Overweight pets risk disease and illness

24 July 2013

Overweight, neglected and misunderstood – that’s the fate of millions of pets in the UK according to the veterinary charity, PDSA.

The charity’s annual report on animal welfare paints a grim picture and lays much of the blame on fundamental ignorance of animal welfare among pet owners.

Pets need exercise, stimulation and a healthy diet

1.3 million dogs across the UK are displaying problem behaviour, 18.5 million dogs, cats and rabbits are being fed deadly diets, and 11.2 million pets are at risk of life threatening disease due to not being vaccinated or neutered.*

Findings from the 2012 PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report** produced in conjunction with YouGov, exposes a serious lack of understanding and provision of even basic levels of care for millions of the UK’s pets.


PDSA Head of Pet Health and Welfare, Nicola Martin, says: “Taking on pets is a huge commitment and one that brings with it significant responsibilities throughout a pet’s lifetime. These responsibilities are not optional, they are a legal requirement and vital to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of all pets.

“Just as humans have basic health and welfare needs, so do animals, but it is clear that in many cases their individual needs are just not understood. As the UK’s leading veterinary charity, we simply cannot ignore this and we want to do all we can to improve the long-term wellbeing of pets by helping owners understand what their pets really need to be healthy and happy.”


Inappropriate diets are one of the root causes of the UK’s pet obesity epidemic and despite acknowledging the consequences of pet obesity, millions of pet owners are still providing unsuitable diets for their animals.

More than a third of dogs (2.9million) are overweight or obese while 25 % of cats (3 million) suffer the same problem, putting them at risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, and have a lower life expectancy than healthy pets.

A high percentage of owners understand that overweight pets will have a shortened lifespan (91%) and an increased risk of ill health (93%), and 95% believe owners have overall responsibility to learn about their pet’s dietary needs, yet 90% of dog owners admit to feeding their pets treats such as cheese, crisps, cakes, biscuits, toast and takeaways.

The PDSA report suggests diets appear to be influenced by human emotion rather than an understanding of what pets really need, with 48% of owners motivated to feed treats because of the short-term happiness it seems to bring to their animals, while 29% of owners feed treats because it makes them feel happy.

Vets and vaccines

Around 2.5 million dogs, cats and rabbits still aren’t registered with a vet, 4.5 million aren’t vaccinated and over 4 million aren’t neutered. Pets that aren’t vaccinated or neutered are at serious risk of developing potentially fatal illnesses.

When it comes to cost, nearly half of vets and vet nurses believe that the financial responsibility of looking after pets is one of the least understood aspects of pet ownership. This is particularly worrying as 17% of owners surveyed for the report said they would consider giving up their pet due to the associated costs if they became too much.

One way of budgeting is to have a good insurance policy that protects your pet - and your pocket.

*Figures calculated using estimated populations; 8,308,605 dogs, 11,015,362 cats and 1,668,818 rabbits

**The PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2012: Survey of 3,956 dog, cat and rabbit owners, 466 Vets and Vet nurses, and 553 children was conducted online between 10th March and 23rd May 2012 through the YouGov panel. Data is weighted to be representative of dog, cat and rabbit owners in the UK.

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