Is your dog overweight? There is about a 50:50 chance the answer to this question is “yes”. The RSPCA estimates that up to 50% of the 8.6 million dogs in the UK are overweight and they are at risk of many obesity-associated diseases which afflict humans, including heart and liver disease, diabetes and arthritis. The problem is that many owners simply don’t recognize the problem in Fido, or even in themselves. The owners do, is some ways, resemble their dogs! The position is slightly different with cats.
A study carried out in three veterinary practices in Amsterdam, involved 47 owner-dog pairs and 36 owner-cat pairs. The weight of the animals was measured by the veterinarian during the consultation. Because of a lack of comparable indices for pets, the veterinarian made a visual estimation of the ideal body weight of the pet, using the amount of fat visible and palpable on the ribs, vertebrae and pelvic bones. Results confirmed a significant association between the degree of fatness of the dogs and the body mass index (BMI) of their owners.
The explanation for the dog/owner weight correlation, according to the study authors, is that owners apply their personal attitudes and behaviour, including eating habits, to their dogs. Thus dog owners, who indulged in frequent calorie-rich meals, were more likely to feed their pets with rich leftovers, snacks and various doggy “treats”. This is borne out by the fact that the weight of the dog was correlated with the duration of the ownership, rather than the age of the dog. In addition, the correlation between the degree of overweight of dogs and the BMI of their owners disappeared after correction for time spent walking the dog, which suggests that the shared spent energy of the dog–owner pair determines the degree of overweight of dogs as well as their owners.
Interestingly, the study found no association between the weight of cat owners and their pets, presumably because cats are less dependent on their owners for their physical activity and food intake. Several studies have shown that cats allowed to roam free are less overweight than those forced to stay at home.
If you want a healthy dog you need to pay attention to your dog’s diet and physical activity. If you do this getting a dog may be a better strategy for you than joining a gym. After all, if you can’t be bothered to go to the gym, the only one who loses is you. But if your dog needs to walk, and all dogs do, then this provides some additional pressure for you to be active.
Dr David Ashton MD PhD
23rd August 2012