Study to investigate the effect of human-dog companionship on adolescent weight loss

Examining the impact of a child-dog companionship on the efficacy of the BRAVO! adolescent weight loss program

Ellen Everett, DVM – Clinical Assistant Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine
Sami Yli-Piipari, PhD, FSA – Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, College of Education

If interested, please contact Taewoo Kim at 803-404-1797 or Dr. Sami Yli-Piipari can also be contacted at

Study Description:
Dog ownership has shown to have many positive influences on their owner’s health and well-being, including increased physical activity and socioemotional well-being. Researchers at UGA’s Department of Kinesiology and College of Veterinary Medicine are conducting a study that will aim to improve health and facilitate weight loss for adolescents and their pet dogs. The program duration is 12 weeks and will consist of exercise and nutrition programs at UGA’s Ransey Center. It is believed that participants will have more successful weight loss when their canine family member is acting as their weight loss partner. Adolescents 11-16 years old that are wanting to lose weight and improve their health may be eligible for the program.

A subset of adolescents with overweight dogs will also be eligible to participate. Dogs must be 1-12 years of age, have an overweight body condition score, weigh at least 11 pounds, and have no significant orthopedic disease or other systemic illness. Dogs that meet the inclusion criteria will undergo a screening exam at UGA’s Teaching Hospital that will include a physical exam, and laboratory tests including a complete blood count, chemistry, thyroid test and urinalysis to ensure they are fit to participate. Dogs deemed healthy enough to participate that are not up to date on vaccinations will be administered a DAPP, Rabies, and Bordetella vaccine to ensure their safety from infectious diseases while walking at home with their owners or during the exercise sessions at UGA.

Once an adolescent and dog pair is enrolled, an animal behavior veterinary nurse will visit each participant at home and provide a brief training session on safe leash walking and acclamation to a no-pull harness (if needed). Canine nutritional recommendations will also be provided to each family during that visit. Owners and their dogs will be asked to walk together at home for 20 minutes per day, 5 days a week. Dogs will be supplied with FitBark activity monitors and teens will receive FitBits to track progress. In addition, teens and their dogs will come to UGA’s Ramsey Center on Tuesday and Thursday evenings; dogs will be exercised by the veterinary research team while their adolescent owners simultaneously attend the program nutritional sessions. Dog vital parameters (heart rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation) will be assessed at regular intervals throughout the exercise sessions to determine tolerance to the activity.

Study funds provide the screening veterinary exam (including laboratory tests and vaccines, if needed), FitBark activity monitors, in-house training and nutritional assessment by the veterinary nurse, and the twice-weekly exercise sessions at the Ramsey Center for all canine participants. Study funds also cover the FitBit monitors and educational sessions for the adolescent participants.

Potential Benefits to Veterinary Medicine:
In parallel to human obesity, pet obesity is a serious and growing concern in veterinary medicine. Exploring the impact of human-dog companionship in an exercise and nutritional program may promote healthier behaviors for obesity prevention.

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