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The Issue of Weight | Arthritis Awareness Week Day 3

Full Interview Transcript:

Eric Shannon:

Hey, everybody. Eric Shannon here from Big Barker. Here for day three of Arthritis Awareness Week. I have two special guests. First is Dr. Hannah Capon from Canine Arthritis Management, who's been with us, the last two days and we have Dr. Ernie Ward who is the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. So we're here to talk about a very important topic, which is the weight of a dog, which has a lot of consequences that people aren't often aware of. So if you're joining us for the first time in our Arthritis Awareness Week, what we're doing is five days of content on what we feel is the most widespread problem facing dogs as they get older. So if you would like the recording for this one, plus the other four, there's a link with video uploads, it's bigbarker.com/aaw. If you go to that link, you'll get all the recordings plus any resources we talk about. And last thing before I turn it over to Hannah, I relocated today. I'm in a different spot than the other two days because Spike wanted to join us.

 

 

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Okay. Thanks, Eric. I am so excited to have this dude here. He's one of my heroes because he says it as it is. And I really feel that we need to be doing that. I don't know where Dr. Ernie has gone, but I'm sure he's going to be back in a few seconds if Eric can just get it right. Until then, this a really important topic guys. Is your dog's weight cutting the life expectancy shorts? So, Dr. Ernie, you are the world leader on this. First question. Can you bring it up? Why is maintaining an ideal body weight important for an arthritic dog? I know that you know about so much more but let's just focus down on an arthritic dog. Why is it important?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah, Hannah, thanks again for having me and your dogs and cats weight is affecting their life expectancy. We know from studies, longitudinal studies throughout the entire life of dogs, that dogs that are kept at a lean healthy body condition live two and a half years longer. Now let's put that in people perspectives, the average human life expectancy in the US and UK, is about 78, 79. If you were a dog in one of these studies, you'd live to be over 91. So, Hannah, I vote for 91. I mean, at the same time if you want to reduce the instance of diseases like arthritis, like cancer, like respiratory, heart disease, kidney failure, and so forth, you want to maintain an ideal or lean body condition. Honestly, when we look at all of the health threats that our pets face, obesity is the number one threat.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Totally agree. And I think I learned something recently that really hit home with our followers. When I use the word suffer, people get really uncomfortable with that. And I think there's a hell of a lot of truth in saying that if you're carrying a huge amount of weight, that dog is going to suffer and they're going to have shorter life span. And that just sometimes really kicks people into thinking this is important because it is important.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah, we're robbing them of quality of life. I mean, my UK colleague and dear friend, Dr. Alex German at the University of Liverpool, did a study a few years ago, assessing the quality of life of dogs with obesity. And what he found was that dogs with obesity on a validated quality of life scale as reported by their pet parents were suffering. I mean, that's the conclusion. But here's the great news, when those same dogs that were reported as having very poor quality of life due to their obesity lost as little as 6% of their body weight, they reported improvements in quality of life. So when people talk about obesity and they go, "Oh, well, my cat or dogs are fat and happy and I'm just going to let them be." They're not fat and happy. They are fat and miserable.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah, no, that's true. And when you say 6%, me as a clinician, I go, well, this could be achievable in six weeks.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Absolutely.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Changing the course of your dog's life in six weeks. Wow. Cool. Let's go to the next question because I want to talk to you forever but I know we're short of time. How do you know if your dog has an ideal body weight?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah. It can be difficult to determine if your dog or cat is at an ideal body weight just by looking at them. And that's why you have to work closely with your veterinary professional team because we do something called a body condition score, and this is different than a body mass index, a chart. We do a set of measurements, palpitations. We're looking at fat deposition or fat deposits. We're looking at muscle mass and all these things. We come up with a number of scale of one to nine. Nine being obesity and one being too thin and unhealthy. And so it's really important that you and your vet, work toward this because if you're just looking at your dog, they're furry, some cats have a pendulous abdomen. But in general, I'll tell you two simple things to do.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Number one, with your dog standing upright, look at them from the side. And if their tummy is sagging down, we used to call them swiffers because they were cleaning the floor. That typically indicates abdominal adiposity or belly fat, which is the most dangerous kind of fat. The next thing you want to do is look at your dog from above and they should have an hourglass figure. People are like, that's nuts. Well, that's because your dog is carrying too much weight around its hips, but really there should be a slight indentation just behind the ribs. And then it comes back out around the hips. So if you don't see the hourglass and if you see a sagging tummy, those are simple signs that your dog may be carrying too much weight.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah, definitely. And I'm just going to add to that. We've got to remember our vet techs and our vet nurses because actually, they're really skilled in this area as well. So if you're a bit intimidated by the vet and you've got this white coat effect where you don't really want them to tell you off, then you can always go to your vet tech or your vet nurse because they generally, and we know they're better at listening and they're very nice at giving good advice. So don't be scared of doing that. Okay. Next question. What are the common causes of obesity and weight issues and can we mention them? And the reason I chose Dr. Ernie is because he's going to say it as it is. And I think this is really important. There's a lot in the vet world where we beat around the Bush because we don't really want to offend people and we really want to be liked because that's our personality type. But actually, this is a topic we have to be honest about. So come on, get it out there.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

The most common reasons why your dog has obesity or is even overweight is just from overfeeding and under exercising. Now genetics play a role. Diseases can play a role. Medications can play a role. Environmental contaminants like BPA. All of those things are part of our constellation of issues. But the predominant problem is we just simply are feeding our dogs too many calories and not exercising them enough. And it really isn't more complicated than knowing how much you should be feeding. I find Hannah, that most dog owners and cat owners just don't know what they're supposed to be feeding or they rely on the feeding guide from the bag, which by legal definition has to be fed for pregnancy, for growth. I mean, so not just for your eight-year-old adult spayed Lab, right? I mean, which has definitely different metabolic needs.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Remember that when you spray or neuter your dog or cat, you reduce their energy requirements by 20 to 30%. So if you're relying on that feeding guide from the bag, you're already overfeeding by 20 to 30% by law. So again, what we've got to do is start to measure the food, weigh the food, know how much food we're feeding. We've got to be conscious of our treating. I call this mindful treating. We want to give treats that have low calories and high nutritional value. So this is why you always hear me leaning into crunchy vegetables. I love baby carrots and broccoli, celery, zucchini, asparagus, all those are great things. Dogs like the crunchy sensation.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

So again, if you say, what's the biggest problem here. It's overfeeding. Under exercising and look, every dog needs about 30 minutes for aerobic activity each day, not just to keep them at a healthy body condition, but for behavior, to support strong joints, right? To make them as fit and healthy as possible. Heck, aerobic activity over 20 minutes boosts your immune system T killer cells. I mean, we know that there's so many benefits. So 30 minutes a day, and don't worry if you're saying I don't have 30 minutes a day to walk my dog. I wish you did. You should. But you can at least break it up into two 15 minute segments. And I think that's reasonable for anybody.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Totally, totally agree. And for people that are like my dog, doesn't like veggie and stuff. Something that I do, which is so sensible, is I take a portion of my dogs food and that's my treats for the day. So I give her what she was going to have anyway. She's a little bit of a fussy monkey. So me trying to get her to eat broccoli is just not going to happen. But I think a lot of people see this as a challenge when actually the solutions are really easy. And I think it was Dr. German who actually was looking at how much more expense an owner goes through with an obese dog. The expense of having an overweight dog and all the illnesses that come with it. It's absolutely astronomical. I think the statistic is 53%. Up to 53% more they spend in a dog's lifetime because of weight issues. Shocking. Anyway. Right. Let's go to the next question. And here it comes. Oh, that's good. We're all done. Oh my God.

Eric Shannon:

That was the questions we had planned in advance, but we have a couple of other ones that I'm going to give you. Give me just a second.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

If you guys want to know more about this, we had the most excellent Facebook Live with Dr. Ernie on cam and I'll put the link in because he just blew me away for an hour. You just look at it. You didn't know where to stop because you're so passionate about it. And I think what I like about how you approach it is, it's achievable by everybody. It's not something [inaudible] within reach. And that's the thing is that, it doesn't matter where you live, whatever country you're in, you can do this thing.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

And, Hannah, Alex, and I have looked at the cost of care. This has been something we've been working on back and forth. The UK versus US versus Europe, and it's extraordinary the amount of extra cost and care and even feeding costs. But really, when we look at the approachable and accessible, it's also affordable to keep your dog and lose weight. I mean, keep your dog at a healthy weight and help them lose weight. This isn't asking you to spend thousands of dollars on surgery or medications. This is really just changing your lifestyle. And that's why we don't use the words like diet. We talk about lifestyle changes because we want you to adopt and actually create behaviors that you just understand, Oh, well, I walk my dog in the morning. Oh, well, I give him whatever the treat is that's low calorie and high nutrition.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah, absolutely. Go for it.

Eric Shannon:

I have my own question. So a dog that's overweight, let's say not obese, but just a couple pounds overweight. And let's say they're young and they don't have arthritis or any joint conditions yet. How can that impact the health of dogs joints as they go through life?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Eric, that's a great question. So when we look at what causes osteoarthritis in dogs, cats, and in people, of course, there are two primary factors. The first are excess loading factors due to weight. So we're now putting more pressure, more forces acting on the joints, on the support structures that cause injuries. Okay. So that's the first cause of osteoarthritis. The second thing is going to be chronic systemic inflammation. We often lump this into rheumatoid arthritis, but honestly, the studies have been clear in humans that we can have non-weight-bearing joint issues in people with obesity. So really if you look at those two things. One, you're loading too much force on that little joint that's not designed to take it. You're going to have all these micro-tears and micro-injuries that culminate or fulminate at some point into significant painful crippling arthritis. And then the other part that is the systemic inflammation that, that one or two extra pounds of fat causes. That is the combination that creates arthritis.

Eric Shannon:

So once they have arthritis, let's say it's a, eight or nine-year-old dog. That's again, not morbidly obese, but has an extra few pounds. What's the quality of life difference for that dog before and after they lose that weight?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah. Eric, this is the part that's heartbreaking because as I often say, Hannah, obesity isn't a problem until it's a catastrophe, right? So people ignore those subtle signs of limping, of not jumping up in the car as eagerly, of maybe being slower to go up the steps into the back of the house. All those things are those signals that we need to be really acutely aware of because that's when we want to intervene. But Eric, the overall quality of life, we know that we, we can't cure arthritis. The only way you can cure it is to replace the joint. So it'd have to a hip replacement, elbow replacement, these really major surgeries.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

So we're now going to palliate the pain and inflammation. And that's really where the cost starts to come in to play Hannah because we see these seven, eight-year-old Labradors that were a hundred pounds. So now they've got significant arthritis. They're going to be on expensive medications for the rest of their life. And Eric, I will tell you, I'll be the first to say, no matter what we do to try to alleviate the pain, we can never restore it to a non-painful state. And that's why we really want to try to prevent these conditions if at all possible.

Eric Shannon:

Sure.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. And I'm going to add to that. I've got a couple of lovely video clips I use in lectures of dogs that have shifted the weight and there's one of these Chocolate Lab. And he came to find me to show me the photo. His dog lost eight bags worth of sugar. So it's 2.2 pounds per bag. And he had eight bags of sugar in front of his dog as he took [inaudible] and the dog had been on two medications with pain, continuously, no medication. So once that weight came off, the dog didn't need the pain meds anymore. It went back to an amazing quality of life. So it's just daft that people don't grab this opportunity with both hands, in my mind.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah. And those weight shifts are actually more significant because what's happening, so normal dog in general terms is carrying about 60% of their weight on the hind two limbs and about 40% on the front. So they look like that if you will. When they start to have pain of arthritis in their hind limbs, they start to shift that equation. So now maybe they go 60% of the front, 40% of the back. The problem is the elbows, the shoulders, the carpus, the wrists, aren't designed to carry that 60% load. And so now the dog with hip arthritis, a year later has got elbow arthritis or wrist arthritis or shoulder arthritis. And now it becomes a catastrophe.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. But I think something that's really important is the owner in this. And I think as fact, we focused very much down on the animal but we've got to think about the psychology of the owner. Many people look at this now as a mountain. And they're like, Oh my God, I just don't know how to climb it. I don't know how to change. And I don't know what to do next. And they give up. A bit with weight control and people. There's a high failure rate because people fall off the bandwagon, don't they? And how can we actually help them start a change and let it progress and grow and become an established change? What would you say?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

I think the first thing is really taking it more seriously from our professional colleagues. This is why Alex and I and others, we started this global pet obesity coalition. We now have 22 of the world's largest organizations that have signed on, in support that obesity is a disease in animals just like it's been declared and in human healthcare, right? So we think that's the first step because we have to take it more seriously, I think first and foremost. That's the domain I can control. The second thing is, understand that portion control for pet parents is essential. Really just starting the conversation saying, how much should I be feeding my dog or cat, and then weighing the food as a way to more precisely give that or deliver that type of food. Then the third thing is to realize that food isn't the only bringer of joy to dogs and cats.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

What they really want is our interaction and affection. This is why I go back to walking your dog, spending time with your dog, petting your dog. What we do is we take the easy way out. We see the dog come at us with the puppy dog eyes and they're pleading for our attention. And we take the easy way out by giving them some food. And what that dog really wants is our affection. But let me tell you, they are no dummies. After a while, they start to say, well, if you're not going to go play with me at least you can give me a cookie. And that's where we start to set up this entire negative cycle of behavior, where we go, "Oh, if I give him food, he seems happy." And again, we're just contributing to a disease.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. And I think there's also an element where the owner needs to be honest with themselves. There was a study, I think you might have been involved with, where a lot of owners admitted they just got pleasure themselves. They didn't really think about [inaudible] the dog. It just made them short-term feel better for giving that treat. Stop yourself guys, stop. Think about what you're doing and give 10 seconds of love rather than one second of fat.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Hannah, we found in that study, we found, I think it was about 82% or 84% of pet parents, what they responded to that question was, why do you give these treats? And they said because it gave me joy. And that's when you realize, wow, this is really self-centered. And I tell people, what we've really done is we've misinterpreted the dog's plea. We've misinterpreted what they're asking us for. And what we've done is then answered with food because to many humans, food is joy and love, but yet that's not how dogs operate. What dogs want is, "Hey dude, come hang out with me."

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah, exactly. There are companions. And that's one of the driving forces behind them, is that we expect that dogs are just amazing at coping, they're so giving, they try so hard. And I think we overlook the fact is their fundamental wish is to be with us and they'll try and jump into the back of the car. They'll try and do the stairs. They'll take that short term transient pleasure biscuit. They're actually going, "Hey, what about us? What are we going to do together." So hopefully I pulled on your heartstrings with that because that's just so true.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

And one final thing. I encourage people to be patient with weight loss, both for themselves and for their dogs or cats, because we're trying to do this safely to preserve strength and immune system and organ function, all that stuff. But don't expect results overnight. I know you mentioned six weeks and that's achievable for many dogs, but we want to be realistic that this isn't something that we can do just overnight. And we don't want to be hurried about it because what I find is that when people look at it as a fad when they look at it as the diet, they don't actually make the behaviors that translate and transform into lifestyle changes. Because what I'm trying to do is not just help your dog lose weight over the next six weeks. I'm trying to keep that weight off for the next six years.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. Can I just tell you a little funny story? It's really relevant now. And my sister's, sorry Sam, she's going to tell me off again. So we managed to get the weight off her dog who's got significant arthritis. And recently I was like, "She's put the weight back on what's going on here?" And she went, "Well, she's feeling so much better. She's climbing back on the table and eating the cat food again." And I was like, "Wow, so it makes such a difference." And she's gone back to have bad habits. Her capabilities improved, her pain status has gone down. So as you say, it's a lifestyle thing. You might have to change the way you do things as you go along to progress with that.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

And then recognizing the danger of that resumption of normal behavior of eating the cat food off the table. So we have to be good stewards. Our dogs and cats don't have the same understanding of their actions that we do. So that dog, your sister's dog doesn't understand that, wow, me wolfing down the cat food could actually have significant health effects to me. This could cause pain to return. This can cause inability for a mobility to return. All of those things. And we have to be the good stewards. That's part of being responsible pet parents.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

She's just thinking, "Oh my Gosh, this is so cool. I can get on the table again and get the cat food."

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Right. I've been missing that.

Eric Shannon:

I got a couple of comments I want to show you guys from Facebook. So first one, this is from Carol. Let me change the camera layout here to, no, that's no good. All right. That's a little bit better. Okay. 13 years old, arthritis in her spine, she lost five pounds and now she has that hourglass shape and runs around like she's a lot younger. So those seem to have made a difference. So that's great to hear. A couple of questions. This one here is from Jennifer Jackson. Her dog is overweight and has seizures. Does being overweight possibly cause those seizures?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Well, it could be the medication. I'd like to know if she's on a medication. Most anti-seizure medications actually cause weight gain. It's a well-documented thing. So phenobarbital and obesity have been linked for decades. So most of the seizure medications will contribute directly to how metabolism of fats are affected. So that could be part of the problem. But the link between obesity and seizure activity, that's not been established.

Eric Shannon:

Okay. And now I have two comments that have a similar type of question. So let me just show them both to you before we answer. So Gary Smith is asking how to lose weight with bad arthritis, front, and back. And his dog also has some breathing problems. And then Sheryl is saying that her dog has had surgery on both back legs and now has arthritis in his back and neck. He's about six pounds overweight, but no motivation while recovering from knee surgery. What can I help him if he can't go for walks right now? So both dogs are having trouble losing weight because they can't do the physical activity.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

And that's great. Here's the truth based on all the evidence for the past 40 years for weight loss, for dogs and people. The equation is very simple. It's about 60 to 70% diet and only 30 to 40% physical activity. So in both of those cases, I tell people, actually losing weight begins in the kitchen or at the food bowl. For cats, because they have a different energy system. It's even more exaggerated. It's about 90% diet and only 10% activity. And again, that's because they're anaerobic creatures relying on a form of sugar called glycogen, whereas dogs and humans are aerobic active, we're conditioned for that. We use fatty acids as our primary energy source. So cats don't jog. We're great at marathons. And so for those two cases, really focus in on the calories because that's what will shed those pounds. And what we find is that as those pounds come off, those joint pain eases up as you've heard from other people. And then suddenly now you may be able to start walking around the block in a month or three months or whatever it takes.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. And I think I'd add to that. Neither of those conditions want to be immobile. So even post-surgery, you still need to be active. And that's a real fallacy that people think, I need to rest up and do nothing. No. You need to do controlled exercises often. So you can use the food to motivate them to move. And I think a lot of people have this belief that they have to be fed in a bowl and they really don't. And when my lovely old Holly, God bless her soul, when she was really quite debilitated, she didn't like to get fed in a bowl anymore. We used the food to scatter it around the garden and we took it on walks with us and did hide and seek with it to keep them motivated. To get them moving. So you can use it to help you.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah. I love finding the food, but again, I think one of the barriers that people have, it's a myth, it's a misperception, it's a falsehood, is that you can exercise your way to weight loss. It's so difficult to do that. Really, you have to focus on the diet, the calories. That's really the take home message.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. And I think it's dangerous. I've heard of people that have really believed that they just need to get the dog out active and they actually do damage. Ramping up their exercise level with that huge weight on board. That could be the worst thing that you want to do.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah. And what's frustrating. So I'm also a certified personal trainer and a USA Triathlon Ironman coach. And I will have these athletes or these people come to me and they think that somehow training for a triathlon will help them reach an ideal body weight. And I know that they're often upset when I say, Hey, listen, okay. I definitely want to coach you to your first 5,000 or 10,000, but really to get your body condition where you say you want it to be, you're not going to achieve that by just exercise. You're going to have to first take control of your diet, your lifestyle and then we add in aerobic activity, strength training, and all that. You should be doing all of those things. It's a perfect combination is what you're seeking. But the reality is, if you just rely on exercise as your secret to weight loss for your dog or yourself, you're going to be very disappointed.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah. Where did they just come from? It was terribly intimidating when you have amazing Dr. Ernie, who also turns out that he's got this and this and this and this as well.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Well, I'm an adrenaline junkie. I like endurance sport. I do a lot of meditation practice and so forth. And I think that in my early thirties, I started turning towards just long distance things and it really does help me focus and center in a different way. So yeah, I've already had a decent run this morning, so I'm good.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Good on you. It's good though. I think it's great to extrapolate some of these feelings and also results from the human experience into, and helping people understand with your own stories.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Right. Hannah, that's really what was happening because when I founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and please feel free to visit it. It's a free resource. We're not affiliated with any food company or pharma company, petobesityprevention.org. There was such a lack of this type of information that I naturally said, well, I need to figure out what's going on, on the human side. Now. Obviously, I was already doing a lot of these things. So it just gave me a different perspective to approach my pet patients. Because then I was taking elements of exercise and nutrition from the human side, starting to see how that intersected with dogs in particular. And you find the similarities are quite common.

Dr. Hannah Capon:

Yeah.

Eric Shannon:

All right guys. Well, I have one last question before we wrap up.

The opening question we had when we started this Facebook Live, had to do with, is your pet's weight possibly decreasing their life expectancy? So Dr. Ward, can you just tell us a little bit more about that and give us a scenario in which the weight would decrease the life expectancy?

Dr. Ernie Ward:

Yeah. As I mentioned, there've been two lifelong studies conducted on cohorts of dogs and both of them look like this. They fed one set of dogs whatever they wanted. Okay. And then whatever those dogs ate, they fed the other cohort, 25% less. That's just the general scope of it. And then they followed these dogs for their entire life. And while we can certainly argue about the ethics of these types of studies, they were done. These were done decades ago. So we got the research. But anyway, what they found was that when they followed those dogs through their life, A, the dogs that were fed less and kept it a lean body weight lived on average two and a half years more. As I mentioned, that's like you living to 91 instead of 78 or 79. So that's a significant difference. But the story didn't stop there.

Dr. Ernie Ward:

What they found was the majority of those dogs that live longer had less diseases, including arthritis, including cancer. And in fact, when you look at the dogs and they got around age 13, only about 5% of the dogs that ate whatever they wanted were still alive. And half of the lean dogs were still alive. So the conclusion is that if you maintain a lean muscle body condition mass in your dog, that not only are they going to live longer, but they're going to live a healthier, higher quality of life. Less painful arthritis, less cancer, less diseases. And so I'll be honest with you from a human perspective, these have direct parallels as well. And so it's important to take note of what we're feeding our dogs. It's important to note, what kind of activities are we engaging with? It's important to note, do we provide environmental enrichment to keep their behavior normal and steady and strong and all that sort of thing especially in these days. It's really important for us to focus on the care that we're giving because this entire ecosystem, we're learning, all of it is connected. What we feed, what our activity, what our stress levels are. All of those impact the weight, the health, and the longevity of our dogs. And of course, ourselves.

Eric Shannon:

Well, I'd like to thank the two of you for spending time with us today on Arthritis Awareness Week. So everybody that's watching, go to bigbarker.com/aaw. We're going to send you a link to this recording. Plus the other four recordings. We'll also send you information about the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. And we'll send you a link to the other one-hour presentation from Dr. Ward as well. So I want to thank the two of you. I also want to thank Outward Hound who was our co-sponsor on this event. They make lots of toys and puzzle games that are great for dogs.

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