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Study draws similarities between the behaviour of overweight dogs and humans

Small brown dog chews a dog treat
© Pixabay

A bilateral European study aims to show how impulsive and excessive food intake of overweight dogs may be used to learn more about the causes of human obesity.

By Nick Whittle , 12 Jan 2020

A study of 91 dogs carried out by scientists from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary and the University of Padova in Italy seeks to find answers to the ever-growing problem of our ever-growing waistlines.

The dogs were of breeds both associated and not with obesity, including Beagle, Labrador and Collie. Some were a normal weight and others were overweight. Each dog was given tasks to perform involving food and interaction with humans as its motivation.

The food on offer was both high incentive (a treat) and low incentive (a carrot).

The findings

Writes lead researcher Ákos Pogány, “We found that overweight dogs either try to maximize the intake of higher quality food, or they hesitate when they face a formerly untried location for obtaining food. 

Food choice patterns in humans with overweight/obesity problems are complex and they are influenced by various genetic and environmental factor. However, it is a general phenomenon that overweight/obese subjects show attraction towards energy-dense foods.”

Pogány and this team discovered that most dogs were likely to complete instructed tasks when they knew their reward would be a treat, but less likely to do so when the reward was uncertain.

Interestingly, many of the obese subject dogs also exhibited impulsiveness and urgency: traits associated with obese humans who overeat. These dogs would ignore human instruction and indication in favour of high quality treats.

Overweight dogs more often abandoned the low-quality food indicated by the experimenter for the sake of the high quality food in the non-indicated bowl,” writes Pogány.

Useful model for treatment of obesity

The researchers believe the similarities of behaviour seen of obese dogs may provide a useful model in the study of the reasons for human obesity.

Dogs proved to be a useful model species to test characteristic patterns of food responsiveness in normal and overweight subjects,” added Pogány, “showing similar strategies to those expected from human subjects.”