Energy Flux for Overweight Dogs?
Whether for dogs or for people, achieving weight loss and keeping weight off requires the proper levels of net calories: calories consumed less calories expended. For weight loss, there must be a deficit and to maintain the optimal weight, there must be an equal balance between the calories consumed and expended. Recent research on humans has suggested that exercise can help with weight management in ways over and above the simple mathematics of calories, and this research, known as energy flux, can likely apply to dogs as well.
As we have discussed in prior articles, the calories expended during exercise is usually not that large to allow for unlimited or unmonitored feeding of a dog. For example, the amount of calories that a 50 lb. dog will burn on a 30 minute brisk walk is only about 50 calories, the equivalent of just 1/8 cup of the average dog food — an easy amount to over pour each feeding. Yet, exercise is still a crucial part of keeping a dog fit and healthy and ensuring that their weight remains near optimal levels.
The theory behind energy flux is founded on the idea that a body operates best and is likely to thrive in the long term when it is in a high energy state – both in terms of energy intake and energy output. While calorie restriction is useful to initiate a weight loss program, as the body nears its optimal weight, it will be less susceptible to hunger and future weight gain if activity levels are high and an appropriate (high) number of calories is used to balance the energy equation. In essence, the body is better able to find a balance when it is very active and fed to support the activity level. This theory can help explain why diets often fail and even dieters who do lose weight initially will often gain that weight back.
In some ways, energy flux reminds me of the ‘set point’ theory, which in essence, says that a body will find a point of energy balance that it is comfortable with and do what it can to achieve that set point. Diets failed because a body’s set point would constantly battle with the progress made by calorie restriction. Exercise was viewed as the solution to this because exercise could help lower the set point.
Energy Flux and Dogs
The theory of energy flux can certainly apply to dogs and could help pet owners plan a long term strategy for keeping their pet fit and healthy for life. Like with humans, dogs who are in calorie deficit will experience hunger pangs and the associated discomfort that comes with them. But instead of keeping a dog on a low calorie diet once the pet has neared its target weight, the pet owner is likely to be better off by increasing the dog’s activities and increasing the food intake accordingly. The end result may be that the dog’s body reaches a longer term state of equilibrium, becomes satisfied with the calories it is fed, and as an added benefit, builds a stronger muscular-skeletal system from the added activity. In short, our bodies and our dog’s bodies were meant to be active and our weight and our dog’s weight is more easily managed when we are active.