This study investigated owner misperceptions of canine body shape and identified associated factors that would allow targeted interventions for preventing or treating canine obesity for high-risk owner groups. Owners were asked to rate dog body shape according to 5 descriptions: far too thin, a bit thin, just right, a bit overweight, or very overweight. Each dog also had a body condition score (BCS) assigned by a participating veterinary professional. Results for 680 dogs were used. Owner misperception was classified into 3 categories: correct estimation, underestimation, and overestimation. Misperception of canine body shape occurred in 44.1% of owners, with the most common being underestimation (ie, owners who thought their animal had a leaner shape than the BCS indicated). Male owners were 1.8 times more likely to underestimate their dogs’ body shape than female owners. Owners with dogs with nonideal body shapes appeared to normalize their perception by underestimating overweight dogs and overestimating underweight dogs. Owners of underweight and overweight animals were more likely to estimate their dogs’ shape correctly in the oldest age category of dogs (9–18 years of age); adult dogs (4–9 years of age) were most at risk for body shape misperception. This may indicate that owner attitudes on acceptable body shape change over a dog’s lifespan; subsequently, owner education on nutrition should be continued throughout a dog’s life.

Obesity is the most common nutritional problem of dogs and cats. This paper demonstrates what we have always suspected: Dog owners commonly do not recognize that their dogs are overweight. This is unfortunate because obesity increases the risk for disease and modest increases in body weight have been demonstrated to shorten the life of dogs prone to arthritis. Veterinarians often fail to address the issue or even document body condition in their notes. Veterinarians have an opportunity to educate their clients about a condition that is readily responsive to intervention, as well as being a potential source of revenue.—Richard C. Hill, MA, VetMB, PhD, MRCVS

A cross-sectional study of the prevalence and risk factors for owner misperception of canine body shape in first opinion practice in Glasgow. Courcier EA, Mellor DJ, Thomson RM, Yam PS. PREV VET MED 102:66-74, 2011.