose weight, check with your veterinarian to make sure it is not a medical problem like hypothyroidism.
Obesity in dogs is a serious issue and you need to take it seriously and ensure that your pet enjoys the healthy, fulfilling life they deserve.
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