LIVERPOOL, England — Does your beloved pet pooch seem a little pudgy lately? It may be time to cut back on the treats. While it’s no secret that carrying extra weight can impact a human’s longterm health, a recent study reveals that overweight dogs tend to live shorter lives, too.
Researchers from the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition warn that overweight dogs have lifespans about two-and-a-half years shorter than dogs that maintain an ideal weight. That could spell trouble for the 48% of American households and 26% that own at least one dog, considering one in three dogs in the country is overweight, experts say. To make matters worse, many owners don’t know that their pet exceeds the recommended weight for its respective breed.
“Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realize 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,” says study co-author Alex German, a professor of small animal medicine at the University of Liverpool, in a statement. “These health and wellbeing issues can significantly impact how long they live.”
For the study, researchers reviewed medical records from more than 50,000 dogs treated at 900 veterinary clinics predominantly across the U.S. They limited their sample to 12 of the most popular breeds: Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, Shih Tzu, American Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Dachshund, Boxer, Pit Bull, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever.
They found that overweight dogs across all breeds generally lived shorter lives, though the effect was particularly worse depending on the breed. On the low end of the scale were German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labs, which tended to live about six to eight months less if they were overweight. Conversely, overweight Yorkies, Pomeranians, Beagles, and Dachshunds lived anywhere from two years to two-and-a-half years less.
The study did examine the causes behind dogs being overweight, but the authors point to a recent survey that found 54% of people always or often feed their pet if they beg for it. Moreover, 22% of dog and cat owners say sometimes they overfeed their pets just to keep them happy.
“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,” says German. “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.”
In addition to considering appropriate feeding amounts for pets, experts suggest ensuring owners give their dogs plenty of exercise. It also may be a good idea to weigh your pets regularly to keep track of any fluctuations.
The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.