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Obesity in Pets - One Health and Animal Welfare Considerations

  • Companion Animal Surgery Pte Ltd


Companion animals – particularly and most commonly dogs and cats – share the lifestyles and the environments of their human counterparts. Similarly, they may also share both the positive and negative implications of this “intimate relationship” with humans. Improved access to resources such as food supplies, shelter, security & veterinary care may be considered positive aspects of this relationship. Negative implications can include, for example, a sedentary lifestyle with limited exercise opportunities that may cause increased rates of metabolic or degenerative diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis as well as certain neoplasias. One of the most significant human healthcare issues, and one often shared by companion animals is the growing problem of obesity. The presentation offers an overview of interaction of environmental & social factors that can have adverse influence on the health and welfare - especially in relation to the “the rising pandemic of obesity” - of humans and companion animals.
Obesity in Pets One Health and Animal
Welfare Considerations
Shane Ryan
World Small Animal Veterinary Association
c/o Companion Animal Surgery Pte. Ltd
Companion animals particularly and most
commonly dogs and cats share the lifestyles and
the environments of their human counterparts.
Similarly, they may also share both the positive and
negative implications of this “intimate relationship”
with humans. Improved access to resources such as
food supplies, shelter, security & veterinary care
may be considered positive aspects of this
relationship. Negative implications can include, for
example, a sedentary lifestyle with limited exercise
opportunities that may cause increased rates of
metabolic or degenerative diseases such as Type 2
diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis as
well as certain neoplasias.
One of the most significant human healthcare issues,
and one often shared by companion animals is the
growing problem of obesity. The presentation offers
an overview of interaction of environmental &
social factors that can have adverse influence on the
health and welfare - especially in relation to the “the
rising pandemic of obesity” - of humans and
companion animals.
Keywords - cat; dog; human; obesity; One Health;
animal welfare
One Health
One Health is the intersection of veterinary
medicine, human health and environmental science.
It is interdisciplinary, promoting collaboration - and
potentially further, integration - of all aspects of the
health care for humans and animals. This
necessarily includes the medical, veterinary and
allied health professions, epidemiologists and public
health experts, ecosystem and climate scientists,
researchers and others.
One Health is not a new concept. Rudolf Virchow,
the German physician known as the “father of
comparative medicine and modern pathology"
declared in the mid-19th century that
Between animal and human medicine there are no
dividing lines—nor should there be”
This was built on still earlier approaches. For
example, Claude Bourgelat, who, when
establishing the world’s first veterinary school in
Lyon in the 18th century, recommended a
comparative approach to human and animal medical
Following on from Virchow, the Canadian
physician Sir William Osler espoused modern One
Health collaborative principles during the late 19th
and early 20th centuries.
However, during the early years of the 20th century,
interest in the concept of One Health has been
declined. This has, in part, been attributed to the end
of the reliance on animals for transport (replaced by
the internal combustion engine)
and possibly to
increased urbanisation and the rapid improvements
in human medical science.
The modern re-emergence of One Health” in the
mid-1960s followed the recognition of the close
association between animal and human health and
medicine by the American veterinarian Calvin W.
Schwabe, who then formalised the concept as “One
Medicine” in the 1984 3rd edition of the textbook
“Veterinary Medicine and Human Health. 1, 4,
Following the response to potential global
pandemics, including the Highly Pathogenic Avian
Influenza (HPAI H5N1) outbreak during the first
decade of the 21st century, and recognising the risks
of other emerging zoonotic diseases, “One
Medicine” evolved via a tripartite agreement
between the FAO, WHO and OIE into the present
“One Health” framework.3 Subsequently, the first
international One Health scientific congress was
held in Melbourne, Australia in February 2011.
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Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research (ASSEHR), volume 98
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However, “One Health” involves more than
infectious or zoonotic diseases. In developed
nations, much of the focus of veterinary medical
practice has shifted from the wildlife-interface
boundary and from production animals in rural
communities to companion animals in urban centres.
There is increasing emphasis on the “human–animal
bond” which may be defined as:
a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship
between people and animals that is influenced by
behaviors that are essential to the health and well-
being of both. This includes, but is not limited to,
emotional, psychological, and physical interactions
of people, animals, and the environment.
Companion Animals in One Health
Companion animals particularly and most
commonly dogs and cats share the lifestyles and
the environments of their human counterparts.
Similarly, they may also share both the positive and
negative implications of this “intimate relationship”
with humans.
Improved access to resources such as
veterinary care, shelter, security & food supplies
may be considered positive aspects of this
relationship. Negative implications can include, for
example, a sedentary lifestyle with limited exercise
opportunities that may cause increased rates of
metabolic or degenerative diseases such as Type 2
diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis as
well as certain neoplasias.
One of the most significant human healthcare issues,
and one often shared by companion animals is the
growing problem of obesity.
In many countries,
human obesity can be regarded as a “rising
A recent paper from the Global Burden of Disease
(GBD) 2015 Obesity Collaborators looked at
international trends over a 25-year period (1990 -
2015) in the incidence of over-weightedness and
obesity among human adults and children. Meta-
analysis of data from 68.5 million people in 195
countries revealed a rapid increase in the prevalence
of and disease burden associated with an elevated
body-mass index (BMI). Over the 25 years, the
prevalence of obesity had doubled in more than 70
countries and had continuously increased in most
others. 11 While the 2015 global obesity prevalence
was 5.0% among children and 12.0% among adults
there was considerable variation between nations.
For example, the adult obesity rate in Egypt was
35.3%, in Vietnam it was 1.6%; while childhood
obesity was highest in the United States (12.7%) and
least in Bangladesh (1.2%).11
Veterinary research on the extent of weight
problems in dogs and cats has not kept pace with that
of human medical science.
However, studies have
been undertaken, primarily in Australia, New
Zealand, North America and Europe to gauge the
prevalence of over-weightedness or obesity in
canine and feline populations. A large American
general veterinary practice group (Banfield Pet
Hospital) sees 2 million dogs and ½ million cats
annually (2012). When reviewing their medical data
covering the 5 years between 2007 2011, the
incidence of overweight and obesity increased by
37% in dogs and 90% in cats reflecting the
increasing trend in prevalence of human obesity.
The reported prevalence of overweight and obese
companion animals ranges widely, from 19.7 -
59.3% in dogs & 11.5 - 52% in cats.9 There is no
universally accepted scale for defining over-
weightedness or obesity in pet animals12 although
the Body Condition Score (BCS) is commonly
While there is reportedly good correlation
between BCS and more advanced measures of body
fat e.g. dual energy X-ray absorbtiometry (DEXA)
scanning,12 a recent Danish paper suggested this
method (BCS) tends to under-report the level of
obesity (in cats).
In humans and in companion animals, obesity may
predispose to a variety of metabolic,
endocrinological, degenerative, reproductive &
neoplastic diseases.
In people, obesity is a significant risk factor for the
development of metabolic syndrome, insulin
resistance and (Type 2) diabetes mellitus (DM),
hypertension and stroke, coronary artery disease,
osteoarthritis and gout, respiratory diseases
including asthma and sleep apnoea, infertility and
certain neoplasias especially hormone-dependent
and gastrointestinal e.g. colo-rectal, prostate,
ovarian, and breast.
There may also be
psychological as well psycho-social issues
associated with poor body image and the
stigmatisation of obese persons in certain cultures. 17
A similar set of risks accompany obesity in
companion animals although the risk and incidence
varies between dogs and cats. Obesity is a major risk
factor for cats to develop insulin resistance and
hyperinsulinemia, and subsequently Feline diabetes
mellitus (FDM). In 80- 90% of spontaneous FDM,
the development is similar to Type 2 in humans.
Canine diabetes is typically Type I or insulin-
dependent, and while obesity may not be a cause, it
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research (ASSEHR), volume 98
can complicate diabetic treatment due to decreased
insulin sensitivity. 9,16
In pets, especially dogs, being overweight
significantly predisposes to orthopaedic disease,
particularly osteoarthritis as well as possibly
humeral condylar fractures and cranial cruciate
ligament rupture (in cocker spaniels), and it has been
hypothesized that obesity and lack of postural
muscle strength may increase risk of intervertebral
disc disease.
Obesity is an important risk factor for the
development of tracheal collapse in small dogs, and
can exacerbate brachycephalic obstructive airway
Obese dogs are at significantly higher
risk of heat-stroke. Obesity may affect heart function
with detrimental effects on cardiac rhythm,
increased left ventricular volume, blood pressure,
and plasma volume.
The risk of development and/or progression of
neoplasia has not yet been studied adequately in
companion animals to confirm a strong relationship
with or causation due to obesity - most studies have
been retrospective in design and small in scale.9
However, a small number of studies have reported
association between obesity and mammary
carcinoma and increased risk of developing
transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder in dogs.16,
With dogs and cats, being overweight is obviously
not likely to result in psychological issues such as
low self-esteem. However, a questionnaire based
study looking at the health-related quality of life
(HRQOL) in dogs, found that after a successful
weight-loss program, along with increased physical
activity, animals showed decreased signs of
emotional disturbance and pain.
Animal Welfare
There is no single definition of animal welfare that
has met with universal acceptance. What is regarded
as optimal or sub-optimal welfare may vary
depending on cultural, scientific, religious and
social-economic circumstances.
However, a
simple proposed concept is that animal welfare
requires not only health and a lack of stress, but is
dependent on what animals feel.
This feeling
refers to both physical and mental states, and thus
reflects not just on physical health and fitness, but
also the emotional or psychological, and thus quality
of life (QOL).
Overweight and obese pets are compromised in both
life-expectancy and HRQOL.12 Research has
indicated that in laboratory animals, pigs and dogs
a restrictive diet increases lifespan and delays onset
of species-specific degenerative diseases especially
osteoarthritis in dogs. However, negative welfare
states such as increased hunger, stress elevation,
behavioural changes (increased aggression &
stereotypies) may occur with food restriction. Thus,
the inferred core “Five Freedoms,” used as basis
from many animal welfare systems, conflict. It is
likely that the freedom from hunger, the freedom
from disease, and then freedom to exhibit natural
behaviour may be mutually exclusive in companion
Costs and Consequences of Obesity
The rising global trend in human obesity may result
serious climatic and environmental repercussions.
More resources and energy are required to maintain,
transport and feed the extra human “biomass,
increasing energy demands and the human
ecological foot-print. It has been estimated that in
2005 the overweight human population added the
equivalent of an extra 242 million people globally,
while obesity added another 56 million human
equivalents, nearly one-third billion.
UN world
2015 population projections for 2050 indicate a
possible 2.4 billion more people requiring food and
shelter (total 9.7 billion).
Increased human
biomass in the form of overweight or obese
individuals could have same implications for world
energy requirements as an extra one-half billion
Tackling population fatness may be critical to world
food security and ecological sustainability.26
Being overweight or obese significantly increases
risk and prevalence for variety diseases. Resultantly,
the secondary costs to the individual for medical
expenses, as well as increased demand on the
provision of community health-care profession, rise.
Citing an “an undeniable link between rising rates of
obesity and rising medical spending” one study
estimated the medical costs of obesity in the US to
amount to US$147 billion would by 2008.
However, little information is currently available on
the added health-care costs of overweight or obese
companion animals.
One Health Approach to Human and Companion
Animal Obesity
Developing collaborations between practitioners
and researchers working in human and veterinary
healthcare, looking at environmental, genetic and
behavioural is a goal of the One Health initiative.9
Opportunities exist for prospective interdisciplinary
research into obesity in humans and companion
animals given the common comorbidities and risk
factors such as lifestyle and environment.10
Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research (ASSEHR), volume 98
Most human weight loss programs encourage
lifestyle interventions including dietary changes
such as calorific restriction, increased physical
activity, taking personal responsibility for one’s
health, social network and possibly pharmaceutical
However, a major challenge following
successful weight-loss is long-term maintenance.
In addition to the many health benefits, physical
activity is important in preventing weight gain and
maintaining weight loss.10
A positive correlation between dog ownership and
increased human exercise levels, primarily though
pet walking, has been demonstrated. Subsequent
health benefits may be effective in the prevention or
amelioration of a number of human lifestyle-related
diseases in both adults and children.12
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The People and Pets Exercising Together (PPET)
Study evaluated leveraging the human-companion
animal bond and the role pets play in providing
social support in a combined people and pets (PP)
weight loss program.21 The study’s one-year trial
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dogs, and recommended that consideration of social
support for weight loss in people i.e. family
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It is also suggested that physical activity should be
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people and companion animals.10
GBD 2015 Obesity Collaborators. Health Effects
of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over
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F, Hølmkjær KM, Jensen KS, Pedersen GF,
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Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research (ASSEHR), volume 98
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
This article reviews the biology, prevalence and risks for obesity in people and companion dogs and cats, and explores the links between obesity and diabetes mellitus and cancer across these species. Obesity is a major healthcare problem in both human and veterinary medicine and there is an increasing prevalence of obesity in people and pets. In people and animals, obesity is a complex disorder involving diet, level of physical activity, behavioural factors, socioeconomic factors, environment exposures, genetics, metabolism and the microbiome. Pets and people share a number of obesity-related comorbidities. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes mellitus in people and in cats, but this association is not recognized in dogs. Obesity is a recognized risk factor for a number of human cancers, but there are fewer data available describing this association with canine neoplastic disease. One approach to addressing the problem of obesity is by taking a ‘One Health’ perspective. Comparative clinical research examining shared lifestyle and environmental risk factors and the reasons underlying species differences should provide new perspectives on the fundamental biology of obesity. One Health programmes involving human healthcare professionals and veterinarians could help address obesity with simple interventions at the community level.
Full-text available
Despite the high prevalence of overweight and obesity in the human and companion animal populations, and the global trends for increasing numbers of affected people and pets, there are few successful interventions that are proven to combat this complex multifactorial problem. One key strategy involves effective communication between human and veterinary healthcare professionals with patients and clients about obesity. In human healthcare, the focus of communication should be on physical activity as part of overall health and wellbeing, rather than assessment of the body mass index; clinical examination of patients should record levels of physical activity as a key ‘vital sign’ as part of their assessment. Successful weight loss programmes for companion animals also involves strategic communication with the entire healthcare team leading clients through the ‘stages of change’. There is great potential in employing a ‘One Health’ framework to provide novel solutions for the prevention and treatment of this condition in people and their pets. Comparative clinical research into the biology of obesity and its comorbidities in dogs and cats is likely to lead to knowledge relevant to the equivalent human conditions. The advantages of companion animal clinical research over traditional rodent models include the outbred genetic background and relatively long lifespan of pets and the fact that they share the human domestic environment. The human–companion animal bond can be leveraged to create successful programmes that promote physical activity in people and their pets with obesity. Dog walking is a proven motivator for human physical activity, with health benefits to both the owner and the dog. Realizing the potential of a One Health approach will require the efforts and leadership of a committed group of like-minded individuals representing a range of scientific and medical disciplines. Interested parties will need the means and opportunities to communicate and to collaborate, including having the resources and funding for research. One Health proponents must have a role in forming public policy related to the prevention and management of overweight and obesity.
Full-text available
The domestic dog may be the most morphologically diverse terrestrial mammalian species known to man; pedigree dogs are artificially selected for extreme aesthetics dictated by formal Breed Standards, and breed-related disorders linked to conformation are ubiquitous and diverse. Brachycephaly-foreshortening of the facial skeleton-is a discrete mutation that has been selected for in many popular dog breeds e.g. the Bulldog, Pug, and French Bulldog. A chronic, debilitating respiratory syndrome, whereby soft tissue blocks the airways, predominantly affects dogs with this conformation, and thus is labelled Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). Despite the name of the syndrome, scientific evidence quantitatively linking brachycephaly with BOAS is lacking, but it could aid efforts to select for healthier conformations. Here we show, in (1) an exploratory study of 700 dogs of diverse breeds and conformations, and (2) a confirmatory study of 154 brachycephalic dogs, that BOAS risk increases sharply in a non-linear manner as relative muzzle length shortens. BOAS only occurred in dogs whose muzzles comprised less than half their cranial lengths. Thicker neck girths also increased BOAS risk in both populations: a risk factor for human sleep apnoea and not previously realised in dogs; and obesity was found to further increase BOAS risk. This study provides evidence that breeding for brachycephaly leads to an increased risk of BOAS in dogs, with risk increasing as the morphology becomes more exaggerated. As such, dog breeders and buyers should be aware of this risk when selecting dogs, and breeding organisations should actively discourage exaggeration of this high-risk conformation in breed standards and the show ring.
Full-text available
"One Health", also called "One Medicine", began as an initiative advocating greater integration of human and animal medicine, in the 1800s. This concept has recently come to prominence, driven by the recognition that 75% of the newly emerging infectious diseases will arise from animal reservoirs, and that successful control and prevention will require a coordinated human medical and veterinary approach. Consequently, many One Health discussions have centered on the surveillance of animals in order to anticipate the potential emergence of new zoonotic diseases. An area that has been given only cursory mention, are the many ways that small companion animals benefit individual, community and possibly world health. The goal of this paper is to briefly review some of the evidenced-based data concerning the benefits of having companion animals in our lives, focusing on four major areas; cancer, heart disease, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the potential positive economic effects of the human-companion animal bond on One Health. Heart disease and cancer are the two leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the world, while ASD is a growing concern, not only for its individual effects, but also for its effect on family units, educational institutions, and its social implications for the community. In addition, these diseases can greatly affect the national and global cost of healthcare, as well as the economic output of a nation. It is therefore important to include and build on the concept of the Human-Animal Bond (HAB) as it relates to healthcare in these areas.
Full-text available
The energy requirement of species at each trophic level in an ecological pyramid is a function of the number of organisms and their average mass. Regarding human populations, although considerable attention is given to estimating the number of people, much less is given to estimating average mass, despite evidence that average body mass is increasing. We estimate global human biomass, its distribution by region and the proportion of biomass due to overweight and obesity. For each country we used data on body mass index (BMI) and height distribution to estimate average adult body mass. We calculated total biomass as the product of population size and average body mass. We estimated the percentage of the population that is overweight (BMI > 25) and obese (BMI > 30) and the biomass due to overweight and obesity. In 2005, global adult human biomass was approximately 287 million tonnes, of which 15 million tonnes were due to overweight (BMI > 25), a mass equivalent to that of 242 million people of average body mass (5% of global human biomass). Biomass due to obesity was 3.5 million tonnes, the mass equivalent of 56 million people of average body mass (1.2% of human biomass). North America has 6% of the world population but 34% of biomass due to obesity. Asia has 61% of the world population but 13% of biomass due to obesity. One tonne of human biomass corresponds to approximately 12 adults in North America and 17 adults in Asia. If all countries had the BMI distribution of the USA, the increase in human biomass of 58 million tonnes would be equivalent in mass to an extra 935 million people of average body mass, and have energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults. Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy demands as an extra half a billion people living on the earth.
Full-text available
Obesity is thought to affect quality of life, but limited objective data exist to support this supposition. The current study aim was to use a questionnaire to determine health-related quality of life (HRQOL) both before and after weight loss, in obese client-owned dogs. Fifty obese dogs were included, and represented a variety of breeds and genders. Prior to weight loss, owners were asked to complete a validated standardised questionnaire to determine HRQOL. Thirty of the dogs successfully completed their weight loss programme and reached target, and owners then completed a follow-up questionnaire. The completed questionnaire responses were transformed to scores corresponding to each of four factors (vitality, emotional disturbance, anxiety and pain), and scored on a scale of 0-6. Changes in the scores were used to explore the sensitivity of the questionnaire, and scores were correlated with responses to direct questions about quality of life and pain, as well as weight loss. Dogs that failed to complete their weight loss programme had lower vitality and higher emotional disturbance scores than those successfully losing weight (P=0.03 for both). In the 30 dogs that completed, weight loss led to an increased vitality score (P<0.001), and decreased scores for both emotional disturbance (P<0.001) and pain (P<0.001). However, there was no change in anxiety (P=0.09). The change in vitality score was positively associated with percentage weight loss (r(P)=0.43, P=0.02) and percentage body fat loss (r(P)=0.39, P=0.03). These results indicate demonstrable improvement in HRQOL for obese dogs that successfully lose weight.