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Do pet owners recognize if their dog is obese?

A survey of 2,000 Canadians reveals that many dog owners do not recognize what obesity looks like in dogs.

A new study by dog food delivery service Kabo Fresh Dog Food has revealed an interesting trend among Canadian dog owners when it comes to recognizing obesity in dogs. October 13th is National Pet Obesity Day and there are a few things that pet owners need to know about helping their dogs live their healthiest lives.

A double blind study was conducted where 2,000 dog owners across Canada were asked to answer a series of questions surrounding the symptoms of obesity and identifying factors contributing to a dog becoming overweight.

Obese white and black piebald dachshund standing in the grass staring off into the distance with a leather collar

Results of the study revealed an interesting relationship and it’s that many dog owners do not recognize if their pet is obese. Almost 50% of dog owners ranked their dog as a 3 or 4 on a body condition score chart. This ranking is considered to be overweight or obese for the average canine. 28% of respondents also indicated that their veterinarian had recommended weight loss for their dog at some point during their life.

Obesity is an epidemic in the companion animal community. According to VCA Animal hospitals, 25-30% of dogs in the general population are considered to be obese, with 40-45% of dogs over the age of 5 being overweight. This is a dangerous statistic as obesity is a precursor for many life threatening diseases.

“Many diseases can start even just in overweight pets,” says Dr. Tammy Owen, a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist from the University of Saskatchewan. “The obvious ones are diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc. Overweight pets are much more predisposed to have chronic diseases like arthritis and other joint problems. Obesity can also significantly reduce a dog’s life span by as much as 2 years.”

The number of overweight dogs may be contributed to pet owners not knowing how to correctly identify what is a normal body size and weight for their dog. An astounding 69% of pet owners in the study were not correctly assessing body condition score, with 10% of those being “unconcerned with body condition”.

Body condition score (BCS) is a number assigned to dogs based on evaluation of fat at a few key locations on their body. Generally, a lower number indicates that a dog is underweight and a higher number indicates obesity. BCS should be assessed based on both a visual and physical assessment. In order to properly determine if a dog is overweight, both BCS and body weight should be taken into consideration.

Body condition score chart for dogs. Skinny body type, ideal body type, rounded body type and chunky body types are shown in this graphic

Maintaining a healthy body condition is all about balance. Most importantly it is an equilibrium between consuming calories from healthy foods and expending energy through activity. “For healthy weight maintenance, the calories coming in from food must equal the calories being burned through exercise,” says Andrea Geiger, R&D Scientist and Canine Nutritionist, “Weight gain and obesity occurs when this balance is upset and dogs end up consuming more calories than they are burning.”

The results of the study revealed that dogs may be upsetting their caloric balance by not getting an adequate amount of exercise. Owners reported a low amount of average weekly exercise, with the majority of owners only dedicating 3-5 hours of physical activity per week. A leisurely walk (15-30 minutes) was the most common form of exercise that was reported. This is not enough physical activity for the average, healthy dog. Ideally, dogs should have at least 1 hour of exercise per day or more. However, this recommendation does vary between certain dogs depending on factors like age, breed, health status, etc.

Man Jogging With His Dog during sunset dressed in active wear down a path

In addition to inadequate exercise, many pet owners are also overfeeding their dogs. The results of the study showed that only 12% of dog owners feed their dog based on the calorie content of their dog’s food and that the majority of dog owners instead rely on a standardized scoop/measuring cup to measure out their dog’s food. A standardized scoop/measuring cup does not account for caloric differences between diets and can greatly contribute to overfeeding. 

To determine the correct daily calorie requirements for their dogs, pet owners are required to do a little bit of (simple) math. Calories are a measurement of how much energy is in food and is usually portrayed as kcal/kg on pet food labels. Since there are so many factors that can influence a dog’s calorie requirements, different values are used to account for differences in a dog’s activity level, age and body condition. Check out our blog on how to correctly calculate a dog's required daily calories

On the topic of calorie portioning, Kabo founder Vino Jeyapalan had this to say, “We started Kabo with the premise of delivering a correct, custom portion of food to make it easy to feed dogs the right amount of food and tackle the overfeeding problem head on.” 

Some pet food companies, like Kabo, individually portion a dog’s food based on their specific calorie needs, in order to help owners reduce the risk of over or under feeding their dogs.

Outside of body condition and body weight, dogs also have behavioural cues that indicate obesity. These include:

  1. general tiredness
  2. lagging behind or reluctance to go on walks
  3. excessive panting
  4. refusal to move or play games.

In the study, 47% of dog owners were not able to recognize that these were all behaviours of an obese animal.

Large Obese Mixed Breed Dog Resting in the Green Grass Large dog, who looks like a shepherd mix, is resting in the grass in the early summer. He was homeless and is very happy to have a home. He is looking off to the side.

Obesity is a condition that many pet owners and their dogs have had to face. Weight loss is a long and sometimes difficult process but it can be done with the right attitude and perseverance. One Kabo customer was gracious enough to share their dog’s weight loss story.

Obese little pug standing in the middle of a dirt path

Martin Houle lives in Midland Ontario with his two pugs, Buddy and Zoe. When little Buddy turned 8 years old, Martin started to notice that maybe Buddy was slightly chunkier than he should be for his size. Buddy had also had three previous ear surgeries that Martin thinks may have been attributed to his pug’s weight gain. Martin figured it may be helpful to talk to his veterinarian about Buddy’s health.

After consulting his veterinarian, it was determined that Buddy may benefit from a gradual weight loss plan. Martin made some changes to Buddy’s routine by increasing his exercise and decreasing Buddy’s caloric intake per day. Buddy is now 13 years old and thanks to Martin identifying Buddy’s health status and taking the necessary steps, Buddy has been able to see some weight loss. According to Martin, Buddy still has a little ways to go to achieve his final goal but is making good progress!

Obese little pug standing and looking up at it's owner lovingly

Living in a domestic and often sedentary environment, it is not out of the ordinary for dogs to become overweight. “Obesity is a complex disease, with many underlying factors at play; different hormones are dysregulated, which influence not just the physical but also the behavioural aspects of dogs,” says Kabo’s Veterinary Pathologist, Dr. Suzee Camillari, “There is no easy, fast treatment. Although the pathophysiology of obese dogs is still being studied, we know that practical things like modifying behaviour, providing quality food in limited portions and recognizing early signs of unhealthy weight gain, can help mitigate this problem in our pets.”

Ultimately, this study showed that the pet obesity epidemic is not slowing down. Unless owners begin to recognize obesity in their dogs and take the necessary steps to help them with weight loss, they may be facing greater health problems and costs down the road.

This study was conducted with 2,000 dog owners in Canada through TapResearch.

Owner measuring corgi's waist
Owner measuring corgi's waist

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February 20, 2024
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