Welfare and Behaviour

Overweight dogs may live shorter lives

Results from the study show overweight dogs' lifespan was up to two and a half years shorter when compared to dogs with a healthy body weight.

New research from the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and the University of Liverpool revealed overweight dogs are more likely to have shorter lives than those at ideal body weights.

It is estimated that over a quarter of households (26%) in the UK and nearly half in the US (47.6%) own a dog. This research is important because pet owners may be unaware of the serious health implications of dogs carrying extra weight. Pet obesity is steadily on the rise, with latest figures estimating one in three dogs and cats in the US is overweight.

Study co-author and Professor of Small Animal Medicine at the University of Liverpool Alex German said, “Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realise the impact that it can have on health. What they may not know is that, if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life. These health and wellbeing issues can significantly impact how long they live.”

“For many owners, giving food, particularly tasty table scraps and tidbits, is the way we show affection for our pets. Being careful about what you feed your dog could go a long way to keeping them in good shape and enabling them to be around for many years to come.”

Worryingly, it is estimated only one in five pet owners always measures how much food they are giving their pet, with four in five (87%) always or often simply estimating the amount of food they think their pet needs at each serving.

“At Banfield Pet Hospital, we’re passionate about sharing the data and insights gleaned from the eight million annual pet visits to our more than 1,000 hospitals—to advance not only the veterinary profession but also pet health,” said Daniel Aja, DVM, Chief Medical Officer, Banfield Pet Hospital. “As the largest general veterinary practice in the world, we have the tools to enable studies like this one, as well as our own publications like the annual State of Pet Health and Veterinary Emerging Topics reports.

The study was conducted retrospectively over two decades and published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Using data provided by Banfield Pet Hospital, researchers examined more than 50,000 dogs across 12 of the most popular dog breeds. The correlation between being overweight and reduced lifespan was seen in all breeds, although the magnitude of the reduction differed, ranging from between five months for male German Shepherds to two years and six months for male Yorkshire Terriers.

dog obesity lifespan infographic

About the study

The University of Liverpool and WALTHAM study was a retrospective, observational cohort study, that leveraged demographic, geographic and clinical data from dogs that received care at BANFIELD® Pet Hospitals in North America between April 1994 and September 2015.

Data was gathered from 50,787 dogs across 12 of the most popular US family breeds: Dachshund, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, American Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Boxer, Chihuahua, Pit Bull Terrier, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, and Yorkshire Terrier. For each breed, the lifespan of dogs whose owners reported them to be overweight and those in optimal body condition was compared.

Citation: Carina Salt, Penelope J. Morris, Derek Wilson, Elizabeth M. Lund, Alexander J. German. 2018. Association between life span and body condition in neutered client‐owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

How to maintain your dog's healthy body weight 

When it comes to healthy weight management, prevention is better than a cure, and to prevent obesity, you need to spot it early. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight:

- speak to your vet about your dog’s ideal body weight – they can advise you on feeding amounts as they change from pups through to old age
- ensure they get enough exercise – this will depend on their size and breed type
- skip the table scraps – not all human food is safe for pets and some can even be deadly
- weigh your dog regularly – even slight increases in weight can have a big impact on their health.