Do You Know a Fat Dog When You See One?

To explore whether owners can reliably assess their dog’s weight, researchers from the University of Nottingham asked owners to categorize their dog as underweight, normal, overweight, or very overweight. Owner assessments were then compared with assessments by veterinarians, a population specifically trained in this foundational assessment of animal well-being.

So how did owners do? To begin, owners knew numbers! Almost 70% of the owners offered an estimated weight for their dog, suggesting they were at least somewhat familiar with their dog’s weight. Unfortunately, owners didn’t always understand what that poundage meant for their dog’s health. In fact, owners tended tounderestimate whether dogs were overweight or very overweight. For example, almost 40% of owners with an overweight dog according to a veterinarian described the dog as normal (and one owner even thought their overweight dog should gain weight!). While some owners did acknowledge that their dogs were overweight, the veterinarians often labeled these dogs as very overweight while the owners tended to classify them simply as overweight. Again, owners seemed to underestimate the severity of their dog’s condition.

Canine obesity is not a joking matter, and it is often considered both a welfare and a quality-of-life issue. Obesity can predispose dogs to serious health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular problems, joint and bone disorders as well as shortened lifespan (typically by about two years). Canine obesity “is increasingly considered a significant animal welfare issue, such that overfeeding can be characterised as being as cruel as underfeeding (RSPCA 2008).”

But back to the owners. Is it really possible that some owners don’t realize their dogs are overweight? When researchers investigated the disconnect between owner and veterinarian weight assessments, it appeared that owners sometimes had different ideas about what made up weight. For example, an owner might not consider a dog fat but rather “all muscle” (something you might imagine us saying about ourselves). Other owners reasoned that because their dog had lost weight, their dog was now good to go — although the veterinarian would still consider the dog overweight. Owners seemed to couch their dog’s weight in storylines, and unfortunately these storylines could obscure the fact that a dog is overweight.

Continue reading at Scientific American.

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