Obesity in dogs, Part 1: Exploring the causes and consequences of canine obesity - Veterinary Medicine
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Obesity in dogs, Part 1: Exploring the causes and consequences of canine obesity
This increasingly common condition decreases a dog's life span, increases its risk for various cancers, and causes orthopedic problems—just to name a few of the possible sequelae.



Dietary factors also contribute to excessive weight gain in dogs. The number of meals and snacks fed, the consumption of table scraps, and an animal's presence when owners prepare or eat their own meals all contribute to canine weight gain.41 The cost of pet food has been shown to have a variable effect; a study showed that obese dogs were more likely to be fed a higher volume of cheaper brand foods than premium brands.42 Additionally, dogs with elderly owners were more likely to be overweight or obese, potentially because of poor dietary habits since the nutrition of the elderly owners was not ideal and, thus, supportive of obesity.15

Overweight or obese owners

In people, exposure to environments with a high prevalence of overweight and obese people leads to inaccurate perceptions of what constitutes a normal body shape.41 This misperception may also contribute to the increasing prevalence of obesity within the canine population.

A recent survey study collected data from 829 dog owners through personal interviews.43 Owners were asked to subjectively evaluate their dogs' body condition score (BCS). In addition, both the owner's BMI and the dog's BCS were assessed and recorded by the interviewer. Obese dogs were twice as likely to have obese owners as nonobese dogs were. Owner underestimation of a dog's BCS was nearly 20 times more common in dogs that were obese than in normal or underweight dogs. No significant relationship was found between owner underestimation of a dog's BCS and owner obesity. Interestingly, while obese owners are more likely to have obese dogs, they do not appear to differ in their misperception of their dogs' BCS when compared to nonobese owners.

Owner misperception of an obese dog's BCS presents a major obstacle in weight management. This misperception appears to be independent of whether the owner is obese. That is in contrast to the situation with obese children and parents, where obese parents consistently fail to recognize (or acknowledge) obesity in their children.44 Targeting this misperception of BCS with education is a requisite for successfully preventing and treating canine obesity.


A recent survey sought to identify environmental risk factors for canine obesity.45 In the study, 829 interviews were conducted (400 at a charity practice, 429 in private practice) in which owners were asked about their feeding and exercise habits, the household income, and their age. The BCSs of 696 dogs 1 year of age or older were assessed by using the seven-point S.H.A.P.E. (size, health, and physical evaluation) morphometric technique. Those dogs with a BCS 5/7 were considered mildly overweight, those with a BCS 6/7 were considered moderately overweight, and those with a BCS 7/7 were designated extremely overweight.

Using the seven-point scale, 35.3% (n=246) of the dogs were above their ideal body condition, 38.9% (n=271) were overweight, 20.4% (n=142) were obese, and 5.3% (n=37) were underweight.

Obese dogs had a higher median age and were more likely to be female and neutered. Obese dogs had significantly less exercise per week compared with nonobese dogs. Socioeconomic class appeared to be a factor in a dog's becoming overweight or obese; the risk of obesity was significantly associated with owner income as pet owners in the highest income bracket were more likely to have obese dogs. Finally, increasing owner age was also associated with increased incidence of overweight or obese dogs.45


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