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Pfizer Animal Health Group has begun advertising Slentrol, a weight-loss drug for dogs. A print ad for Slentrol, which became FDA-approved in January 2007, notes how excess weight increases strain on a dog's lungs. It goes on to say that when diet and exercise aren't enough, using the drug to curb a dog's appetite can help bring it back down to a healthy weight. A spokesman declined to comment on the product or its marketing.
But the question is: Since dogs don't feed themselves, are weight-loss pills really necessary?
Steve Duno, a Seattle-based pet behaviorist who has written more than 24 books on pets, including "Plump Pups and Fat Cats," believes that under normal circumstances, diet and exercise -- and a little extra effort from the owner -- should be enough for a dog to maintain its proper weight.
Shifting the blame
Although Mr. Duno said a small percentage of dogs are overweight due to thyroid disorders and metabolisms that slow with age, he added: "My intuition is that [Slentrol] is just a way to appease people and shift the blame [by] calling it a medical condition."
Jane Armstrong, a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, was one of two doctors to perform a clinical trial with Slentrol. The drug is supposed to curb a dog's appetite and block fat absorption. All 11 of the dogs entered in the trial lost weight, and only one experienced side effects. Dr. Armstrong believes it's an effective, if temporary, solution to a common problem.
"Dogs can lose weight just as people can: with an increase in exercise and a lowering of diet," Dr. Armstrong said. "But if it were that easy, then why is 40% of the human population overweight? [Slentrol] is a tool to help owners of dogs [who] don't have the ability to resist feeding the dog more or the opportunity to give the dog more exercise, or [if] the dog has a medical problem."
Slentrol is distributed by VCA Antech, a pet-care service provider. However, many vets have never heard of or prescribed Slentrol, which may be why Pfizer is using direct-to-owner advertising for Slentrol. The marketer is running limited print ads in consumer magazines such as Southern Living.