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   Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday March 7, 2005

FAT PETS

Large cat
Fat cats - the nation's pets are getting bigger and bigger

Our nation's animals are getting fatter, just like we are. We've got some of the unhealthiest pets in Europe as a result of over feeding and under exercise.

Inside Out investigates why we have so many fat cats and dangerously overweight dogs in the East Midlands.

"Pet obesity in the UK, you could say, is at epidemic proportions. Nearly 50% of dogs and cats in this country are overweight, and 15% of these are clinically obese."
Andrew Wilson, Orchard Veterinary Centre.

Pet obesity is a growing problem in the East Midlands, whether it's flabby felines or paunchy pooches.

Depending on which statistics you read, between 30-60% of all dogs and cats in the UK are overweight.

In many cases it's the result of too many snacks and treats, and a lack of exercise.

And the problem is particularly serious in the East Midlands where we are pampering our pets too much.

Top dog

The Facts
  • 50% of dogs and cats in the UK are overweight, but 76% of owners think their pet is healthy weight (Hill's pet research).
  • 60% of pets in the UK aren't ever weighed.
  • As with humans, the risk of a dog becoming fatter increases throughout its life.
  • Medical effects:
    - reduces life expectancy
    - diabetes
    - locomotion difficulties
    - circulatory problems
    - skin disease
    - respiratory problems
    - low immunity
    - high operation risk
  • Research shows that female dog owners are worst culprits.
  • Giving tit bits to animals is a growing problem. One biscuit to a cat is like a human eating a whole packet (Hill's pet research).
  • 40% of pet owners in UK feed snacks to their pets more than once a day.
  • 67% of pet owners in Europe are themselves overweight. Only 15% purchase calorie controlled food. Only 20% take regular exercise.
  • Some breeds of dog are more predisposed to developing weight problems.
  • Britain's first animal 'fat clinic' opened in Liverpool in 2005.

According to a recent survey, dogs in Nottingham are the fattest and most unhealthy in the UK.

Vets investigating the health and appearance of dogs in eight cities found those in Nottingham did badly in most categories.

Nottingham dogs were found to be the fattest in Britain, with the condition of their coats, eyes and paws all giving concern.

Some blame urban living - fast and busy lifestyles with no time to look after pets properly.

Other experts point to a lack of education, and awareness of pet obesity amongst owners.

Pets act as surrogate children and therefore are often over-pampered.

Lack of exercise is another major factor in the rise of pet obesity.

One in four UK dog owners admit to never exercising themselves or their dogs.

Vet Andrew Wilson thinks that the blame is to be attributed to today's lifestyle:

"In today's modern life people are so busy that exercising your dog twice a day is something that maybe slips, and therefore too much food and too little exercise causes obesity in dogs and cats."

Health alert

Heart complaints, diabetes and arthritis are just some of the health problems associated with pets carrying excess weight.

Lack of exercise and poor diet can also result in a shortened life-span for man's favourite friends.

Despite this, there are some owners who don't seem to be taking obesity in their animals seriously.

Fat dog
Animals are piling on the pounds in all the wrong places

Some websites glorify fat pets, and make a virtue out of their cuddliness and cuteness.

To make things worse, we're effectively killing our pets with kindness.

We leave them lazing in the house and feed them with tit-bits and treats.

There are no shortcuts to getting your pet's weight down - you have to be cruel to be kind.

"The commitment and effort involved is something owners have to be prepared to put in," says vet xx.

"It's not something you can enter into lightly - it is a big commitment."

Portly pets

Kell from Nottinghamshire is the world's heaviest dog, weighing in at an incredible 20 stone.

She's "a big boned dog, just a natural giant. She's got a big frame and big bones," says her owner.

But being big boned isn't an excuse for most of our paunchy pets.

Inside Out spent 12 months with two portly pets whose owners were determined to help their animals slim down.

Kell the dog
Giant dog - Kell is a whopping 20 stone in weight

Henry from Hucknall is a chocolate-coloured Labrador who has been piling on the pounds since he was a puppy.

According to his owner he eats too many tit bits - Henry has become a canine dustbin.

"Everyone feeds him, that's the trouble. There's four children in the house and everyone, when they've finished their dinners, if there's anything left on their plates, it goes straight into Henry's bowl."

Chezray is a flabby feline from Belper who has ballooned into an enormous animal. This heavyweight cat has got into bad habits.

Her lack of exercise and lack of desire to be active have combined to create one fat cat.

Chezray is also a neutered moggie, something which can make male cats predisposed to weight gain.

Fit as a feline

Luckily the two owners of our overweight pets are determined their animals are going to fight the flab.

A year ago our fat feline and chunky canine went for their very first weigh-in, and it wasn't a pretty sight.

Henry the Labrador
Hunky hound - Henry needs to shape up

Vet Andrew Wilson is concerned that Henry is storing up problems for the future.

"The big problem is his joints. They'll go arthritic very quickly if we don't get the weight off. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some already."

Both animals are put on special diets and fitness regimes.

Henry takes to the water with some hydrotherapy designed to provide a full body work-out without putting strain on his joints.

Cheznay shows little interest in her exercise regime, preferring to sit around.

She's also getting grumpy after her food rations were cut back - and she's taken to bullying her fellow felines.

Heavyweights?

It's now been nearly a year since the initial weigh-in so have Henry and Chezray managed to lose any of those extra pounds?

For the two paunchy pets it's been a tough year and their dieting hasn't gone well.

While both animals lost weight during the programme, most of it has gradually crept back on.

Their owners are naturally disappointed but accept that it's tough to keep on top of the weight problem.

Vet Andrew Wilson says that there's no quick-fix to the obesity issue:

"It's very disappointing to owners when pets don't lose weight... There may be other problems that pets are suffering, which we need to think about."

Early action

Education is also key in improving our pet care and reducing obesity.

The RSPCA are so worried by the increase in pet obesity that they're trying to tackle the problem at a very early stage.

Cat on scales
"Ginormous ginger" Chezray tips the scales

They've introduced sessions in Nottinghamshire schools aimed at children, who are often guilty of over feeding their animals.

The RSPCA stress that pets need good nutrition and exercise, as Sophie Wilkinson explains:

"They need to know that animals are different from human beings. They need more exercise and they need different sorts of foods."

Fit not fat

So what should pet owners be doing to get on top of this weighty issue?

A good starting point is to establish whether your pet is overweight or not.

The Pet Health Council recommends the following action:

* check the ideal weight for your pet with your vet;

* take action if your pet is heavier than its ideal weight by 15%.
A good way of weighing larger pets is to weigh yourself with them and then subtract your weight;

* check for a sagging stomach and bulging sides;

* if you can't feel your pet's ribs, this may be a sign that they're overweight;

* breathlessness and reluctance to take exercise are good indicators of an overweight pet.

Dog swimming
Doggy paddle - hydrotherapy can help with canine fitness

Vets recommend exercise and a balanced diet as the best way to keep pets healthy.

There are many ways that owners can prevent excessive weight gain in their pets including:

  • feed your pet a balanced diet and follow the recommended feeding guidelines on pet food;
  • avoid feeding your pets tit bits. If you must give pets occasional treats, take this into account at meal times;
  • use a smaller feeding bowl if you think that you're in danger of overfeeding your pet;
  • make sure that dogs get plenty of exercise. A small dog should get at least 30 minutes exercise every day, more for a larger dog;
  • play with cats to ensure that they are kept active and alert
  • don't feed cow's milk to cats or dogs;
  • animals in hutches such as rabbits and guinea pigs should be given a run out at least once a day;
  • small animals such as hamsters can benefit from exercise wheels and balls.

Some pet food companies are starting to introduce low calorie pet food whilst there's also a pet slimmer of the year competition.

Remember that dog walking can improve the fitness levels of owners too!

And weight is not just a problem for cats and dogs - guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits and other small animals also need regular exercise.

Battle of the bulge

Pets are a bit like humans in that any changes need to be introduced gradually.

It is dangerous to put pets on crash diets. Introduce changes gradually and ask your vet about special low calorie feeding plan.

Very large cat
All fluffed up - obese animals are storing up health problems

If your pet has not been taking much exercise, introduce increased walks and activity over time.

Regular weight checks, a balanced diet and exercise can drastically improve the health of your pet.

So with up to 50% of our pets overweight, it's clear that drastic action is needed to tackle the problem.

The consolation for pet owners in the East Midlands is that they are not alone as they continue to battle the bulge.

See also ...

Inside Out: East Midlands
Pet bereavement

On the rest of Inside Out
Stray dogs
Exotic pets
Cat stress

On bbc.co.uk
BBC Pets
City is fat dog capital
Animal fat clinic opens in UK
Former fat cat named top slimmer

On the rest of the web
British Veterinary Association
Hill's Pet Nutrition
Pet Health Council
Pet Food Manufacturer's Association

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Mrs M Haughton
You say a lot about exercising dogs. How can I exercise my cat. He isn't obese just a little over weight. I will throw a paper ball all around the house and he will sit and watch me. He won't make any attempt to run after it him self.



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