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Concern for ‘pill-popping’ pets
- laboratory dogs suffer and die due to tests on ‘lifestyle’ veterinary medicines -

A TOP animal charity is sounding the alarm as yet another ‘lifestyle’ medicine for animals, a weight-loss drug for dogs, becomes available.

The RSPCA is concerned these medicines could hide basic welfare issues such as inappropriate diet - and as a result some underlying animal welfare problems may never be resolved.

Another concern is that laboratory animals - including dogs - often suffer in tests during the development of these perhaps unnecessary veterinary medicines. By law, the tests have to be carried out to ensure drugs are safe and that they do what manufacturers claim they will.

The RSPCA’s chief veterinary adviser Mark Evans said: ‘Instead of covering them up with a pill, it’s vital to tackle the real reasons why so many pets are overweight. Pet obesity is a serious animal welfare problem and as a nation of so-called animal lovers we have a duty to tackle it now.

‘In most cases, a lifestyle based on a healthy reduced calorie diet and an appropriate exercise regime is all that’s required to bring about weight loss. But, despite the best efforts of many pet owners, animal welfare organisations and vets, the number of obese animals is growing. We need to find out why and deal with the issue, not the symptom.’

Tests on the latest obesity drug involved:

• Housing overweight Labradors on their own for up to a year. Living alone can cause distress to dogs.

• In another test, 18 overweight Beagles were kept in separate cages for 56 days so the effect the drug had on their digestive systems could be examined.

•The drug was also administered through a stomach tube every day for 90 days to 38 beagles, also housed individually. Regular blood samples were taken and the animals were killed at the end of the study.

RSPCA senior scientist Dr Jane Cooper said: ‘Animals used in some of the tests on this diet drug suffered significant side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and loss of appetite, and some were put down. Would caring dog owners really want that to happen? I fear the floodgates are opening, and we’ll see more and more ‘lifestyle’ medicines for pets, which can mean unnecessary suffering and distress for the laboratory animals used to develop them.

‘As far as the RSPCA is concerned, these drugs are not the answer to the nation’s pet obesity problem. It would be very wrong if people turned to diet drugs rather than getting advice on their pet’s nutrition and increasing their exercise levels.’

In April, the RSPCA voiced its concerns when an antidepressant became available for dogs. Again, the Society feared the pill could merely disguise behavioural problems rather than treat the cause. The antidepressant is prescribed by vets to help cure dogs’ behavioural problems such as barking and chewing furniture when left alone.