Various diets make calorie counting for dogs challenging.
More than 26 per cent of household dogs in New Zealand are overweight, and a new study suggests that’s because not enough owners understand how many calories their dogs are eating.
As well, some owners had trouble properly assessing the physical condition of their dogs, the new study found.
The newly published survey of dog owners found that 85 per cent of respondents fed their dogs specialized food bought from a pet shop, veterinary clinic or online. About 39 percent fed their dogs biscuits from the supermarket, 36 percent fed their dogs raw meat, and 34 percent fed their dogs table scraps or human food. About 59 percent fed their dog treats.
These varied foods make it a “challenging” to know how many calories dogs are actually getting, reported lead authors Dr Rachel Forrest and Dr Leena Awawdeh of the Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawke’s Bay.
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“Feeding your pet dog a varied diet and treats is good,” said Awawdeh by email. “It reflects the growing awareness of the importance of environmental enrichment for animals to improve their quality of life.
“Feeding a variety of foods does, however, make it harder to keep track of how many calories your dog is getting.”
A good alternative counting dog calories is physically checking their condition.
With your dog standing on four legs, look down from above. “You should be able to see a waist,” said Awawdeh.
Then look at your still-standing dog from the side. “The abdomen should tuck up,” she said.
Next, run your hands along their rib cage. “You should easily feel the ribs in all breeds, and in some breeds, it is OK to see [ribs],” she said.
“The abdominal tuck is more pronounced in a greyhound than a basset hound, but the key points of body condition scoring are fairly consistent across breeds,” Awawdeh said.
If people are unsure, they should consult their vets.
The new study did not address dog exercise, which is a factor when thinking through dog weight and condition. But researchers at Companion Animals NZ have been collecting data on dog exercise. It’s not published yet, but a “sneak peek” showed half of dog guardians exercise their dogs at least once a day and the average exercise session is 30 to 60 minutes long.
How much exercise dogs “should” get depends on factors like breed, health and age, Awawdeh said. “As a general rule, most dogs would appreciate at least half an hour twice a day of some kind of physical activity.”
This could be strenuous agility training or placid walks in the park, with stops for sniffing and peeing. “Exercise sessions are just as much about the dog’s mental health as their physical health,” she said.
The new study found 26 per cent of households have at least one dog. About 78 per cent of those considered them “family members”.
Increasing age, household income and the number of children increased the likelihood of having a dog, while increasing qualification level and living in a town/city decreased the likelihood.
The previous study on the prevalence of overweight dogs came from a 2019 study. It found 26.1 per cent of NZ dogs household were overweight, and 2.3 per cent were obese.