Article image

Jog with your dog to prevent pet obesity and health issues

Obesity in pet dogs has become a common phenomenon in recent times and is of concern to veterinarians and owners alike. It is estimated that between 34 and 41 percent of dogs globally are overweight or obese, and several previous research studies have investigated the risk factors associated with this condition. Overweight and obese animals are more likely to develop serious health problems, including joint, skin, respiratory, cardiac and renal diseases, diabetes and an increased risk of death. 

The main cause of obesity in dogs is that they consume more calories than they use up in their daily lives, largely because they receive too much food and not enough exercise. Both of these factors are under the control of the dog owner but, although there are many commercial dietary options for overweight dogs, there is not a lot of information or guidance for owners who wish to increase their dog’s exercise levels. In this light, researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada undertook a large-scale, international study to investigate the relationship between the exercise regimen of owners and their dogs. 

Past studies on the association between dogs’ body weight and their diet, exercise regimen and other sociodemographic factors have involved small samples and have been restricted in geographic location. For a broader, international perspective, PhD student Sydney Banton and colleagues analyzed the results from a survey of 3,298 dog owners living in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The survey included questions about both owners’ and dogs’ diets and exercise routines, and each owner’s perception of his or her dog’s body weight.

Analysis of the survey responses showed that dogs were likely to get more exercise if their owners spent more time exercising, themselves. Active owners were also more likely to perceive their dog as having an ideal body weight. Compared to owners in other countries, owners in Germany tended to exercise their dogs for a longer time, were more likely to perceive their dog’s body weight as ideal, and were less likely to report having been told that their dog was overweight.

The results, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also showed that dog owners who had been told their dog was overweight were more likely to respond by restricting the dog’s diet, or by feeding it a weight control diet, but not by adjusting its exercise regimen or by cutting out the daily treats. These owners were more likely to report that their dog only exercised for between 0 and 15 minutes per day, while the recommended daily exercise time, on average, is at least 30 minutes per day. 

Among dogs who were five years old and older, owners were less likely to perceive their dog as having an ideal body weight if they had been told their dog was overweight, if they reported attempting to control their dog’s weight by limiting food intake, and if they reported giving dogs other foods, such as treats, every day.

To the researchers’ knowledge, this is the first large-scale study that demonstrates a relationship between an owner’s exercise regime and his or her dog’s exercise pattern. In the past, veterinarians have reported that the main causes of obesity are diet, socioeconomic reasons and lack of exercise, but admit that their primary strategy to address this obesity is to reduce food, reduce treats and change the diet, but not to change the exercise routine. 

This highlights that the option to increase exercise time needs to be promoted by veterinarians when advising owners of overweight and obese dogs. “In order to treat and prevent obesity in dogs, a more holistic approach to changing both dietary and exercise routine needs to be made,” wrote the study authors.

“Results from the survey revealed that feeding practices play a main role in owner perception of their dog being overweight, while exercise practices play a main role in owner perception of their dog being an ideal weight,” said Banton. “While many weight loss strategies for dogs focus on feeding, this data highlights the need to incorporate exercise into weight loss regimens.”

By Alison Bosman, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day