Puppies And Thermodynamics

      37 Comments on Puppies And Thermodynamics

Misha and Coco, our ferocious guard dogs, were spayed last week.  The vet told Chareva the biggest concern after the operation is that they’ll tear or chew on their stitches.  They’re still puppies and still like rough-and-tumble play, so we’ve had to keep them apart while they’re healing.  They take turns going outside – on a leash, so as to avoid any rabbit-chasing incidents.  They also have to wear big cones around their heads, because they did indeed attempt to lick and chew their stitches.  I call them the Cone Heads and keep thinking if I could get them to sit very still on the front porch, I might pick up satellite TV.

That’s Cone-Head Misha in the pictures below.

They came home in a stupor from the anesthesia.  Misha was able to walk slowly into the house, but Coco had no interest in leaving the van.  I’ve regained most of the range of motion in my knee, but it’s still weak from the surgery and still goes wobbly if I try to carry anything heavy.  So Chareva (who is stronger than she looks) lifted Coco from the van and carried her up the patio stairs to the sun room behind the house.

Afterwards she commented that it wasn’t easy hauling a 70-pound limp dog up those stairs.

“Excuse me … did you say 70 pounds?”

“Yes.  The vet weighed them before the operation.”

Well, that would make sense.  Weight determines how much anesthesia to use.

“How much does Misha weigh?”

“Fifty-two pounds.”

Wow.  I knew Coco was bigger.  They look to be the same height, but Coco has thicker muscles.  Pet them both, and you can feel the difference right away.  But 18 pounds heavier?  That’s quite a disparity.

That’s Coco, minus her cone, with Sara in the picture below.

As I thought about it, I realized my Rottweilers have, according the calories-in/calories-out crowd, managed to defy the laws of physics.  If Coco weighs significantly more, then by gosh, she must consume significantly more calories, right?  But she doesn’t.  When Chareva feeds them the organ-meat mix she buys from a local slaughterhouse, they both get a full pound of the stuff.  If she feeds them mackerel and eggs, they both get one can of mackerel and one egg.  Sometimes dinner is a raw chicken thigh and leg – again, the same meal for both of them.  And no, Coco doesn’t steal Misha’s food.

They were little puppies when we got them.  Coco was slightly larger, but we’re talking about perhaps a couple of pounds at that time, as you can see from the picture below.

They’ve eaten exactly the same meals ever since, so according to Jillian Michaels and the other experts in thermodynamics, they should be at almost exactly the same weight.  And yet Coco has 35% more body mass.  To put that in perspective, if I’m Misha at 190 pounds, my brother Coco would weigh 256 pounds.

I suppose the physics experts would insist that Misha must spend a lot more time on the treadmill or engaging in some other form of calorie-burning exercise, but I can promise you that’s not the case.  When we were talking about the difference in their sizes, Sara chimed in to suggest that Coco has more muscle because she’s more aggressive and more active.  That’s true; Coco is the feistier of the two.  If there’s a noise outside the sun room, she’s the first one bolting out the door.  She likes to run and jump and roughhouse more than Misha, who’s more of the sweet-personality “rub my belly” type.

But as I explained to Sara, if they’re eating the same meals and Coco is more active, then Coco should weigh less if the eat-less/move-more crowd is correct.  But to repeat:  she has 35% more body mass.

Coco is heavier and more muscular because the genetic program in charge of her growth has determined that she’ll be bigger and more muscular.  That program is executed by hormones.  That isn’t to say calories aren’t involved.  She of course requires a calorie surplus to grow, and if we starved her, she’d certainly be smaller.  (She’d also be one cranky and miserable dog.)

But Misha is enjoying the same surplus of calories without becoming as heavy.  Her genetic program has determined that she’ll be smaller, so somehow she’s managing to burn up the extra calories.  Maybe she produces more body heat.  Whatever the explanation, no laws of physics are being harmed in the process.

As Gary Taubes has pointed out, ranchers breed some cattle to be bigger and fatter, and it works.  They don’t become bigger and fatter because they eat too much and move too little.  By the same token, the leaner cattle bred to produce milk instead of well-marbled steaks aren’t leaner because they restrict their calories and spend more time jogging around the barnyard.  The genes rule.  For some reason, people who work with animals grasp this concept while people who work with humans often don’t.

The breeder who sold us the dogs told us, in fact, that Misha would be smaller.  She knew better than to say, “Unless you feed them the same number of calories.  Then they’ll end up the same size, because that’s the law of physics, you know.”

Only a diet expert would think like that.


37 thoughts on “Puppies And Thermodynamics

  1. Auntie M

    Oh, no! The Cone of Shame!!! Misha has that “What did I do to deserve this?” look. 🙂

    I’d love to hear you debate someone like Jillian Michaels about this. Or Doctor Oz. It’d be like a Gallagher show, with their brains exploding all over the front row. At least, that what I’d hope.

    I’ll bring the sledgehammer.

    I once worked with Gallagher’s brother at a comedy club. He did Gallagher’s act (with permission; he was known as Gallagher II). I didn’t know who was headlining and was a bit surprised when I walked into the club and saw plastic sheets covering the stage and front rows. So here was the show: local emcee, followed by Tom Naughton, cerebral comedian, followed by a guy smashing watermelons.

  2. Susyn

    My husband and I were talking about this same thing today.
    We have 2 Dachshunds, both are female and weigh 15 pounds. My 9 year old has almost no muscle tone (we tell her she’s like veal, very soft), sleeps all of the time and “eats like a pig.” The 5 year old is very muscular and active but often doesn’t even finish her food.
    It’s obviously genetics at work here.


  3. Susyn

    I forgot to add that Kati, the 9 year old, cannot gain a pound to save her life; while Greta, the 5 year old, can look at a kibble and gain weight.

    Just like some people we know. In high school and junior college, The Older Brother and I hung out with two brothers who were our ages. The older one was short and plump, while the younger one was tall, muscular and cut. The younger brother also had a big appetite and I doubt he ate less.

  4. Greta Kirkland

    It’s all fun and games until somebody winds up in a cone.

    That may have happened to me back in my heavy-drinking days.

  5. bernardo

    One thing people never mention in the calories/out discussion is how much food is being ignored by the digestive system. The lean dog doesn’t have to generate more heat, its digestive system can simply ignore part of the food. The stomach is part of our energy storage system, as it is for many carnivores, and I think it’s an important component in the calories in/out equation.

    The first law of thermodynamics, which is what the calorie-counters cite as an argument, applies to closed systems. We are obviously not closed systems. We breathe, we give off heat, we excrete.

  6. Rae

    I swear, every time you make a post it validates at least one thing I have noticed or deduced in the past.

    I myself have a siberian husky, Juneau, who is in perfect shape at 85 lbs. Most male huskies top out at 60 lbs. As a matter of fact, Juneau’s brother was much smaller than him, not just in weight but hip to shoulder and floor to shoulder.

    As my mom likes to say, Juneau is the “Shaquille O’Neil of huskies.” Which makes sense every living thing has a bell curve for size, growth, and metablosim where variation in DNA is involved.

    And if Juneau sires puppies, one or more of them will also be bigger than usual. Genes rule.

  7. anand srivastava

    Like bernardo, my question would be does Misha have a bad digestive system? Its probably not so good to digest the food well. Possibly that is why she is more lethargic.

    She’s not lethargic by any stretch of the imagination. She’s just not as puppy-hyper as Coco. They get regular check-ups at the vet and she’s shown no signs of digestive issues. She was just born to be smaller, as the breeder predicted.

  8. Mike

    Glad to see you are feeding them a doggy diet.Our pets get the same health issues that we do,for the same reasons.Please be careful with the raw meat,it should be frozen for at least 3 days (some say up to 14 days) to kill parasites.Dogs have died from raw hamburger.

  9. Lori

    It’s called the big, beautiful collar here at my house. My dog, who has a tapered head and muzzle, found it amusing to get out of it. But once I put it on tightly enough to stop her from doing that, she looked at me like, “This isn’t funny anymore.”

    As for CICO, an interesting thing happened in the weeks after my recent accident: I started eating almost twice as much as usual from sheer hunger and ended up at a weight I hadn’t seen on the scale since junior high (I dropped four or five pounds). I certainly wasn’t doing much running around with a sprained, fractured arm and a black-and-blue face.

    Yikes, that’s a tough way to discover an effective weight-loss program.

  10. Tom Welsh

    “Whatever the explanation, no laws of physics are being harmed in the process”.

    Tom, you have a real genius for summing up the really important facts and making them funny and memorable! That is the sort of remark that fronts for a 4-hour lecture on metabolism.

    And this is a wonderful story that, at the very least, raises questions the orthodox theories simply can’t cope with.

    Funny how farmers, ranchers and breeders just sort of know this stuff, isn’t it? Misha was maybe a pound or two lighter when we bought them, but the breeder could spot the runt of the litter and knew she’d be a smaller adult dog.

  11. Sally Myles

    Tom and Jerry isn’t too bad. I used to work with a woman who named her twins Jack and Danny and couldn’t understand why I burst out laughing. I’m a Londoner at heart although I don’t live there anymore, and Jack and Danny is rhyming slang for Fanny, which doesn’t mean bottom like it does in the US, it’s the one at the front. Ergo, her asking me ‘would you like to see a picture of my Jack and Danny’ provoked a snorting response. I seem to recall coffee coming out of my nose.

    So if I’m in London and someone tells me to sit on my fanny, there’s a whole different connotation.

    My middle name is Dale. Why the Older Brother’s isn’t Chip is anyone’s guess.

  12. Tyler

    I think what amazes me most about people who argue for calories in/calories out is that many of the same people I see do so are the same people who would tell someone arguing that evolution is impossible because of thermodynamics and entropy that they’re wrong because the Earth isn’t a closed system. They of course don’t seem to stop and think about the fact that the human body isn’t either when someone tells them how you’re supposed to lose weight.

    Even people I know who are intelligent enough to otherwise consider the evidence they’ve been given and you would expect should see the flaws in the argument seem to miss it. I assume because we’ve been told the wrong stuff all of these years and they just took it at face value as children and continued to as adults without really stopping to think about what people are actually saying. Then again, you’ve also got the people who can’t do anything but parrot what others tell them, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

    But I guess some people are always going to have trouble seeing it. After all, you’ve got people on the biggest loser dropping double digit weight loss every week. So they must know what they’re talking about right? Ugh…

    Yup, people lose double digits while Jillian Michaels is torturing them, then end up with slowed metabolisms afterwards and gain it all back.

  13. Bruce

    Ask any vegetarian/vegan and they would tell you that Coco has 18 pounds of putrefied, undigested meat in her colon. How dare you do that to your poor dogs! Don’t you know that all dogs, especially Rottweilers, eat only grains and vegs and fruit?

    I love the dog and cat food commercials showing the cornucopia of natures bounty in every can.
    Yes, I am being sarcastic.

    Chareva bumped into a dog-food rep at a pet store, and he told her dogs need grains for energy. That would be news to my dogs.

  14. Beowulf

    Cute…and sort of pathetic right now as well. 🙂

    The cattle-breed example in Good Calories Bad Calories was a definite lightbulb moment for me in understanding body weight and differences in human physique. It’s kinda cool that you’re getting to see an experiment play out in your own house.

    I didn’t think of it in those terms until I heard the numbers. Eighteen pounds is a huge difference.

  15. bobg

    But Tom – if we’re not closed systems, then why are so many nutritionist so full of, oh, never mind… (loved the article!)

    Hmmm … maybe they need more magnesium?

  16. Marilyn

    Here’s what’s really happening: When Coco and all you humans are sleeping quietly at night, Misha is dreaming all night that she’s chasing rabbits. Although it might appear that she just twitches a bit from time to time, all those nerve impulses and all that mental chasing activity burns off as many calories as if she were actually running. So it really is calories in-calories out, and now you know. 🙂

    I like that theory. If I can program myself to dream about running marathons, I’ll end up totally cut.

  17. Marg

    One thing I’ve noticed about my Jack Russell Terrier is that when we take her on a long hike, she is a lazy limabean the next day – sleeping more, laying around more, not into playing. That happens when we don’t feed her more to make up for the exercise. Her metabolism slows down! On days we do give her more food when she hikes, she’s fine the next day – same energy as ever. This is in line with Dr. Phinney’s observations of exercise and a 1400 calorie restricted diet. Resting metabolism SLOWS with exercise if food is restricted. Go figure.

    That’s why it’s counter-productive. Ask the former Biggest Loser contestants who were found in a study to now have depressed metabolisms.

  18. LaurieLM

    Thermodynamics is a ‘State’ function, which basically means it’s only the endpoints that matter. It’s not that the ‘path’ doesn’t count in real life, it’s just that the wielders of the bludgeon of thermo and ‘calories/in/out/move more’ don’t understand. Misha and Coco started out the same weight and ended up different weights this way – either they ate different amounts or they partitioned what they ate differently (or some combination of differing eating/partitioning). You assert that they ate the same, so it’s their partitioning of what they ate that’s different that caused their different weights at this point in time.
    Keeping with the thermo theme, there are a couple of ways you can capitalize on the laws to stay slim or to get slim once fat. Starting point prevention- you can starve or you can diddle with and adjust what you eat so that you affect the partitioning of what you eat so you don’t put on weight in the first place – Eat less and/or eat LCHF. If you have already found yourself at the endpoint of overweight before you discovered ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ and ‘Fat Head’ and all this information, you can now start starving or begin eating very LCHF to begin losing weight. It’s comforting to know that starving will work and it is awful, but also completely and thermodynamically not necessary.

    Constant semi-starvation is a miserable way to live. I’d rather skip the grains and sugars and enjoy my steaks, butter and eggs.

  19. Carolyn Gillham

    Oh no! Another good argument and example of genes ruling. Some more bad news for someone who has been plump since she was a kid. I just have to keep on focusing on the other healthy benefits of eating well.

    Unfortunately, genetic factors dictate that keeping weight under control will be a tougher battle for some of us than others. And yes, the real goal is health.

  20. LCNana

    Wow, Tom, very timely post. We’ve just bought a lovely little pup – Molly, who’s half black Lab and half Rottie. Raw fed, of course. She’s nice and slim at 3.5 months and her coat is so shiny people stop and comment about it.

    So how come 90% of the dogs in our neighbourhood are fat and sluggish with dull coats when they waddle by? Grains and kibble I’m guessing.

    Yup, dogs aren’t designed by nature to live on grains any more than we are.

  21. Marilyn

    This morning, I talked on the phone with a woman who will be 101 in a month. She talks and writes like a 50-year-old. She was waiting to go out to lunch with friends when I called. She’s always been tiny, and wore her wedding dress on their 50th anniversary. Lifetime calorie restriction? Heqq no! Quite to the contrary. Lifetime low fat? Nope. Lifetime low carb? Nope again. Careful avoidance of sugar and flour? Oh, heavens, no. Favorable genes?. . . Ya think?

    I think anyone who lives to be 101 had good genes to start with and didn’t overwhelm them with a bad diet or other bad habits. We’ve had several relatives make into their 90s in the family (one of my great-grandfathers lived to be 101), so I hope I’ve got the genetic aspect covered.

  22. Connie

    As someone with a lot of overweight, diabetic relatives, What you’re saying here is kind of depressing, logical. but depressing.
    I think that is a big reason why some people are so adamant about calories in calories out. They don’t want to think that they might not have any control over what they weigh or fast they lose weight.

    Another theory, slightly more logical than CICO, is that Misha is powered by Time-Lord technology and therefore bigger on the inside. (Doctor who anyone? no? maybe I should leave the jokes to the professionals)

    Well, it doesn’t have to be depressing. The message here is that hormones rule. We can change the hormonal mix by changing our diets. It won’t make someone like me all cut with the veins popping out, but it’s sure made it easier to lose weight and keep it off.

  23. LawrenceM

    We have a chocolate lab called Samba who was always a little chubby. Cute but chubby. After we saw Fat Head and read Wheat Belly and changed our way of eating, my wife and I lost weight and so did Samba! She’s slimmed down and is in great shape. Going LCHF has been great for the whole family.

    Also have you seen the show Lorraine Kelly’s Big Fat Challenge (http://www.hulu.com/lorraine-kellys-big-fat-challenge)? I just found it on Hulu. The nutritionist on the show told the family that potatoes were okay, it’s the cheese and butter they needed to avoid. 🙁

    Head. Bang. On. Desk.

  24. Alyssa

    I noticed the same thing with my cats. We brought them all home (from the same litter) at 6 weeks old, all are females, and we have been feeding them all the exact amount of food at meals for the past 6 years. We even watch them eat so no one is pushed out of their bowl. They were all around the same size when we got them, but now we have one who is 9lbs, very tall, long, lean, and muscular, one who is 9lbs, medium sized frame, and fat, and one who is 7lbs, tiny, and very thin. The small thin one actually eats more than the other two since we feed her snacks during the day because she is always screaming at us when we eat or open the fridge. Our vet thought we weren’t feeding her enough and I had to laugh. That small cat gets more than enough but doesn’t store any of it as fat.

    I hope the thin doesn’t believe she’s thin because of her superior discipline. If she does, please start calling her Meme Roth.

  25. John

    Well, Tom, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but weight depends on a whole host of factors- the amount of caloires we eat, the macronutrient breakdown, the micronutrient breakdown, how much we move, the temperature of our envirionment, our genetics, the number of hours we sleep, the quality of our sleep, our stress level, our gut flora, muscle vs. fat, brown adipose tissue, amount of exercise, quality of exercise, and probably a whole host of other factors that we don’t even know about yet…

  26. Cathy

    The article and comments remind me of a conversation I had 8 months ago when I was just embarking on my low carb weight loss program. While sitting at lunch eating my meat and salad, a rail thin lady shared with me her struggle to gain weight and her joy that she had just managed to gain 5 pounds. She then proceeded to advise me that since I like numbers (I was the team’s statistician) it should be easy for me to lose weight. It was just a matter of less calories in than calories out. I then asked her what one should do when the math says you have had enough for the day but it is only 6 pm and you are still so hungry it hurts! She had no answer, but I don’t think she really believed that such a thing could ever happen. Life long thin people should never give weight loss advice to life long fat people! By the way, I lost 40 pounds without ever being hungry by eating low carb. And so far I have kept it off by eating moderately low carb.

    My thoughts exactly. With the exception of researchers like Dr. Jeff Volek, who has conducted clinical studies on weight loss, I’m not interested in hearing weight-loss advice from people who have never had to lose weight.

  27. Elenor

    Connie: “bigger on the inside.”

    Thankfully I had just swallowed my mouthful of water, or I’d’ve damaged my monitor! Atta girl! And: come along, Pond!

    SOME of us get it!

  28. Osama Magdi Elmageid

    Indeed, the people who boast about thermodynamics do not understand it themselves. Gary Taubes’ book is excellent at describing that calories in and out are dependent upon each other. One can never neglect the hormonal factor in calorie management. If only more people knew this, they’d have no idea how much easier their life would be.

    The people telling Gary Taubes his hypothesis would defy the laws of physics seem to forget that he has a degree in physics from Harvard and wrote his first two books on physics. I think he probably considered the laws of thermodynamics when he wrote about weight loss.

  29. Janelle

    I hope Misha and Coco are freed from their Cones of Shame soon. They’re probably thinking this is a life sentence. (I like the sound of their diet.)

    They’ll be free from the cones in a few more days.

  30. Tony Mach

    I think the problem is Idealism: That humans think that “the mind” has some special powers over matter. As cognition isn’t usually ascribed to animals (or not nearly in the same extent) people don’t assume their idealistic fallacies when thinking about animals.

  31. Catchling

    In a sense, “calories in/out” is true by denition, but unhelpful on its lonesome. Variation in metabolism, which is mostly determined by DNA, means that both eating and excercise can result in different calorie changes. The same “amount” of exercise for two creatures, as measured by minutes, does not necessarily translate into the same amount of calories burned, and likewise with food-by-volume, as pointed out earlier.

    Have you ever tried to imitate the movement of a human baby on its back? It gets exhausting after the first few minutes, while the baby just keeps wiggling those arms and legs.


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