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New program at OSU to help dogs shed pounds

Weight loss and rehabilitation programs are not only for people. The Ohio State Veterinary Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center has developed programs for dogs and other animals as well.

The center is planning a new program, the healthy weight loss program, to target dogs that are overweight but otherwise healthy, said Jennifer Au, the center’s director.

Equipment in the center includes an underwater treadmill, land treadmill and exercise balls that would be used during weight loss sessions.

“It’s all over the news nowadays that people are overweight,” she said. “If you look at their pets, their pets are overweight, too.”

The program would target dogs taken to OSU to receive vaccines or heartworm tests but that are also overweight and in need of exercise and proper diet, Au said.

Some breeds are prone to obesity, such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, but all dogs can gain weight if they eat too much or don’t get enough exercise, said Tracy Marsh, certified canine rehabilitation practitioner at the center.

She said that, to tell if a dog is overweight, owners should feel along the dog’s side. If you have to push to feel its ribs, the dog is probably overweight.

Veterinarians also use a body-scoring system to gauge if animals are at a healthy weight. The system rates dogs on a one-to-five scale, three being ideal, Marsh said.

Au said dogs become overweight because they don’t get exercise, because their owners don’t measure how much food they get, and because owners give them table scraps or high-calorie dog treats.

To prevent obesity in pets, Au suggested taking smaller walks more frequently, playing with a ball or Frisbee, giving healthful treats and monitoring how much pets eat.

“Instead of feeding some of those big dog biscuits — they are almost the equivalent of us eating a candy bar — cut down on the size of the treats and switch over to healthy treats like fruits and vegetables, air-popped popcorn, rather than table foods,” Au said.

For many of the dogs that receive treatment at the center, obesity is a result of injuries or surgery that requires rehabilitation, Marsh said.

“The majority of the patients that we see are animals that have come in for injuries or have had surgeries (at the OSU Medical Center), mostly orthopedics and neurology,” she said.

Pets are referred to the center from veterinarians at the OSU Medical Center.

Sandy, a 6-year-old Golden Retriever, started going to the rehab center in the spring after having surgery on a torn ACL ligament in her right hind leg, said Penny Ziegler, Sandy’s owner. Sandy was also overweight.

“We didn’t really know and understand how overweight she was until she had this ACL tear,” Ziegler said. “We couldn’t have asked for a more supportive place to put her in and give her the help she needed.”

Marsh worked with Sandy at the center on the underwater treadmill to build strength in her legs and lose weight. Marsh also put Sandy on a special diet and set up a home exercise plan for her, Ziegler said.

Now Sandy goes to the center once a week and has lost almost 30 pounds, Ziegler said.

“When I say, ‘Sandy, we’re going to OSU,’ she comes flying out,” Ziegler said. “She loves going to OSU. She loves the attention. She really enjoys being with Tracy.”

Ziegler said Sandy has more energy now than she did before her injury and plans to continue her pet’s visit to the center.

Marsh said she loves seeing animals recover during rehabilitation.

“I love doing this. There’s not a day I don’t want to come to work,” Marsh said. “The biggest thing is it is physical some days. It’s really hard on your body and it’s tiring but just the satisfaction I get from doing this is amazing.”

The program began at OSU in 2008 as the Canine Rehabilitation Service but is now referred to as Veterinary Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, to include other animals. Although a majority of patients in the program are dogs, there are a few cats and rabbits that receive treatment as well. 

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