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What is the role of petfood in canine obesity?

Obesity in dogs is a recurring theme in veterinary consultations, and various factors can lead to an overweight animal. We will discuss the role of pet food in obesity and can be done to address this growing problem.

Obesity in dogs

In a study conducted by APOP in the United States in 2015, it was found that approximately 54 percent of dogs were overweight or obese. However, of this percentage, 95 percent of overweight dog owners believed they were at a healthy weight.

This gives us an indicator of why more than half of canines in a population are overweight: the owners deny it, or they are misinformed.

There is no doubt that balanced food chosen for the pet will have an impact and responsibility in the development of obesity.

It is important to consider the degree of responsibility that the petfood industry has to assume. How much does it influence the decisions or behaviours of the owners? How do you recognise and draw the line between responsibility for food and responsibility for genetic load?

The pandemic has significantly affected everyone’s daily life, including that of pets. Their routines, eating habits, and activity levels have all changed, so it is unsurprising that canine obesity continues to increase, even at a dizzying rate. Of a group of vets surveyed, more than 71 percent say the pandemic has affected the way pets are fed.

Demonisation of petfood as the reason for canine obesity

The studies and research that will be discussed below demonstrate that a dog becoming overweight, greatly exceeds the quality or nutritional value of the balanced food that is provided. Notably, there is still a certain demonisation towards food and it is pinpointed as the main and only cause of the animal’s obesity.

For example, foods high in fresh meat tend to be nutrient-dense, meaning less food is more nourishing for the pet. Generally, owners ignore this data due to confusion or misinformation, resulting in the overfeeding of their pets. Meat by-products present a similar situation: they are, many times, considered waste by pet owners and yet, are the most nutritious for dogs and cats.

Relationship between eating patterns and canine obesity

In November 2020, the Kelton Global company carried out an investigation into how eating patterns influence obesity in dogs. The study was conducted with 1021 dogs and cat owners and 257 from the U.S.

Canine obesity rates are increasing and there is no question of that. In order to determine what the cause of this is, it is necessary to acquire a greater understanding about eating patterns, in order to be able to combat the problem.

The study examined the relationship between dietary patterns, caloric intake and nutrients in selected foods. To do this, they collected surveys about lifestyle, feeding frequencies and three-day food records were requested from both the pet and owner.

Results of the study:

  • Significant differences were found in total calorie intake per kilogram of body weight
  • Lean dogs received significantly more dietary fibre compared to overweight dogs, regardless of the number of snacks they were given
  • Statistically significant differences were observed in the cases of higher concentrations of polyunsaturated fat and lower concentrations of saturated fat
  • Dietary fibre in dog food was positively associated with protein and negatively associated with accumulated fat, regardless of the dog’s weight. High fibre diets are associated with dogs with healthy weight

The study also showed that the behaviour of humans, even those that have nothing to do with their pets, impacts the health and weight of animals:

  • Dogs that receive leftover pieces of food from the owner which reached 21 percent of their daily intake, were more likely to be overweight
  • Pet owners who participated in the sample and had diets with high levels of micronutrients and lower caloric density had dogs of healthy weights, with no signs of developing obesity
  • Statistically significant differences were observed in the cases in which the owners had diets with high concentrations of polyunsaturated fats and lower concentrations of saturated fats
  • Those with dogs of a healthy weight had a diet richer in nutrients than the owners of overweight dogs
  • 59 percent of overweight dog owners were overweight or obese

This study showed that, beyond the food that is provided for the dog, the behavioural patterns of its owner can positively or negatively affect its health and body weight.

Other related studies

A 2009 study found high concentrations of triglycerides and cholesterol in obese dogs, suggesting metabolic disturbances in obesity.

Another more recent study examined the effects of weight-loss diets and found that high-fibre and high-protein diets provided significantly more satiety than high volume protein-only or fibre-only diets.

Recent research has shown that the increasing rate of canine obesity has led to an increase in the rate of osteoarthritis, insulin resistance and certain neoplasms.


Petfood certainly plays a role in pet obesity, but not in the way that many owners and veterinarians would believe. Fighting canine obesity requires better education with scientifically sound information about the true nutritional needs of dogs and cats, and the various ways in which to meet them.

For the petfood industry, we believe that we must work to improve the understanding of nutritional and caloric information labels and of the best practices regarding the intake or use of the food in question. Marking and explaining well the difference in how to provide a super-premium, standard, or extra protein food will be essential to provide and disseminate greater, improved education about the health and weight of animals.



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