Overweight dogs more likely to have behaviour problems – did you know that? How heavy is your dog?

Many pet dogs are overweight, even obese.
Many pet dogs have behaviour issues.

The two conditions had never been correlated until now, when a recent research project looked at associations between canine overweight status and owner-reported behaviours. A further study looked at the link between exercise and canine obesity. Over 17,000 UK dog owners were surveyed.

Being overweight impact on a pet’s life in many ways, including health, lifespan and quality of life. It’s hard to move when your joints ache.

Overweight dog info
How did the 16.1% owners (n=1801) of overweight dogs compare to the other normal weight, dog owners? Here are some of the findings:

  • Owners of overweight dogs were more likely to see them as ‘a baby’.
  • Owners of overweight dogs were more likely to allow their dogs to sleep on their bed.
  • Overweight dogs were more likely to guard and/or steal food.

  • Other undesirable behaviours more commonly reported in overweight dogs included:
    • barking
    • growling or snapping at strangers
    • growling or snapping at other dogs
    • being fearful of outdoors.
  • Dogs did not always coming back when called.
  • When walking habits of overweight dogs were considered, both frequency and duration of walking were negatively associated with being overweight i.e. shorter dog walks conducted less often than the normal dog walk, may result in obese dogs.
  • Breeds more likely to be overweight were the Beagle, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and the Pug

Overweight dogs more likely to have behaviour problems

A previous Australian study of dog owners looked at feeding and exercise routines of normal weight and overweight dogs. Normal weight dogs tended to be fed twice a day and walked daily. Overweight dogs were fed more or less often and exercised less e.g. once per week or kept in the backyard,
Normal weight dogs were given treats a lot less often than households with obese dogs.

Overweight dogs more likely to have behaviour problems. What about cats?
Cats are getting more obese too

So why should obesity and weight gain result in unwanted behaviours?

  1. If obesity makes it hard to move, and your joints are impacted and perhaps other aspects of your health too, then chances are that you feel miserable at times. Being sick can make anyone grumpy. Perhaps this is why we see more behaviour problems with overweight dogs.
  2. Perhaps it’s the other way around and difficult behaviour actually leads to obesity. A difficult dog is less likely to be exercised. If the dog does not come back when called and is aggressive towards other dogs and people, then it might be easier not to walk the dog. Lack of exercise may cause or contribute towards obesity.
  3. This study was conducted in the UK and it is possible, but highly unlikely, that different factors are involved in other countries of the world. Global obesity is high (an estimated 30% of the global human population and, in some reports, almost 60% of companion dogs and cats are above their optimal body weight) and so we are likely to see similar factors impacted pets around the world.
  4. Could admitting to your dog being overweight also be associated with admitting to behaviour problems? Since these studies were owner reported answers, not measurements by veterinary surgeons or animal behaviourists, over-reporting of both weight and problem behaviours is possible. On the flip side, perhaps if you deny your dog is overweight, you may also deny that they have any behavioural issues.
  5. Are we seeing being overweight as the new norm. If obesity is all around us, we might be more likely to view overweight cats and dogs as normal. Then laziness, or inability to freely move, might also be considered the norm. Even behaviour problems could be regarded as normal if we are seeing then more often.

Overweight dogs more likely to have behaviour problems

How to solve the obesity issue in pets and hence, the behaviour problems
1. Eat healthier
As household income falls, rates of obesity rise in people and in pets. Reducing obesity in pets, who rely on humans for their nutrition and exercise, may ultimately come down to educating people and improving their quality of life in general. When people understand their own weight issues, they are more likely to understand and act on their pets.

When it comes to feeding your dog, twice a day  (as opposed to once or 3 or more times) may be best. Although, this may simply be portion control and using a food-dispensing toy may be a simply way to prevent many behavioural issues.

2. Exercise more
Dog owners also could simply get their dogs walking more. Obviously health concerns such as degenerative joint disease need to be monitored and taken into account. Get moving, dog owners!
Cat owners can encourage their cats to be active at home.

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3. Change behaviour
Unwanted behaviours can be changed. We need to address their cause, manage them and reward desirable behaviours.

So, is your dog at ideal weight?
The following chart may help you determine how your dog scores in body condition. See your vet if you have concerns about your dog’s weight or health.

Overweight dogs more likely to have behaviour problems

Original research: 
Overweight dogs are more likely to display undesirable behaviours
Overweight dogs exercise less
Feline obesity
Human obesity
Owner attitudes to dog obesity

Overweight dogs more likely to have behaviour problems

More reading:
Help your pet lose weight


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