Pet obesity

Obesity in Australian pets


A 2005 study by researchers from the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney and RSPCA Australia was undertaken to determine the prevalence of obesity in dogs examined by veterinary practices across Australia, and to determine the risk factors involved.

In the study 1700 practices were asked to complete a veterinarian opinion survey, and of the 428 practices that responded, 178 were selected to complete an RSPCA Australia Pet Obesity Questionnaire, together with additional practices selected by Australian State and Territory RSPCA societies.

This questionnaire was sent to a total of 209 practices which were asked to record details of eligible dogs, and the reason why they had been examined during the previous month.

Fifty-two (24·9 per cent) of the practices responded and provided data on 2661 dogs, of which 892 (33·5 per cent) were overweight and 201 (7·6 per cent) were obese. A further 112 dogs (4·2 per cent) were classified as thin or very thin, but these were excluded from subsequent analyses.

Of the remaining 2549 dogs, approximately half were female and 1905 (74·7 per cent) were neutered. The dogs' weight category was influenced by several factors. Breed influenced the importance of sex and neutering as risk factors. The prevalence of overweightand obese dogs combined was 41 per cent; the prevalence increased with age up to about 10 years old, and then declined. Rural and semi rural dogs were more at risk of obesity than urban and suburban dogs.

Further research

The incidence of obese and overweight pets in Australia - a preliminary report
Dr Tanya Grassi, Anne Quain and Cassandra Pride. Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney

There has always been a view, largely anecdotal, that the prevalence of overweight and obese companion animals in Australia is high. Studies from overseas have indicated a prevalence of up to 44% in dogs and 40% in cats. Much published evidence of the health consequences for pets of overweight and obesity is available, though the importance of the behavioural implications for the animal and the impact on the human-animal bond has been less well explored.

What we already know:

  • Dogs are more likely to encounter weight control problems than cats.
  • Animals at greater risk are female, neutered, older, poorly exercised, animals with obese owners, "only" pets (i.e. single pet households).
  • Obesity is associated with medical problems such as osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, liver disease and increased surgical risk.
  • There is still a lot of debate about definition and assessment of overweight in companion animals, as well as pathogenesis and treatment.
  • The overweight pet has a shorter life span and poorer quality of life, compromising its welfare.
  • The incidence of obesity in pets increases with the incidence of obesity in owners.
  • Obesity is the product of a positive energy balance where caloric intake exceeds output, leading to adiposity. Only 5% of cases are treatable medically. 95% of cases must be treated through control of caloric intake.
  • The bond between the owner and the animal is a crucial factor determining the caloric intake and subsequent body condition of an animal.

In 2000, a survey was conducted by RSPCA Australia to determine the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the Australian companion animal population. The aim of the survey was to determine the extent of the problem and attempt to identify possible avenues of further study.

The survey's findings confirm the widely held view that the prevalence of overweight pets in Australia is alarmingly high. Several questions are raised regarding the role of veterinarians and animal welfare organisations in the control of pet obesity, the importance of altering community perceptions of weight problems in pets, and the introduction of a standard for measuring body condition in companion animals. The bond between animals and humans, and its significance in strategies aimed at reducing the problem, is another potentially fruitful field for further enquiry.

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