Our Methodology


In 2020, Darwin's Natural Pet Products commissioned a third-party survey on canine obesity awareness conducted by research group 5 Circles.


Darwin’s Natural Pet Products commissioned 5 Circles Research to conduct an independent market research study among adult dog owners regarding their dogs’ level of obesity.

Survey Development and Fielding

The survey was conducted online based on a questionnaire which was jointly developed by Darwin’s and 5 Circles Research.

Two separate groups of dog owners were invited to take the survey: a general US population group (to provide a representative sample of all dog owners); and a sample of Darwin’s customers purchasing dog food. Each group used the same survey running on the SurveyGizmo platform.

  US General Population Darwin’s customers
Sample source Online panel Darwin’s customers purchasing dog food
Invitation process Invitations distributed by the panel company to panelists who then accessed the survey through a link Invitations distributed by SurveyGizmo via email to Darwin’s customers who accessed the survey through a link in the email
Sample selection Joint effort between 5 Circles and panel company to achieve a geographically representative sample Campaign created by 5 Circles from customer list provided by Darwin’s to achieve a geographically representative sample
Representativeness Representative of the nine US Census Divisions (compared with a control dataset based on Census data)
Sample size (owners) After data cleaning, 1,027 responses After data cleaning, 500 responses
Sample size (dogs) 1506 pet dogs 791 pet dogs
Reliability A representative sample of 1,027 yields reliability of ±3% at 95% confidence. A representative sample of 500 yields reliability of ±4% at 95% confidence.
  Comparisons between the two groups are reliable at no worse than ±4% at 95% confidence. Comparisons within and between groups were performed using the same cross tabulation tool which uses actual results, and can often identify distinctions at better than the worst case figures above.
Fielding dates December 13, 2019 to January 6, 2020 January 6, 2020 to January 12, 2020
Screening Survey takers were 18 or older, shared or sole decision maker, and owned at least one dog.

Survey highlights

The survey asked about number of pet dogs in the household (from 1 to 5), and then asked questions about up to 3 (the oldest). We did not attempt to determine the total number of dogs in the households surveyed; we estimate (because of the diminishing percentages for 4 and 5 or more dogs) that results could be projected to over 99% of all dogs.

Owners were asked about their own perceptions of the weight of their dogs using a 5-point Likert scale (from Very Underweight to Very Overweight). They were then asked about their vet’s opinion using the same scale, and whether the vet had recommended weight change.

Owners were asked to score their own dogs using the Purina Body Condition Score (BCS) which uses a combination of pictures and descriptions (how much flesh is on top of bones). The BCS system is a well-regarded system which was developed by Purina based on a lot of research. The charts are sometimes posted in vets offices, although the BCS system does not appear to be well known by owners.

Prior to evaluating their own dogs using the BCS system, and before seeing the chart, owners were asked to score a random image from the BCS chart using the same 5-point scale. Among the general population, almost half (48%) of owners gave accurate scores, while 40% assessed the image as being a lower score than the image was intended to show (less heavy). The remainder assessed the image as a higher score than the accurate score. Owners are more likely to perceived dog as lighter than they are than as heavier.

The evaluations by owners of their own dogs using the BCS system showed that the general population of dog owners’ opinions of their dog’s obesity level were changed by using BCS, with 23% recording a higher score by at least one level (BCS converted to 5 points to match the earlier assessment).

  • 13% say they plan to decrease the amount they are feeding, and 5% say they plan to make changes to the way they are feeding.
  • 27% say they plan to increase the amount of exercise their dog gets.

The BCS system is obviously a powerful way to evaluate a dog’s condition (in relation to weight, even if weight is not emphasized). However, the system is not without issues and limitations, some of which were the subject of comments by survey takers.

  • A fairly common comment among survey takers is that the BCS system isn’t easy to use when the dog has a heavy coat. Fair enough, but why can’t an owner attempt to feel the dog’s ribs through the fur – even if the dog is a Newfoundland or another heavy coated breed? When a substantial number of owners state that they weigh their dog at the vet’s office because it is too heavy to weigh at home, why not use a system that’s not directly based on weight (and is more objective).

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