Are you guilty of overfeeding your pet?

Legendary British painter, L.S. Lowry is famed for painting matchstick men, and matchstick cats and dogs. (Some of you may even recall a song on the topic which topped the charts in 1968!)

The late artist’s famous works were based on life in England’s industrial north during the fifties and sixties. Many people were thin back then, in many cases they appear undernourished. So were their pets.

Presumably, if Lowry were still alive and painting today, there’d be far fewer matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs gracing his canvases. Certainly, his cats and dogs would not be the elegant, nimble-footed creatures of the mid-twentieth century.

This is because in the last 30 years the obesity crisis has mushroomed with one in four adults now deemed obese. And if that doesn’t seem barking enough, Britain’s pets are getting fat too.

According to a recent survey by the animal charity PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals), a third of dogs and a quarter of cats now classed as overweight or obese.  It’s all makes for pretty ruff reading.

Vets predict that the problem will continue to grow – with 80% saying fat pets will exceed slim ones by 2019.

Why has this happened? Because more and more pet owners are lavishing high-calorie food and boozy, sugary drinks on their four-legged friends despite the obvious health risks.

Dogs, cats, even rabbits are tucking into roast dinners, sliced cheddar with crackers, fish and chips, steak and, in some cases, finishing it off with a bowl of beer or wine. We are no longer a nation of cat and dog lovers, but cat and dog nutters!

“Nearly half of pet owners believe that obesity is the biggest threat to animal welfare in the next ten years – yet pets continue to be fed unsuitable diets which is fuelling the problem,” says PDSA vet Vicki Markham-Jones.

“As well as being high in calories, food like takeaways, cake, cheese, chips and crisps are high in fat and sugars, which are bad for our pets’ waistlines and teeth.  Some owners even admitted to giving chocolate and alcohol, both of which are poisonous to pets and can be fatal.

“The good news is that we can make a real difference, starting now. With the right food and regular exercise, it is easy to keep pets fit and healthy.”

Still not convinced? Paws for a moment and consider these worrying statistics:

• Over 5.5 million pets – more than 3.3 million dogs, 2 million cats and 168,000 rabbits – are given daily ‘treats’

• Over 4 million UK pets (dogs, cats and rabbits) are fed scraps as their main meal

• 88% of owners believe overweight pets have a shorter lifespan

• 60% of owners think overweight pets are less happy.

While it’s pet obesity may seem less worthy of attention than human obesity, the health risks are remarkably similar.

Many overweight pets develop potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as debilitating conditions including arthritis. Too much sugar leads to rotting gums and teeth, too.

The good news is vets are very supportive when it come to providing weight-loss plans for pets, and most will dish out plenty of expert advice. So don’t be reluctant to ask for help if your furry friend is getting a bit too plus-sized.

Plus, the PDSA runs a popular Pet Fit Club which includes a six-month diet and exercise programme, overseen by its vets. The charity gives awards each year to the UK’s ‘pet slimmer of the year’. If that isn’t enough to wag anyone’s tail, we don’t what is!