14 October 2020 - Purina today revealed that pet owners’ inability to identify what a healthy weight for their pet looks like may contribute to growing rates of pet obesity. A new study1 conducted by the Company in collaboration with experts from five universities2 looked at understanding how owners’ beliefs and behaviours are associated with dog obesity as this insight can help develop new solutions to prevent pet obesity.
The study of 3,399 dogs across five countries - France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom - showed that 33%3 of owners recognised their dog as being an ideal weight, while in reality it was either overweight or obese.
Only half of pet owners (51%4) were able to correctly identify if their pet was of a healthy weight.
The study suggests that providing the tools for home assessment and educating owners about the importance of weight management for their pet’s health is likely to be key to preventing and reducing the prevalence of pet obesity.
Pet obesity has become an increasing problem in recent years, with rates of obesity and overweight classifications in dogs growing 2% in just 3 years from 2015 to 20185 . This risk worsening further in lockdown periods due to changes to daily routine that alter the feeding and exercising behaviours for pets. Pet obesity is escalating in parallel with human obesity in the western world, reaching 51% in dogs and 44% in cats in 20186.
Hugues du Plessis, Pet Obesity Prevention Manager at Purina, said: “Reducing the risk of pet obesity is a priority at Purina. Working with partners on new research allows us to analyse where the difficulties lie for owners and to help them overcome them. Prevention is better than cure and is key to reverse the trend, this is why at Purina we are dedicated to supporting owners to adopt healthy behaviours from the beginning, as well as collaborating closely with vets and other experts.”
“Changing diet and daily habits is as hard for pets as it is for people. Beyond nutrition, Purina is working with scientific partners to continue to understand how behavioural science can be used to better support owners in the transition from identification of an issue to taking concrete actions,” said Mr. du Plessis.
The importance of providing supportive guidance from puppyhood was highlighted in a previous landmark Purina study7, revealing that dogs that maintained an ideal body weight throughout life have an increased lifespan of 1.8 years.
Thomas Webb, Professor in Psychology, at the University of Sheffield said: “Psychology provides useful tools for improving our understanding of how owners’ beliefs and behaviours are associated with obesity in companion dogs. In addition to showing that owners often struggle to accurately assess whether their dogs are a healthy weight, our new research also found that owners with healthy weight dogs were more likely (i) to have social support from friends for exercising and (ii) to believe that owning a dog can have costs. These findings add to our knowledge on the root causes of obesity and will help us continue exploring solutions focused on prevention and treatment.”
Among some of the existing tools to help pet owners identify if their pet is overweight there is the Body Condition Score (BCS8), widely used and first introduced by Purina more than 20 years ago. The BCS works as an animal equivalent to human BMI scores, which enables owners and vets to recognise early signs of pet obesity and helps support behavioural transition to maintain pet health. The BCS can be performed without specialist tools and can be conducted with ease by pet owners through sight and through getting their hands on their pets and feeling.
As part of Purina’s purpose to ‘create richer lives for pets and the people who love them’, the Company is committed to helping reduce the risk of pet obesity through its continuous work with partners across Europe.
1Webb, T. L., du Plessis, H., Christian, H., Raffan, E., Rohlf, V., & White, G. A. (2020). Understanding obesity among companion dogs: New measures of owner's beliefs and behaviour and associations with body condition scores. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 180, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prevetmed.2020.105029
2The University of Sheffield, UK; Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia; Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science-Metabolic Research Laboratories, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK; La Trobe University, Australia;
5APOP –https://petobesityprevention.org/2015 https://petobesityprevention.org/2018
6Pet Food Manufacturers Association, PFMA
7Kealy, R. D., Lawler, D. F., Ballam, J. M., Mantz, S. L., Biery, D. N., Greeley, E. H.,Stowe, H. D. (2002). Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220(9), 1315–1320. doi:10.2460/javma.2002.220.1315
8About the Body Condition Score