The theory of planned behavior (TPB) links attitudes and behaviors. Behavior attitudes refer to negative or positive evaluations toward given behaviors; the more positive the attitude, the stronger a person’s intent to perform the behavior. This Australian study examined the relationship between owner behavioral beliefs and barriers, normative beliefs and perceptions of control, owner feeding and exercise behaviors, and body condition scores (BCS) in 182 dogs. Owners completed a questionnaire including demographic data for the respondents (age, gender, place of residence) and their dogs (age, sex, breed, perceived size). Information describing the feeding behaviors (food types, snacks) and dog exercise behaviors (type, frequency, average duration) was also collected. Respondents could choose from a 7-point scale: number 1 indicated extremely unlikely, strongly disagree, or completely out of my notes and number 7 indicated extremely likely, strongly agree, or completely out of my control. The intention to feed appropriately was not a significant contributor to prediction of feeding behaviors; this may occur because feeding dogs may become habitual and automatic, suggesting that implementation of a weight reduction program may benefit from an increase in owner mindfulness about feeding. Beliefs about the importance of exercise, perceived behavior control, and owner-centered barriers did predict intent to exercise. Motivating owners to understand the health benefits for both owner and dog may overcome the barriers of starting an exercise program. Motivation to comply with veterinary recommendations did not correlate with feeding or exercise intentions or behaviors. The study did not examine whether the owners had actually received recommendations from their veterinarian about feeding and exercise, so this should be evaluated in future studies.

Commentary: This is a complex study that offers insight into why obesity is a common health problem in dogs. TPB has been used to explain healthy eating and exercise behaviors, and its use can also be applied to an exploration of pet and owner behaviors. An understanding of such behaviors may aid in the initiation of beneficial changes. Many owners in this study were not aware that their pets were overweight. Helping owners understand that their dogs are overweight and that they can modify feeding and exercise to change this is an important first step.—Patricia Thomblison, DVM, MS

Dog obesity: Can dog caregivers’ (owners’) feeding and exercise intentions and behaviors be predicted from attitudes? Rohlf VI, Toukhsati S, Coleman GJ, Bennett PC. J APPL ANIM WELF SCI 13:213-236, 2010.