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How 7 Obese Animals Lost Weight

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Humans aren’t the only species with an obesity problem. A recent study shows that 55 percent of domestic dogs and cats are overweight or obese, and even zoo animals are getting in on this unhealthy trend. Fat cats and dogs might be cute, but animal obesity is nothing to laugh at. Here’s how seven animals dropped a few pounds and got healthy.

 1. Obie the Dachshund: Diet, Exercise, and Surgery

Eight months ago, this Portland, Oregon pooch (above) tipped the scales at 77 pounds. A diet and exercise routine helped him shed 40 pounds, and a recent surgery took off 2.5 pounds of loose skin. Now 37 pounds, Obie needs to lose just 5 more to be at his goal weight; you can follow his progress on Facebook.

2. Bobby the Rabbit: Diet and Exercise

PDSA Flickr

When Bobby, a bunny from Richmond in North Yorkshire, England, came to the PDSA’s Pet Fit Club, she weighed 5.2 pounds—nearly two pounds above the ideal weight for a rabbit of her size.  In fact, the fold under her chin (called a dewlap) so was large that it kept her from grooming herself properly. To help Bobby drop the pounds in a healthy way, owner Becky Magson got the rabbit new toys and built her a pen that gave her a lot of opportunities to run around. By the end of the program, Bobby was down to a healthy weight for her size; her grooming was back to normal, and Magson reported that she was much happier and more alert.

3 and 4. Lowland Gorillas Bebac and Mokolo: Diet and Foraging

In 2008, handlers at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo started their quest to get these two male apes—who have heart disease—down to a healthy weight. Step one was eliminating processed biscuits, which made up the bulk of their food, from their diet. Instead, the staff placed vegetables and leafy greens around the enclosure so the apes would have to forage for it, as they would in the wild. This not only catered to the apes' natural behavior, but also increased their activity level. By 2011, Bebac had lost 20 pounds, and Mokolo had lost 60 pounds.

5. Holly the Cat: Swimming

It seemed like there wasn’t anything Holly’s owner, Dani Lawhorne, could do to get her to become more active. The nearly 20 pound, 13 year old cat didn’t like catnip or playing with toys, and hated going for walks outside. So Lawhorne tried something unconventional: Swimming. After a month on her new fitness program—which also included a healthier diet—Holly dropped a pound.

6. and 7. Grizzly Bears Jim and Axhi: Healthier Diet (and Hiding the Food)

These grizzlies at the Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago currently weigh about 900 pounds—but they weren’t always so fit. In fact, the pair was obese, thanks in part to their diet: The bears dined on processed dog food, ground beef, bread, and fruits like oranges, bananas, and mangoes. Zookeepers swapped out that food for whole prey such as fish and rabbits, and incorporated fruits and vegetables like kale, peppers, and heirloom apples. Additionally, the zookeepers stopped giving the animals food on a schedule and hid it around the exhibit so they had to sniff it out, as they would do in the wild. Putting wax worms in the bears’ foraging piles helped them burn calories while they searched for the tasty snacks. After a year of their new diet, the bears had lost hundreds of pounds. And it’s not just the bears who had their diets adjusted: Other animals at the zoo went on a Weight-Watchers-like program to ensure they were at their healthiest.

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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

Dog snuggling on a bed with its person.
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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

Woman doing yoga with her dog.
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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

Person running in field with a dog.
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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

Woman cuddling her dog.
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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

Large bulldog licking a laughing man.
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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

Man high-fiving his dog.
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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.
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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

Man running in surf with dog.
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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

A young boy having fun with his dog.
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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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