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Fat Is a Four-Legged Word

Underwater treadmills, melba toast, and no more canned peaches: An obese Chihuahua shapes up for summer.


Before January 30, 2007 16.2 pounds.  

Lola is five years old and weighs 16.2 pounds. Most Chihuahuas hover between four and six pounds. “I get yelled at on the street,” says her owner, Pamela Arconti, an executive assistant on Wall Street. “She looked good at thirteen pounds. Her clothes fit. After that, I had to get Velcro extensions for her harness. Then the ridicule started.” Lola started developing a weight problem at six months, about the time Arconti began giving in to her constant begging, to the point where Lola consumes a bowl of dry food, a 3.5-ounce can of dog food, two Newman’s Own organic dog treats, a 4-ounce cup of sliced peaches, and assorted scraps of people food per day. “She likes peaches, and so do I,” says Arconti. “We have the same trigger foods.” Lola isn’t unique; veterinarians estimate that a quarter of the city’s dogs are overweight. “I see a 50-pound cocker spaniel that’s supposed to be 35 pounds,” says Lawrence Zola, an Upper East Side vet. “He’s like a coffee table.” Canine obesity is linked to joint and heart problems, shortened life spans and human obesity (heavy dogs often have heavy owners). It’s also a target of growing veterinary attention: The FDA recently approved Slentrol, the first major canine weight-loss drug, recommended as a last resort for dogs at least 20 percent over normal weight, if diet and exercise don’t work. But is there any non-pharmaceutical hope for Lola? Even though she’s nearly 200 percent over the ideal, she’s lazy, gluttonous, and doesn’t think she has a problem. Arconti, on the other hand, has grown tired of the back strain from lugging her companion in a cream-colored shoulder bag, and agreed to enroll the dog in a ten-week test of three of the city’s canine weight-loss options: Animal Medical Center, Biscuits & Bath, and trainer Andrea Arden. Results not typical.

WEEKS 1 to 6
Animal Medical Center Fitness Center.
Starting Weight: 16.2 pounds
Girth: 19.3 inches
Cost: $600 ($50 per session, 12 sessions)

“I’ve never met a long-haired Chihuahua over eight pounds,” says Deirdre Chiaramonte, a veterinarian with the program. She points out Lola’s neck ripples, butt padding, and thigh ruffles. “Awww, you have thigh ruffles!” coos Arconti. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Chiaramonte documents Lola’s exercise regimen: only one walk a day, during which Lola meanders for a block, then lies down. The rest of the time, she relieves herself on wee-wee pads in Arconti’s apartment. Lola’s sedentary lifestyle is a major factor in her massive size. Chiaramonte ups her to two walks a day.

What a normal weight Chihuahua looks like.   

She also prescribes a diet of dry dog food and low-calorie treats (i.e., melba toast instead of Paul Newman cookies). Lola is introduced to the AMC’s various contraptions: a traffic-cone obstacle course, yellow rubber balance balls, and a treadmill submerged in eight inches of water. Upon seeing the various devices, Lola appears terrified. She is assigned twice-weekly workouts with a physical therapist. The goal: Lose two ounces a week.

The Results: Lola releases a shriek whenever she’s placed on the treadmill, but she nevertheless progresses from three-minute to 30-minute jogs. She also learns to run through the obstacle course twenty times at each session and to balance on a yellow ball while the therapist shakes it (to build leg strength). After six weeks, Lola resembles a small buffalo. Her endurance increases notably, but twice-a-week exercise visits are not nearly enough to slough off eight pounds. Chiaramonte congratulates Arconti on being “tough and steadfast” in Lola’s weight loss, though she points out that it could be a matter of water weight.

WEIGHT LOSS: 0.7 pounds

Lola on the underwater treadmill.  

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