January 23, 2023 | General
Dogs and their owners are like two peas in a pod. They’re not only best buds but often share health habits — both good and bad. In a survey of 3,298 people that included dog owners from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S., it was found that active pet owners were more likely to have active pets, which translated to healthier dogs.1
The findings have implications for obesity and overweight in dogs, which affects 34% to 41% of dogs worldwide, with much higher percentages in North America. With excess weight putting pets at an increased risk of chronic diseases and reduced lifespan, becoming a more active pet owner may be one way to positively influence the health of your pet.
The survey asked dog owners about diet and exercise routines — for pets and their owners — along with perceptions about their dog’s weight. Not only were dogs more likely to exercise if their owner exercised, but active owners were more likely to think their dog had an ideal body weight.2
“The type of exercise you perform yourself does predict your dog’s exercise routine as well,” study author Sydney Banton with the University of Guelph in Ontario, explained. “Any amount of vigorous exercise in the owner’s exercise routine increased the proportion of dogs who also performed vigorous exercise.”3
On the other hand, pet owners who didn’t engage in more than 15 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running or swimming, a week were less likely to have dogs that engaged in vigorous exercise. For moderate exercise, such as walking, hiking or visiting a dog park, whose who participated more than five days a week were more likely to exercise their dogs for at least 60 minutes a day.4 According to the study, which was published in PLOS One:5
“The results highlight owner’s perceptions of healthy weight and the role of nutrition and exercise. Owner’s intentions and attitudes towards the value of exercise and promoting an ideal body weight in their dog should be explored, but may require a One Health approach to ensure successful weight management among both dogs and their owners.”
A separate study conducted in Australia similarly found that owners who placed high value on exercise had more intent to exercise their dog. Further, the stronger the owner’s intention to exercise their dog, the more likely the dog was to actually exercise. Taken together, the results strengthen the ties between owners’ beliefs about physical activity and the exercise their dog receives. According to the PLOS One study researchers:6
“Similarly, the results from the current survey suggest that dog owners in Germany place higher value on exercise in terms of their dog’s overall health and in turn, exercise their dog for longer periods of time and are less likely to have been told their dog is overweight and more likely to believe that their dog is an ideal body weight.
In support of this, those who value the benefits of dog walking and those who enjoy dog walking partake in more dog walking per week compared to those who engage in dog walking due to guilt or because others say that they should.
Taken together, this suggests that an owner’s perception of the importance of exercise in their own life influences the amount of exercise their dog receives which influences their perception of their dog’s body weight.”
While physically active owners may share their active lifestyle with their pets, health issues also seem to trend among pets and their guardians. For starters, overweight or obese dogs are twice as likely to have an owner who’s overweight or obese as well, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen.7
Researchers suggested that overweight owners were more likely to use dog treats as hygge-candy, referring to the Danish word “hygge,” which means cozy. Other studies have demonstrated similar results. In one 2017 study, 78% of overweight/obese owners had overweight/obese dogs, including all dogs in the study diagnosed with obesity-related metabolic dysfunction.8
Another study also found a link, with the degree to which dogs were overweight being related to the body mass index (BMI) of their owners.9 In a 2010 study that also found owners of obese dogs were often obese themselves, the researchers noted that such owners also talked to their dogs about a greater variety of subjects and were less concerned with contracting diseases from their dogs, which they interpreted as “overhumanizing” their dogs.
The researchers of the PLOS One study also noted that “owners who ‘over-humanize’ their dog or use food as a positive interaction with their dog are more likely to have an obese dog.”10 Obesity in pets is a complex issue involving diet, exercise and environmental factors.
One of the most impactful changes you can make is to swap out dry food for a low carb fresh-food diet, calculate how many calories your dog actually needs to maintain their ideal body weight while also making sure you’re not overfeeding treats.
Treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily food intake, and should be healthy foods like berries, other safe fruits (e.g., melons, green bananas and apples), bits of dehydrated meat, and raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds (pepitas).
Physical activity is also important, of course, not only for maintaining a healthy weight but also for overall health and mental stimulation. If you’re looking for ways to get your dog more activity, why not try to get active together?
Choose an activity you both enjoy, like hiking or walking, and make a point to engage in it more often. Not only will you both be healthier for it, but you’ll also get more time to interact with your dog — a win-win scenario for everyone involved.