A new study found that a quarter of canine contestants in the world's biggest dog show on television are overweight. With this, cute images of chubby dogs online may influence ordinary dogs to become fatter as their owner's perception of normal weight becomes patterned to this trend.

Dogs that join contests, especially the popular ones, should set good examples for other dogs and their owners to follow a life of health, beauty and strength, but with the latest upsurge of adorable photos of chubby dogs on the web, the owners may be swayed into the wrong direction. Previous studies have attested to this notion that dog owners often regard overweight dogs to have a normal health status.

The new in silico and retrospective study performed at the University of Liverpool School of Veterinary Science involved three stages, wherein the researchers aimed to evaluate the condition of the dogs' bodies that participated in a UK show, Crufts, utilizing the available images online. The first part of the study involved gathering images and data online, which was performed by a single researcher. The photos acquired by the researcher totaled to more than 1,000 and was composed of 28 breeds that ranked first to fifth in the show's episodes that run from 2001-2013. The second stage of the study comprised of a subjective evaluation of the dogs' body conditions by a different investigator, who was not given any details regarding the dogs. The third part of the cross-sectional study involved the matching of the dog-specific data and the body condition results to help the second researcher to study the data.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Veterinary Record, show that out of the 1,120 images obtained, 960 were eligible for body condition assessment. The remaining 160 images were dogs whose breeds include Scottish terrier, bichon frise, Shetland sheepdog breeds and West Highland white terrier. None of the 960 dogs evaluated were underweight, 708 were considered to have an ideal body condition and 252 dogs including Labrador retrievers, basset hounds and pugs, weigh above the ideal number.

"The results are concerning because show dogs are assumed to be perfect specimens of their breed and, if significant numbers are overweight, this may 'normalise' obesity in the eyes of the public," says Dr. Alex German, from the University's School of Veterinary Science. The truth is, being overweight may result in serious health problems for dogs such as diabetes and arthritis, he adds.

In conclusion, a notable number of dogs were overweight. Although the number of overweight dogs were far lesser than those that have an ideal body condition, the results of the study still pose a reason for concern, especially because transmission of media information are widespread. As per the study authors, added interventions must be enacted to increase the knowledge of dog owners, as well as the shows' judges, regarding the truth about being overweight; hence, reducing the incidence of obesity.

Photo: Scott Garner | Flickr

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