Survey: nutrition, body condition and activities of dogs in Switzerland

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Dog's purpose in today's society mostly changed from a working dog to a family member. Owner's task is to fulfil the demand of animal welfare by providing species and even breed specific appropriate activities, housing and nutrition. The awareness for the necessity of an adequate diet meeting the demands of pets increases among owners, potentially associated with an increasing interest in healthy human nutrition. This development is reflected by increasing requests at the nutrition consultation service of the Institute of Animal Nutrition (IAN) of the Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich (Gerstner et al., 2016). Importance of nutrition increases in the background of our societies’ growing problem with the occurrence of obesity‐related diseases also in pets (German, 2006; Laflamme, 2006). Prevalence of overweight and obesity in pets varies largely between different studies conducted in different countries and study populations [20–59% (Colliard et al., 2006; Courcier et al., 2011; Corbee, 2013; Yam et al., 2016)]. Reported prevalence is increasing during the last decades [20–40%; (Edney and Smith, 1986; Kronfeld et al., 1991; Sloth, 1992)]. Owners find themselves with the choice of a huge variety of different commercial feeds as well as different opportunities of home‐made diets fed raw or cooked. Participants of courses provided by the IAN educating pet owners, breeders and dog trainers as well as clients of the nutrition consultation service frequently complain about difficulties and uncertainty finding the right food for their own pet or their client's pets. Although today's dog owners in Switzerland seem to spend plenty of time for the decision which diet might be appropriate, the variety of feedstuff, circulating myths and theories lead to an uncertainty and as a matter of fact malnutrition of the pet (Gerstner and Liesegang, 2014). One example for circulating myths and theories the IAN is confronted with is decreased protein supply in puppies, which (as believed by the owners) slows down growth. In Switzerland, home‐made diets are often mistakenly thought to be balanced by adding herbal mixtures only for mineral supply. Another example is the belief that feeding a so‐called natural raw meat‐based diet e.g. BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) is the most healthy option of dog nutrition and does not need any supplements at all. Conversations with those owners frequently end up in the discussion why trace minerals cannot be artificial (personal communication, IAN, A. Liesegang). As a consequence of uncertainty of the owner and malnutrition of the pet, obesity or other diseases might occur. Feed is also used to compensate for lacking time or opportunity to provide appropriate activities to dogs. According to the results of a study in Germany, obese dogs often are disadvantaged because their owners misconceive any demands of their dogs as requests for food (Kienzle et al., 1998). Realistic perception of body condition, particularly in over‐conditioned dogs, might be difficult for their owners. Realizing overweight and its side effects would necessarily lead to the recognition of the need for a weight reduction diet. A weight reduction diet, in the sight of the owner, probably equals a decrease in caring to the pet. Our first hypothesis was that pet owners in Switzerland underestimate body condition of their dogs. The second hypothesis presumed that pet owners might have difficulties to manage nutritional challenges like feeding a balanced home‐made diet or a weight reduction diet. To assess how Swiss dog owners perceive the body weight and body condition score (BCS) of their dogs and how dogs are fed and kept occupied in Switzerland, a survey was performed.
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