Skip to main content

25-10-2011 | Article

Dog owners often wrong about their pet’s weight


Free abstract

MedWire News: Veterinarians are more likely than dog owners to perceive animals as overweight or obese, research by a UK team shows.

They say that this discrepancy highlights the important role of vets in educating pet owners about the issue of their animal's weight.

For the study, Gavin White (University of Nottingham) and colleagues interviewed 117 dog owners who had brought their animal to a veterinary practice over a 6-week period.

The interviews lasted around 15 minutes and covered basic information about the owner and dog demographics. The owners were also given a 48-item questionnaire to complete, which included both quantitative and qualitative data about the animal.

Separately, the veterinarians provided information about each animal based on practice records.

White et al report that a wide range of dog breeds were represented, including cross breeds, toy varieties, and mongrels. The dogs were balanced equally in terms of gender and neutering; 30% were young dogs (age 0-3 years), 20% were mid-age (4-8 years), and 50% were 9 years or older.

Based on the vet's rating of body condition score (BCS), the animals were classified as underweight (BCS=2-2.5), normal weight (BCS=3), overweight (BCS=3.5-4.5), or very overweight (BCS=5).

Just under half of all dogs (43%) were overweight or very overweight, report White and colleagues in the Journal of Small Animal Practice.

The majority of dog owners said that they had discussed their dog's weight with a veterinary professional at some point, and over two-thirds were able to give their dog's weight.

Despite this familiarity with their pet's weight, however, there was some discrepancy between owner's and vet's opinions. For dogs classified as underweight by the vet, 50% of owners overestimated and 50% underestimated the animal's weight.

For dogs deemed overweight, vets and owners agreed in just 53% of cases, and 39% of owners thought their dog was a normal weight (or even underweight in one case).

For dogs of normal weight, owners and vets agreed in 80% of cases, and for very overweight dogs, all owners agreed that their dog was too heavy.

Considering the reasons for these differences in perception, White et al write: "Owners use personal narratives to provide contextual accounts of their dog's current condition."

They support this with quotes from the interviews. One owner, when told that their dog had put on 5 kg since the last consultation, said it was "not fat, all muscle." Another owner said the vet "was getting a bit obsessed about weight loss" while another said their dog was "a perfect weight" despite having a BCS of 4.

The researchers conclude: "This study should help inform the wider debate concerning the dog obesity problem and encourage more detailed academic research into this serious health and welfare issue."

By Joanna Lyford