Fat camps offer 'pawlates' and 'doga' to help overweight pets slim down

More owners checking their overweight animals into specialist fat camps

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 July, 2014, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 July, 2014, 11:34pm


It's not just a people problem. Growing rates of obesity in pets have led to the emergence of fat farms offering "pawlates", "doga" and "Barko Polo" - canine versions of Pilates, yoga and Marco Polo, a tag game played in a swimming pool - to help slim down man's best friend.

In the United States, 53 per cent of dogs are overweight or obese, up from 45 per cent four years ago. In cats, the figure is almost 58 per cent, said Dr Ernie Ward, a vet and founder of the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention in Calabash, in the state of North Carolina.

Fat pets can suffer diabetes, joint problems, heart disease and decreased life expectancy, just like obese people, he said.

Most luxury pet hotels and spas nationwide will customise a fitness programme for a pudgy dog or cat, but only a few facilities have fat camps for large groups.

For golden retriever Ceili, it was easy to fatten up when living with a boy who pushed tasty morsels over the edge of his high chair. It led Eileen Bowers, of New Jersey, to sign up 50kg-plus Ceili for a five-day fitness camp at the state's Morris Animal Inn.

Besides the "pawlates", the camp was filled with swimming, nature hikes, treadmill trots, facials, massages and healthy treats like organic granola, string beans and carrots. It was designed to give Ceili and 40 other dogs a head start on a healthier life, said Debora Montgomery, the Animal Inn's spokeswoman.

Wonder how you get a dog to do a downward dog? You wouldn't even recognise that yoga pose in the canine version. "Doga" and "pawlates" are a lot alike - both are about stretching while building strength, balance and flexibility. In "doga", stretches are close to the ground, while "pawlates" uses higher balance equipment like large exercise balls, Montgomery said.

And the "Barko Polo" pool game varies from its human inspiration: a staff member will shout "barko" and whichever dog yelps first gets a toy.

"In all activities, the dogs work for their meals. We praise and make the sessions fun and interactive," Montgomery said. After the cardio come the doggie facials: a cleansing massage that wipes away organic food crumbs and exercise-induced slobber.

Bowers started sending her dog to the Morris facility when Ceili hit 57kg. Usually, female golden retrievers weigh half that. "We want her to be around for a long time," Bowers said.

Extra treats are a culprit in canine obesity rates, besides a lack of exercise, Ward said. More than 80 per cent of owners give dogs two or more snacks a day.

He compared the rising problem to the same trend in youngsters. "Children and cats and dogs don't feed themselves," Ward said. "We treat our pets like children."

Morris Animal Inn charges US$59 a day or US$249 for five days with all the amenities. It has offered two or three camps a year since 2009.