A couch-potato lifestyle and excessive food consumption is fuelling a four-legged obesity crisis, warns PDSA vets.
To help tackle the problem, the charity is searching for the chubbiest cats, dogs and rabbits in the East Midland, as it launches its annual pet slimming contest: PDSA Pet Fit Club.
Now in its 13th year, the national competition – the biggest of its kind in the UK – has helped 124 overweight and obese pets (79 dogs, 37 cats and eight rabbits) lose an incredible 450kg (71 stone) since its launch in 2005: equivalent to a grand piano or 160,000 doughnuts. Last year’s winner, Alfie the Beagle, from Middlesbrough, successfully shed an astonishing 34 per cent of his bodyweight.
PDSA vet, Rebecca Ashman, said: “Sadly the UK’s pet population is suffering from an obesity epidemic. Latest scientific literature shows that at least a third of dogs and a quarter of cats are clinically overweight or obese, but the true figures could be as high as 40 per cent, making obesity one of the most common medical diseases seen by vets. It is a ticking time bomb that will have drastic consequences for our pets.”
Pets chosen for PDSA Pet Fit Club are placed on a strict six-month diet and exercise programme, individually tailored to their needs and overseen by vets and vet nurses at their local PDSA Pet Hospital.
Early entries in the competition include Elvis the cat from Scotland, who built up his 10kg bulk by snacking on an ‘all day buffet’ courtesy of his devoted owner, and super-sized Jack Russell Alfie who is more than double his ideal weight after enjoying steak sandwiches and pub snacks.
Rebecca added: “Over the years PDSA Pet Fit Club has helped transform some of the UK’s fattest, unhealthiest pets into fit and healthy animals. Pets that couldn’t climb stairs or fit through cat flaps have been given a new lease of life.
“Prevention is definitely better than cure, but if owners are worried about their pet’s weight it is never too late to do something about it. With the right advice, a good diet, suitable exercise and a bit of willpower owners have the ability to make a real difference to their pet’s health, happiness and life expectancy.
“The charity is urging all owners with pets carrying a few too many pounds to enter them in Pet Fit Club.”
Owners can apply online at pdsa.org.uk/petfitclub. Entry forms are also available from PDSA Pet Hospitals nationwide. The closing date is Sunday, March 4.
Up to 15 overweight dogs, cats and rabbits from across the UK will be chosen to participate in Pet Fit Club. Participants will 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 2018, will win a year’s free diet food and a pet friendly holiday, courtesy of Sykes Cottages (www.sykescottages.co.uk/pdsa) and pet hamper.
The charity’s PAW Report revealed that 5.7 million UK pets (3.4 million dogs, 2 million cats and 260,000 rabbits) are fed treats every day. Owners confessed that these ‘treats’ often include crisps, cake, cheese, chips, takeaways – even chocolate, which is highly toxic to dogs and can be fatal.
Owners also admitted that their pets regularly dined on table scraps or leftovers – some 4 million (2.4 million dogs, 1.5 million cats and 30,000 rabbits) receive these as their main meals instead of suitable pet food.
The problem is exacerbated by a lack of appropriate exercise – a worrying 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, which could cause them to gradually pile on the pounds.
Cats are in a similar situation – with an estimated 440,000 cats (4% of the population) not having the opportunity for exercising daily by playing or running.
Rebecca added: “Pet obesity is a huge problem that we need to tackle to keep our four-legged friends safe. Animals who are overweight have a greater risk of developing conditions including diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. Excess weight can also seriously exacerbate other medical conditions pets may be suffering from, such as flat-faced breeds Pugs and French bulldogs struggling with breathing difficulties.
“Close to 80 per cent of vet professionals we spoke to believed that pet obesity had increased over the past two years, and listed it among their top three concerns for pet welfare.
“Owners aren’t acting out of cruelty, in most cases they’re overfeeding or ‘treating’ to show their love and affection. A much healthier way to do this is to take them for an extra walk or give them more playtime.”
For more information on Pet Fit Club and free advice on diet and exercise for pets visit pdsa.org.uk/petfitclub.