FDA Approves Weight-Loss Drug for Dogs

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first weight-loss drug for fat dogs. Authorities say the drug, called Slentrol, shouldn't be taken by humans.

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It's not just people who have trouble losing weight. So do our pets. But there may be some help at hand. NPR's Julie Rovner reports that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first-ever drug to treat obese dogs. That's what I said, dogs. That's what I said. Dogs.

JULIE ROVNER: The American Veterinary Medical Association says nearly half of America's best friends weigh more than they should. Susan Strickland, who breeds Pembroke Welsh Corgis in southeastern Pennsylvania, has seen more than her share of pudgy pets.

Ms. SUSAN STRICKLAND (Breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis): I had one that came back to me at two years of age that weighed 70 pounds. And, of course, a corgi, a full-grown adult corgi should weigh between 25 and 30.

ROVNER: Her name was Reba, and with all that weight, Strickland says, her problems were more than just cosmetic.

Ms. STRICKLAND: She was cranky because she was uncomfortable. She couldn't move right. It was bad for her joints. She was incontinent. She had all kinds of problems that were related only to her weight.

ROVNER: And there weren't any drugs yet for fat dogs, so it took a year of careful diet and exercise. But when she got down to a normal weight, Reba became a new dog.

Ms. STRICKLAND: She now does herdings. She does obedience. She does agility. She does all sorts of things now that she could never have done when she was that heavy.

ROVNER: But Strickland is not your average pet owner. Most people find it every bit as hard to put their pet on a diet as to diet themselves, and that's where Slentrol comes in. At least that's what drug maker Pfizer hopes. Georgette Wilson is a veterinarian with Pfizer's Animal Health Division.

Dr. GEORGETTE WILSON (Veterinarian, Pfizer Animal Health Division): Some exercise can be effective, but you need to follow it. And we do realize that pet owners are really frustrated about their attempts of controlling the weight in their dogs.

ROVNER: Wilson says the new drug does for dogs what drug makers wish they could do for people.

Dr. WILSON: This drug has a unique mechanism where it actually causes the dog to feel full, so the dog eats less and therefore loses weight.

ROVNER: Sounds so great, in fact, that the FDA was a little worried that owners might try it themselves. Stephen Sundlof is director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. STEPHEN SUNDLOF (Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, FDA): It was a concern. And, in fact, we have a warning statement on the label in bold that says not for use in humans. Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children. And then it talks about the adverse reactions that would occur in humans.

ROVNER: Reactions like abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, among others. And Sundlof says it simply doesn't work in people, or even cats for that matter. Susan Strickland questions a need for a drug to help fat dogs slim down.

Ms. STRICKLAND: I think people should feed their dogs less food and save their money. Buy them a nice, new toy instead.

ROVNER: For those who want to try the new drug on their dog, however, it's expected to be available this spring from veterinarians. It'll cost between one and $2 a day.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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