The Royal Veterinary College has published a new study of canine obesity which reveals both the extent of the problem, and the risk factors. 

The study1 was led by the RVC’s VetCompass programme and included 22,333 dogs whose health was followed for a year, during which 1,580 were recorded by the vet as overweight; roughly 1 in 14.

The authors point out that this figure is probably just the tip of the iceberg, because not every overweight pet will receive veterinary attention.

The study also found that certain breeds were especially prone to weight gain, including Pugs, Beagles, Golden Retrievers and English Springer Spaniels. 

As well as showing that specific breeds were at differing risk, the study also highlighted that being neutered and middle-aged were additionally associated with increasing chances of dogs being overweight.

The main findings were:

  • 7.1% dogs under veterinary care were recorded as overweight in a single year.
  • Eight breeds showed increased risk of overweight status compared with crossbred dogs: Pug (x 3.12), Beagle (x 2.67), Golden Retriever (x 2.58), English Springer Spaniel (x 1.98), Border Terrier (x 1.72), Labrador Retriever (x 1.70), Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (x 1.50) and Cocker Spaniel (x 1.32).
  • Two breeds showed reduced risk of overweight status compared with crossbred dogs: Shih-tzu (x 0.53) and German Shepherd Dog (x 0.55).
  • Dogs aged 6 to < 9 (years) had the highest risk of overweight status (x 2.99) compared with dogs < 3.
  • Neutered males had the highest risk (x 1.90) compared with entire females.
  • Insured dogs had 1.28 times the risk of overweight status compared with uninsured dogs.

Owners are encouraged to discuss their dog’s weight and lifestyle on every visit to their veterinary practice. This is of particular importance in the high-risk dogs identified in this study such as Pugs, Beagles, neutered and middle-aged dogs.

Camilla Pegram, VetCompass Epidemiologist at the RVC, and author of the paper, said: "This study has used the power of “big data” to robustly address the risk factors for obesity in dogs. Pugs, Beagles and Golden Retrievers were at greatest risk of obesity compared with crossbreeds.

"As well as genetics, management style could in part drive these breed predispositions. Whilst veterinary professionals and owners should focus efforts on obesity prevention strategies in all dogs, those identified at high-risk, such as Pugs, Beagles and Golden Retrievers, may need a more targeted approach."

Dr Eleanor Raffan, Associate Lecturer in Systems Physiology, at the University of Cambridge, and co-author of the paper, said:

“Where breed increases risk of a problem, it means genes are likely to be at least in part to blame and our previous work suggests that genetics drives a high appetite in some breeds. The bad news is that owners of food-obsessed dogs have to work much harder to keep their dogs at a healthy weight – the good news is that it can be done.”

Reference

  1. Pegram et al. (2021) “Frequency, breed predisposition and demographic risk factors for overweight status in dogs in the UK” Journal of Small Animal Practice DOI: 10.1111/(ISSN)1748-5827.

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