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 across the UK 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.”
Bad diets aren’t the only problem: millions of pets in Scotland are not getting enough daily exercise. Across the UK 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. Scottish pets fare slightly better with just 12% missing out.
The UK’s 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.
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.”
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.