Dogs Might Have the Secret to Losing Weight

Pride Dog
A dog looks as revellers participate in Regenbogenparade gay pride parade in Vienna, Austria June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Like humans, some dogs are more prone to obesity than others. A new study on dog behavior may help us better understand how human personalities affect obesity.

Scientists in Budapest, Hungary asked volunteers to bring in their pet dogs, which the scientists would separate into groups based on whether they were average weight or obese. The researchers brought out a "low-value" meal in a bowl, or something that wasn't that filling or exciting for a dog.

Then, the researchers would either bring out a bowl with nothing in it, or a bowl with a high-value, tasty meal. They asked the owners to command their dogs to wait until the second bowl came out so the dogs could inspect both bowls before making a decision.

The scientists thought that the obese dogs would be more likely to wait for the potential high-value meal, that they would do anything for something big and tasty. However, that was not the case. The obese dogs quickly started to decide not to wait for the potential good meal, and instead devoured the low-value meal as soon as they saw it.

The researchers published their results in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Humans and dogs are alike in many ways, but it's too early to say that humans would act in a similar manner. If we do, that means that overweight humans might also prefer the immediate meal when there is uncertainty about whether a better meal will come later.

From an evolutionary standpoint, this may have been a beneficial behavior in wild animals. Animals can rarely be sure if and when their next meal will happen, so they may jump on any opportunity to eat. However, in a world of plenty, when both humans and pets often have unlimited access to food, patience is a virtue.

Still, this research has limitations, as the science between human and animal obesity is endlessly complicated and controversial. We can't even be sure if this same behavior is present in humans. Genetics, access to healthy food, and exercise all play a role as well.