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Why are our furry friends getting fatter?

We're all aware that the UK is in the grip of an obesity epidemic, but did you know it’s affecting our pets as well?

A report from the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) has revealed that the number of overweight pets is rocketing.

The PDSA Animal Well-being Report 2012 states that 13.5 million pets are being fed junk food such as takeaways, crisps and sweets.

And the number of dog owners who say their pet is overweight or obese has risen from 16 per cent in 2011 to 31 per cent in 2012.

Why is this happening?

One reason for our pets getting fatter is ignorance on the part of owners as to the correct weight and builds for animals.

For example, the PDSA survey revealed that 56 per cent of owners of overweight cats believe their pet's shape is as it should be. 

Owners will often over-feed pets and give them unsuitable treats.

They reported that they did this because they wanted to make their pet happy.

But although giving a pet extra food might feel like a caring act at the time, in the long-term it can be very damaging for them, contributing to diseases such as arthritis and diabetes, and shortening their life span.

There isn't an NHS for pets

There isn't an NHS for pets so being able to rely on pet insurance to cover the costs of unexpected illness or accidents can be a great reassurance to owners.

However, as with other insurance products, it is important to check the cover provided through your selected policy before purchase.

"A common exclusion seen in pet insurance policies is that illnesses arising from your pet being overweight will not be paid for," explains Kate Rose, head of pet insurance at Confused.com.

"For example, if your pet were diagnosed with diabetes as a result of being obese, you could end up having to foot the bill for treatment yourself.

Check your pet cover carefully

"If your pet is currently overweight then it's important to make sure the cover you're taking out is right for them.

"So read the policy document to check as cover and exclusions vary from policy to policy.

"It's easy to do this on the Confused.com site as when your quotes are displayed there will be a direct link to each policy document so you don't have to go off to the insurer's website to read them.

"If in doubt, then do give the insurer a call and ask directly before purchasing."

Fewer calories and more exercise

Ideally of course it's best to take veterinary advice and help your pet reach its ideal weight.

TV vet and CEO of Vet's Kitchen, Joe Inglis, says: "Helping pets lose weight really comes down to two factors – fewer calories and more exercise.

"The best approach varies between pets as a program of increased exercise is usually fine for a young, active dog but less appropriate for an older one with mobility issues.

"So it's important to consult with a vet before making any radical changes to their diet or lifestyle.

"The best approach is to switch to a lower calorie food and be very disciplined on portion control.

"Regular weighing is also important to ensure weight loss is happening at the right pace as crash dieting can be dangerous, especially in cats.

"The ideal rate of weight loss is 1-1.5 per cent body weight per week."

Don't give pets treats from your plate

Joe also strongly advises against giving your pets treats or tit-bits from your plate.

"These can often contribute significantly to the total amount of calories pets get every day.

"With exercise, a good approach is to look for activities you can share and enjoy with your pet, particularly dogs.

"Agility classes, flyball and Cani-cross , where you run with your dog are all great ways to bond and to help your dog - and you - get fitter and lose weight."

For additional advice on caring for your pet, check out Vet's Klinic TV, an online media channel for pet lovers. 

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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