Health-Related Quality of Life in Dogs with Obesity

Susan & Cooper

Dr. Susan Jelinski, PhD, and her Border Collie Cooper

Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Susan Jelinski, currently the Director of Chronic Disease Research for Alberta Health Services. Her team studies the effectiveness of bariatric care in Alberta. Susan completed her PhD in Clinical Epidemiology at Memorial University of Newfoundland followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at Oregon State University.

In a recent post, Dr. Sharma reported the findings from a 1970 study where the prevalence of obesity in dogs was shown to be 28%.

Although this study was done many years ago, obesity in dogs continues to be a common problem seen by veterinarians in general practice. As a result, some veterinary practices have developed specific weight management programs that focus on weight loss for our canine friends through dietary and exercise recommendations.

Just like humans with obesity, there are certain medical conditions that dogs may develop as a result of excess body weight. These conditions include diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiorespiratory conditions, urinary incontinence, reproductive disorders and osteoarthritis. Weight loss, even as little as 5-10%, helps to improve these conditions.

When evaluating weight management programs for both humans and dogs, weight loss and improvement in obesity-related comorbid conditions are often used to gauge success. Another potential measure of success in human research, including obesity studies, is improvement in health-related quality of life (HRQL). HRQL measurement tools are used to assess the physical, emotional and social aspects of an individual’s well-being.

HRQL can now be assessed in dogs thanks to the development of canine-specific HRQL measurement tool for use by owners and veterinary researchers (Wiseman-Orr et al., 2004, 2006). This questionnaire asks owners about their dogs’ activity, pain, sociability, aggression, anxiety, enthusiasm, happiness and mobility. Answers are then combined to provide scores on four factors: vitality, emotional disturbance, anxiety and pain.

This tool was used in a recent study to see if weight loss in obese dogs results in improved quality of life. Researchers at the University of Liverpool enrolled 50 dogs of varying breeds, age and gender in their study. Each dog underwent an individualized weight loss regimen consisting of caloric restriction and increase in physical activity. HRQL was measured at the start and end of the program.

On average, the dogs lost approximately 24% of their initial body weight. The researchers discovered that among the dogs who completed the program and lost weight, HRQL was improved specifically with regard to increased vitality and emotional well-being and decreased pain.

Although this study is small, it does show that, like human patients with obesity, quality of life can be improved in obese dogs who lose weight. Therefore weight loss can be one way of improving the health and happiness of our canine companions.

ResearchBlogging.orgWiseman-Orr ML, Nolan AM, Reid J, & Scott EM (2004). Development of a questionnaire to measure the effects of chronic pain on health-related quality of life in dogs. American journal of veterinary research, 65 (8), 1077-84 PMID: 15334841

Wiseman-Orr ML, Scott EM, Reid J, & Nolan AM (2006). Validation of a structured questionnaire as an instrument to measure chronic pain in dogs on the basis of effects on health-related quality of life. American journal of veterinary research, 67 (11), 1826-36 PMID: 17078742

German AJ, Holden SL, Wiseman-Orr ML, Reid J, Nolan AM, Biourge V, Morris PJ, & Scott EM (2012). Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss. Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), 192 (3), 428-34 PMID: 22075257