Canine siblings Vinkel and Koljander Pienaar, two Spaniels from Pretoria, have beaten weighty competition to win the 2008 Hill's Pet Slimmer of the Year. They each lost 31% of their bodyweight on a special weight-loss programme for obese pets.
Their owner, Ella Pienaar of Pretoria, rescued the abandoned dogs in 2001 and says then they were skinny and afraid of people. "I had to carry them in my arms to get them inside our house because they were too scared to come in."
Pienaar and her family then showered the dogs with love and food; "We constantly fed them special treats," says Pienaar, who even baked a cake to celebrate their birthday each year. As a result, their weight ballooned until earlier this year by which time Koljander weighed 16.4kg and Vinkel 16.7kg. “At this stage the dogs were like tired old men, they no longer played and slept most of the time." However, it was only when Koljander's back collapsed, that the Pienaars realised the serious impact of the excess weight.
Fortunately their local veterinary practice runs one of the busiest and most successful Hill’s Pet Slimmer programmes in the country. Alta Celliers from Zwartkop Animal Clinic set target weights for the dogs, with food and exercise recommendations. "It was very difficult at first," says Pienaar, "but a disciplined approach resulted in success. Eating correctly and exercising is now part of our daily routine."
And it is not only the dogs that benefited from the new regime, Pienaar herself lost 11kg. This correlates with the findings of a US study – People and Pets Exercising Together (PPET) which demonstrated that when people and their pets embarked on a weight loss programme together both were more successful at keeping the weight off.
Thousands of pets in programme
Over 200 veterinary practices around South Africa and Namibia run the Hill's Pet Slimmer programme and over a thousand cats and dogs enrolled this year. Those that reached their goal weight by end August were eligible to enter the 2008 competition. Collectively the entrants lost almost half a ton of fat (462 kg), with the seven finalists all shedding over 30% of their bodyweight. "With the right food and support it is possible to buck the pet obesity trend we are seeing in Europe, the USA and parts of SA," says Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary advisor to Hill's Pet Nutrition.
Fyvie says that the primary cause of obesity in pets is similar to that in people - eating too much and exercising too little. Fyvie says that it is usually "loving owners" who overfeed their pets, without realising that they are literally "killing their pets with kindness."
Greater risk for disease
"An overweight animal has a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and the extra kilos can cause and worsen arthritis and mobility problems that can be extremely painful." A study has shown that the life of an over-weight dog is shortened by at least two years (equivalent to a life expectancy shortfall in humans of about 15 years). According to South African vets, about half the animals they treat weigh more than is healthy. "Just a 1% calorie excess every day can cause obesity," said Fyvie.
Rina Cronwright, MD of Hill's Pet Nutrition and one of the judges said: "Choosing a winner is always difficult, but Vinkel and Koljander's story is so moving that we really felt they were deserving winners. They are very sweet dogs; both look fabulous and are enjoying their new lease on life." Pienaar says since losing weight the dogs "frolic on the lawn, are both full of energy and health. Koljander's back problem has disappeared."
Vinkel and Koljander's prize includes a holiday in Mauritius for their owner and a three month supply of Hill's food. Although delighted to have won, Pienaar said that her prime motivation was for her dogs to be healthy again.
For expert, objective advice about a pet’s weight speak to your local vet or contact Hill’s on (0800) 228 783 or firstname.lastname@example.org.