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Pudge Pets On The Rise

Pudge Pets On The RiseLike many of their owners, America’s dogs and cats are struggling with obesity, according to a Tufts animal nutrition expert. No. Grafton, Mass.

No. Grafton, Mass. [04.28.03] More than a decade ago, obesity was first identified as a growing health problem among America's children and adults. Now it appears that dogs and cats are battling the extra pounds as well. Poor nutrition and owner habits are adding extra bulk to America's pets - making them more susceptible to disease and other health problems, says a Tufts animal nutrition expert.

"Thirty to 40 percent of dogs and cats are obese," Dr. Lisa Freeman - a veterinarian at Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine - told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. "It directly mirrors what's happening in people: too many calories, not enough exercise."

With three degrees from Tufts - an undergraduate degree, a doctorate in nutrition from Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a doctorate in veterinary medicine - Freeman is in a unique position to recognize and address this growing trend.

"Freeman is on the cutting edge of a burgeoning specialty in veterinary medicine: clinical nutrition," reported the Telegram and Gazette. "She advises owners about the best weight for their pets and optimal diet to keep them well. She also consults with other veterinary specialists on optimal nutrition for injured or sick animals, including those that are critically ill."

Like their owners, many pets can benefit from a good diet.

"It's rare that you can fix a disease with diet," Freeman told the newspaper. "But it is used as an adjunct to slow the progression, or improve quality of life."

To design customized diets for her patients, Freeman uses Tufts' expanded state-of-the-art nutrition center for animals. Created five years ago at Tufts' hospital for small animals, the center was upgraded substantially in February with support from Nestle Purina.

"At the new nutrition center there are 75 different types of dry and canned foods, arranged according to dietary modification," reported the Telegram and Gazette. "The center also has a dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave oven, blender and a recycling center. Measuring cups, bowls, scales, spoons and knives are kept in cabinets. A computer allows students to access the latest information and calculate nutritional requirements for patients."

Demand for the customized diets is high.

"It's being used heavily," the Tufts veterinarian told the Telegram and Gazette. "We can fine-tune the diet to the correct nutrient level for the pet. It also allows a lot of options for palatability. It is important to find something the animal likes and will eat well."

And that can add extra years to a dog's or cat's life.

"Kidney, liver, heart, gastrointestinal, food allergies - there's a long, long list that can be helped with nutrition," Freeman said.

Graduates from Tufts' veterinary school - the only one in New England - are breaking new ground in this growing field.

"[Dr. Freeman said] veterinary students graduate from Tufts with a good grounding in nutrition," reported the Telegram and Gazette. "She is one of 50 board-certified veterinary nutritionists in the United States, and Dr. Daniel L. Chan [ a veterinary resident at Tufts] is the first veterinarian in the country to do a combined residency in critical care and nutrition."

According to Freeman, animals and humans have a lot in common when it comes to nutrition and health.

"Concepts across species can be very similar," Freeman told the newspaper. "We can all learn a lot from each other."


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