1 August 2019

Neutering increases the risk of obesity in male dogs but not in bitches — A cross-sectional study of dog- and owner-related risk factors for obesity in Danish companion dogs

By C. R. Bjørnvad, S. Gloor, S. S. Johansen, P. Sandøe & T. B. Lund (2019)
Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Elsevier


Knowledge of risk factors for canine obesity is an important pre-requisite of effective preventative strategies. This study aimed to investigate risk factors for canine obesity in adult companion dogs across Zealand, Denmark.

Client-owned dogs (>2 years of age and without chronic illness) were recruited and examined at eight companion animal veterinary practices in areas with varying socio-economic characteristics. The body condition score (BCS) of the dogs was examined by two investigators based on a 9-point scoring scheme. Dog owners answered a questionnaire that had prompts regarding: 1) dog characteristics, including neuter status, 2) owner characteristics, 3) feeding and exercise practices and 4) the owners’ attachment to the dog. The effect of these factors on BCS and the risk of being heavy/obese (BCS scores 7–9) were analysed in two separate analyses.

A total of 268 dogs were included in the analysis, of which 20.5% were found to be heavy/obese. The average BCS was 5.46. In terms of dog characteristics, neutering dramatically increased both BCS and the risk of being heavy/obese in male dogs but not in bitches. BCS and the risk of being heavy/obese increased in senior bitches and decreased in senior male dogs. The risk of being heavy/obese was higher in dogs with overweight and obese owners. Regarding feeding and exercise practices, providing only one meal per day increased BCS and risk of being heavy/obese. Treats during relaxation increased the risk of dogs being heavy/obese. It also increased the dogs’ BCS, but only if the owners were overweight or obese. An increased duration of daily walking increased the risk of the dog being heavy/obese, but only if the owner was overweight or obese. Allowing the dog to run free in the garden/property decreased the risk of the dog being heavy/obese. The owners’ attachment to the dog was not associated with the dogs’ BCS or dogs’ being heavy/obese.

An important and novel finding was that neutering increased the risk of being overweight or obese for male dogs while bitches were at risk irrespective of neuter status. Furthermore, a complex interaction between owners’ weight status, feeding practices and the risk of dogs being overweight or obese was found, which stresses the need to consider companion animal obesity from a One Health perspective in future prospective studies. Finally, this study was unable to confirm that canine obesity is a product of owners being too attached to their dogs.

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