Government statistics show that human obesity has reached crisis point, with around two-thirds of people living in Britain either overweight or obese. The problem extends to our pets, one in three household pets is now overweight, which equates to a staggering seven million animals.
Despite this weighty reality, research released today by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) reveals that an alarming eight out of 10 dog, cat and rabbit owners believe that their pet is just the right weight, although when asked which of a series of pictures most closely resembled their pet, only 33% of dog owners and 23% of cat owners chose the ‘normal weight’ picture.
The independent research, conducted by TNS, surveyed over 2,100 households and suggests that nine out of 10 pet owners are not that concerned about their pet’s weight. Most revealing was pet owners’ fundamental misunderstanding about how to manage their pet’s weight. Only a third of cat and dog owners who thought their pet was overweight believed they could do ‘a lot’ about their pet’s weight, but a shocking 62% of dog and 72% of cat owners believed they could personally either do nothing, or a little about their pet’s weight.
Of those who thought that their dog, cat or rabbit was overweight, a third (34%) of owners admitted that the reason their pet needed to lose weight was because they fed them too many treats and 11% said that they overfed their pets at mealtimes. A lack of exercise was also cited by 36% of dog, cat and rabbit owners as a cause of their pet’s weight problem.
Michael Bellingham, Chief Executive of the PFMA, the principal trade body representing the UK pet food industry, said: “Pet obesity is a serious issue and one that cannot be ignored. We as a nation should know better, and obesity in pets is preventable. One of the problems is that pet owners are no longer able to recognise a healthy, ideal body shape. Our perceptions have become blurred, particularly when identifying overweight body shapes both in humans and pets.”
Worryingly, only a quarter (25%) of those surveyed said that they had ever sought advice on whether any of their pets were overweight, and when owners were asked how they fed their pets and in particular how they decide on the volume of food they give them, the results were disturbing: 19%, 28%, 21% of dog, cat and rabbit owners admitted using methods of trial and error, indicating a sole reliance on pets’ appetite to determine optimum food portions, while only (24%, 12%, 19%) of owners referred to manufacturers advice on pet food labels and less than a quarter (19%, 15%, 22%) sought advice from vets.
Bellingham continued: “At the end of the day, pet owners have the power to help their pets stay healthy and extend their lives by up to two years. Owners can do this by getting hands on with their pets and using simple tools such as our new Pet Size-O-Meter, which offer owners advice and guidance on how to gauge their pet’s weight and body condition. Owners must understand that just like humans, pets need regular exercise and the right amount of food, as recommended by manufacturers for their lifestyle and breed, to keep them in a healthy body condition.”
* The research was conducted by TNS on behalf of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association in March 2009 and surveyed 2,126 UK households.