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Pet Owner Behavior Effects on Canine Obesity

Cecilia Villaverde, DVM, MSc, PhD, DACVN, DECVCN, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Preventive Medicine

October 2020
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In the literature

Webb TL, du Plessis H, Christian H, Raffan E, Rohlf V, White GA. Understanding obesity among companion dogs: new measures of owner’s beliefs and behaviour and associations with body condition scores. Prev Vet Med. 2020;180:105029.


The combined prevalence of obese and overweight pet dogs in the United States is estimated to be ≥40% to 50%.1 It is important for veterinary staff to identify areas of intervention for success in patient weight management. Although information exists regarding the relationship between some factors (eg, age, neuter status) and obesity, there is less knowledge on the relationship between human behaviors and beliefs and canine obesity.2

This study* about canine obesity aimed to incorporate the principles of several social cognitive frameworks that have been used to better understand the same problem in humans. More than 3000 dog owners from 5 countries submitted a validated questionnaire about their beliefs and behaviors about obesity, the dog–owner bond, feeding, and exercise. 

The study found that owners of an overweight dog were more likely to think about their dog’s weight and to believe their dog was more vulnerable to weight gain, that their dog was unfit, and that others think they are overfeeding their dog. These owners also tended to underestimate their dog’s BCS. These findings suggest that, although owners of dogs with a high BCS can and do underestimate the magnitude of the problem, they also recognize and are aware that there is a problem and therefore may be amenable to commit to a weight-loss plan. In this study, owners of an overweight dog were also less likely to have social support from friends for exercising their dog.

Although this study did not identify associations between factors relating to attachment among dog, owner, and BCS, such associations may exist. A strong attachment can result in behaviors that can have both positive and negative effects on body weight; a more in-depth assessment is necessary to further current understandings. Similarly, no association was found between feeding treats and a high BCS, which likely reflects the variability of treating practices.

The design of this study did not allow for distinguishing between factors that are present before weight gain (potential risk factors) and those that are not; therefore, more prospective studies are required to clarify the specific relationship between human behaviors and beliefs and canine BCS. These initial findings, however, provide valuable information that can be applied to daily practice to prevent and manage canine obesity.


Key pearls to put into practice:


Owners should be educated about BCS assessments, and BCS assessments completed by owners should be regularly compared with those conducted by veterinary staff to identify dogs at risk due to owner underestimation of BCS.


Owners should be encouraged to schedule exercise for their dog with a group of friends and/or family to promote this practice in a consistent manner.



Educate owners regarding obesity, weight loss, and nutrition so they are able to understand and consider how this information relates to their pet. This will better enable customization of a weight management plan that will work for their individual circumstances and goals.

*This research was funded by Nestlé Purina Company.


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