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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


1 October 2012

Heroes - and - why do we feed our dogs to death?

Paul and Tinker

Hey Julie,

I’m glad you’re a fan of Paul McGreevy’s too! 

I admire so much of the work he’s done (and facilitated or helped others to do). He’s not afraid to raise sensitive topics and tricky questions through his science and I appreciate that enormously.

Your last post got me thinking about who my canine science (or general doggy-people) heroes are – I’m still pondering on this, but there are plenty of them!

I think I’ll get back to you with my conclusions and explanations another day, after I’ve had some more time to ruminate on it a bit more.

Meanwhile, I wanted to get back to you to talk fat dogs.

Sampson, June 2011 (source)
One of my local animal shelters was attracting global attention recently when 8 year old Sampson was surrendered to the shelter for rehoming and weighed in at a whopping 84kg (that’s 185lbs). 

Sampson’s not alone. Up to 40% of Australia’s pet dog population are overweight and this is comparable to other developed nations. 
The weird thing is – why? 

Vanessa Rohlf
As pet owners, we humans are in control of their food, we understand that amount of food + amount of exercise = pet weight. We even have pet food companies who have developed weight control formulas so we can feed 'more' but give 'less' - so why can’t some people control the balance to keep our pets healthy?

Vanessa Rohlf is a fellow PhD candidate of mine in the Anthrozoology Research Group and she has done some excellent work looking into this area of pet owner/caregiver psychology.

Click to enlarge figure (source)
Her research has shown that our behaviours (actions) as pet caregivers can be based on a complex range of beliefs and intentions. We may give more importance to the opinions of a close friend in regards to our pets' care than what our veterinarian tells us. You can read the outline of a talk she presented that offers a good summary about why some owners don't comply with pet ownership practices here

For more detailed information about Vanessa's research, check out the journal articles below. 
It’s really, really interesting stuff!
Sampson, June 2012 (source)
Oh – and Sampson? He’s doing really well – 12 months on, he’s half the dog he once was, has inspired a whole fundraising campaign and is a bit of a local celebrity.

Further reading:

Rohlf, V.I., Toukhsati, S., Coleman, G.J. & Bennett, P.C. (2010). Dog Obesity: Can Dog Caregivers' (Owners') Feeding and Exercise Intentions and Behaviors Be Predicted From Attitudes?, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 13 (3) 236. DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2010.483871 

Rohlf, V.I., Bennett, P.C., Toukhsati, S. & Coleman, G. (2010). Why Do Even Committed Dog Owners Fail to Comply with Some Responsible Ownership Practices?, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 23 (2) 155. DOI: 10.2752/175303710X12682332909972

© Mia Cobb 2012
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  1. What about the possibility that dogs and owners may share some part of a microbiome that contributes towards obesity? Seems like behavior may only be part of the answer...?

  2. Cases like Sampson's show the undeniable importance of correct feeding and exercise. However I'm part of a team researching the gut microbiome of dogs and how it relates to obesity. On a number of occasions we have sampled from dogs in the same household, of the same breed etc, with owners swearing they are treated exactly the same. But one will be obese and one will be perfectly healthy. Is the reason for this discrepancy a set of calorie counting bacteria in the healthy dog? Or is there a whole different story going on? Well we should have results by next week, hopefully that will be another step towards the answer.

  3. Looking forward to hearing your results Matt!

    Jason - I'll be sure to pass on what Matt's results show.



  4. Obesity is definately a complex condition with behaviour only being part of the answer to understanding its etiology. Keep us posted on your results. Perhaps with this new information we can do even more to prevent our much loved canines from becoming obese.

  5. The dog is so cute. They are capable of making us happy. It is one of our duties to give them dog food.


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