Dog study probes obesity

Animal Science Honours students Bianka Csizmas, Ilana Ferwerda and Matt Flavel are on the lookout for fat dogs in Melbourne to take part in a study into obesity in dogs.

dogThey are  conducting research into the role that bacteria play in the digestive system of dogs.

Ms Cszimas says: ‘In human and mice trials, it appears that bacteria are converting our food to fat. Nobody has explored this idea in dogs which is why I have decided to focus on the issue. The idea of breaking new ground is exciting.’

Mr Flavel, who lives in Dingley Village, has always loved dogs especially Beagles which his family breeds.

‘The opportunity to work on canine obesity, which affects 40% of Australia’s dogs, just made sense,’ he said.

'We are hoping to test around 300 dogs from across Melbourne. The dogs will be a mix of healthy weight and obese in order to compare what changes are then seen in the obese group,' says Ms Ferwerda.

So far the biggest support has come from Guide Dogs Victoria which has made its entire colony available to the students.

Ms Csizmas says the actual research will not be that glamorous to do as it involves detecting bacterial genetic information with fecal samples they will collect.

‘It will help paint a clearer picture of what is living inside the dog than any microscope ever could,” she says.

The students expect to see a significant difference in the kinds of bacteria present in obese dogs compared to the healthy ones. Once he knows what the differences are, he can begin work getting rid of the unhealthy ones.

Mr Flavel and Ms Csizmas have always wanted to be vets but decided to take up the Animal Science degree at La Trobe University. The move has revealed a range of other ways to work with animals.

‘Research, conservation and consultancy work are all new possibilities, none of which I had considered before,’  said Ms Ferwerda.

The Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary BioSciences degree is a broad biology-based course focussed on animal issues, including health and welfare, physiology, ecology and behaviour, and genetics and biotechnology. It also enables entry into all vet courses in Australia.

The three year degree can be followed by a 4th Honours year involving a major scientific research project conducted at AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience, a $288 million joint venture between the Victorian Government Department of Primary Industries and La Trobe University located at the Melbourne campus.

Dog owners wishing to allow their dogs to take part in the study should email Matt Flavel on


Digital images of Bianka Csizmas and Matt Flavel are available on request.


Penny Underwood T:  +61 3 9818 8540 |