A deadly diet of treats and table scraps, coupled with a couch-potato lifestyle, is fuelling a pet obesity time bomb, leading vet charity PDSA has warned. Now it is urging pet owners to ‘skip the treats and hit the streets’ to tackle the growing problem.
The charity’s call comes as it kicks off its national pet slimming contest: PDSA Pet Fit Club.
New findings from the charity’s PAW Report reveal a staggering 5.7 million* UK pets (3.4 million dogs, 2 million cats and 260,000 rabbits) are fed treats every day. Loving but indulgent owners admitted ‘treating’ their pets to a range of dangerous foods including crisps, cake, cheese, chips and takeaways.
A further 3.9 million pets (2.4 million dogs, 1.5 million cats and 30,000 rabbits)** are also fed table scraps or leftovers as their main meals, further adding to the weighty problem.
PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman explains the reasons behind owner behaviour: “We love our pets and owners often enjoy showing their love by giving food. Nearly half (44%) of owners told us that they give treats because they believe it makes the pets happy, and over a quarter (27%) do it to make themselves feel good. And 13% confess to giving treats because their pets beg, puppy dog eyes are hard to resist.
“Treats and human food can be high in fat and sugars which are bad for pets’ waistlines and teeth. Some foods, like chocolate, are poisonous to pets and can even be fatal.”
Lack of exercise
Bad diets aren’t the only problem: millions of pets are not getting enough daily exercise. A shocking 1.6 million dogs (17%) aren’t walked daily, some of these are never walked because their owners mistakenly believe that playing in the garden is a suitable substitute. Cats are missing out too: according to PDSA research 440,000 cats (4% of the population) don’t exercise daily– including running climbing or playing.
Sadly, these diet disasters and lazy lifestyles are taking their toll, with the charity estimating that a third of dogs and a quarter of cats are now overweight or obese.
Seventy-eight percent of vet professionals believe that pet obesity has increased over the past two years. When asked which three issues will have the biggest health and welfare implication in 10 years’ time they picked obesity as the top one.
Help is at hand
To help battle the bulge PDSA is launching its twelfth annual Pet Fit Club competition and is inviting owners of overweight and obese pets to take part in the UK’s biggest and most successful pet slimming competition.
“Prevention is always better than cure,” said Rebecca. “But even if pets are already overweight or obese, this can be tackled with the right diet and exercise. Over the years our Pet Fit Club competition has helped transform some of the UK’s fattest pets into fit and healthy animals,” said Rebecca.
“Owners have the ability to make a real difference to their pet’s health and happiness. PDSA is encouraging anyone concerned that their pet is overweight to enter them in Pet Fit Club.”
About Pet Fit Club
Pet Fit Club is a six-month diet and exercise programme, tailored and overseen by expert PDSA vets and nurses. The charity will select up to 15 overweight dogs, cats and rabbits from across the UK to participate.
Owners can enter their pets at www.pdsa.org.uk/petfitclub. Entry forms are also available from PDSA Pet Hospitals and Shops nationwide. The deadline for entries is Sunday 5 March, 2017.
PDSA Pet Fit Club was launched in 2005 and has already helped 78 dogs, 34 cats and 7 rabbits lose a total 68 stone 9lb – equivalent to a grand piano or 192 Chihuahuas.
Pet Fit Club participants receive free diet pet food for the duration of the competition, courtesy of Dechra. The overall Pet Fit Club Champ, crowned at the end of 2017, will win a year’s free diet food and a pet friendly holiday, courtesy of Sykes Cottages.
Buddie from Blackpool
When it comes to food there is nothing that Buddie, a five-year-old Labrador from Blackpool, won’t eat. From lasagne and pasta to biscuits and curry, he will happily gobble up whatever he can get his paws on. But Buddie’s poor diet has come at a high price, and he has put on so much weight, he now struggles just walking to the end of the street.
Owner Janet Ingleson (63) from Blackpool says that, since she had a hip replacement last year, walking long distances has become a struggle. And when combined with the excessive calories, Buddie has gradually piled on the pounds. A recent skin infection on Buddie’s neck also made it difficult to put a collar on, so walks have become almost non-existent.
Vets at PDSA’s Pet Hospital in Blackpool say Buddie, who weighs in at a whopping 55.1kg (8st 9lb), needs to lose over 20kg, which currently makes him around 36% overweight. This puts him at high risk of developing serious health conditions such as diabetes, joint disease and even some cancers.
In addition to Buddie’s lack of exercise, Janet realises that naughty late-night treats have added to Buddie’s huge weight gain. She adds: “My husband spoils him and will sneak him biscuits and treats when I go to bed. I tell him not to but he doesn’t listen! He’ll also give him leftovers from our dinner: lasagne, pasta, rice – you name it, Buddie will eat it!”
Charlie from Glasgow
Chubby Charlie is so big he weighs more than double the amount he should!
The ginger and white tomcat should be around 9lbs (4kg) but actually tips the scales at over 1st 8lbs (10kg).
His owner James Gordon, from Shotts, near Glasgow, admits to having overfed his flabby feline and says his beloved cat has ballooned after being fed king-size portions.
James, (66), said: “I’ve had Charlie for about seven years. He was my granddaughter’s cat and she was moving home so asked me to look after him for a bit while she settled in but he’s been here ever since!
“It’s my fault he’s the size he is as I was overfeeding him. I was giving him wet food, dry food and treats on top. I’d also sometimes give him a bit of meat off my plate if I was eating something he liked the look of.”
But the supersized portions and a lack of exercise soon took their toll with Charlie, (8), who grew so big he was unable to groom himself properly.
James added: “He wasn’t able to reach areas of his body to groom, and the fur became very matted. I took him to PDSA’s Tollcross Pet Hospital in Glasgow and they told me he that he also had a heart murmur and urgently needed to lose weight.”
The diagnosis has shocked James and he’s desperate to get his beloved companion back to a healthy weight.
He said: “Charlie is really important to me so I’ve put him on a diet following advice from PDSA.
“He’s mainly a house cat so doesn’t exercise very much and I worry about the strain his excess weight is putting on his heart. I want to do something about it.”
Zeus and Nala from Leicester
A king-sized rabbit, who’s so big he gets mistaken for a dog, is putting his weight behind this year’s Pet Fit Club – PDSA’s annual pet slimming contest.
Mighty Zeus, lives with his chubby ‘queen’ rabbit Nala at the Leicester home of owner, Sharon Close, 46. Sharon rescued them five years ago when they were found abandoned in a park with their litter of babies, during a freezing winter.
White bunny Zeus weighs in at over 1st 3lbs (8kg) – more than double the size he should be, while Nala is around (2lbs) 1kg overweight.
Sharon says Zeus’ colossal size is now legendary in her neighbourhood and he’s even been mistaken for a dog: “Zeus is absolutely huge and I can’t even lift him anymore. He’s not interested in exercising either, even when I put him in the garden. He just sits there.’
“One time I took him out the front and a neighbour said “shouldn’t that dog be on a leash?” When I told her he was a rabbit her mouth nearly hit the floor!”
While Nala is a smaller type rabbit, known as a Lionhead, she is still carrying far too much weight.
Sharon said: “Nala is very fond of food and like Zeus she absolutely loves Ryvita crackers. I also feed them bags of salad, spinach and treats which I hide in their hay.
Their over-indulgence stems from Sharon’s love and affection, which began when she first encountered the rabbits: “When they were found in the park, it was freezing. Zeus was sitting on top of the babies to keep them warm so I think he’s a hero. They’ve had a tough start in life and I suppose I wanted to compensate for that.
“I love them both dearly, they’re my life. They’re both quite old now so I can’t make them exercise too much, but if I had my time again I wouldn’t have fed them so much. I can make small diet adjustments now though and hopefully some of the weight will come off.”
She said: “When I first adopted them they would sit in the corner of the house and were petrified. Whenever Nala saw a hand she would tremble uncontrollably too, so she was obviously abused.”
In addition to eating everything Sharon gives them, the rabbits have also have a bad habit of nibbling on the furniture: “They also love chewing my sandals, which is their favourite hobby.”
* 36% of dogs, 19% of cats, 17% of rabbits
** 26% of dogs, 14% of cats, 2% of rabbits
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4,252 dog, cat and rabbit owners aged 18+ who live in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21 and 30 June, 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the population by pet species (cat, dog or rabbit owners) and the owner’s gender, age and region.
Extrapolations to pet population figures are based on the following estimates of pet populations in the UK: 9.4 million dogs, 11.0 million cats, and 1.5 million rabbits.
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