FROM BEANBAG-SHAPED dogs to cats with profiles like footballs and rabbits with double-double chins, pet obesity is out of control. One recent study revealed that almost two thirds of dogs are carrying extra weight.
I know from my own household how difficult it can be to keep pets slim. We are strict about not over-feeding our dogs and cats, but things don't always go according to plan. Our young terrier, Kiko, is quick to steal food wherever she can find it. She's discovered the outhouse where we feed our cats, and if we're not careful, she nips in through their cat flap to clean out their bowls.
Last week, she suffered the consequences of her greediness. Her waist has recently expanded, and when she tried to sneak in through the cat flap to grab their food, she didn't quite fit any more. She wriggled and struggled, like Winnie-the-pooh trying to get out of the doorway when he was full of honey.
Eventually, Kiko managed to get through the hole in the door, but as you can see from the photo, she took the cat flap with her. Kiko is now back on a strict diet, and we've fitted a microchip coded cat flap, so that even when she loses weight, the cat flap will remain shut to her. She won't be able to get at the cats' food any more.
Obesity is bad enough on its own, making it difficult for animals to move around and do simple daily tasks like grooming themselves. But additionally, it aggravates all sorts of other problems, including arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.
You'd think it would be simple to keep pets slim and trim; after all, they can only eat what we give them. If your pet gets fat, offer her a little less food, and surely she'll soon slim down. Dogs and cats can't usually open fridges or cupboards to help themselves when no-one's looking.
In fact, it's much more complicated than that. Many pet owners love to watch their animals enjoying eating. It seems mean to force their pets to get by on a meagre scraping of the scanty rations that they need to stay at their ideal weight.
These people seem to forget that it's even meaner to let pets get so fat that they suffer discomfort, pain and shortened lives because of obesity.
Some pet owners even complain to me that their obese pets aren't hungry. They tell me that they have to tempt their pets with special home-cooked delicacies. I try to convince them that their pet isn't hungry because its body doesn't need any more calories. It's a bit like us humans at the end of a large meal. We may feel comfortably full, but when we're offered delicacies such as dessert, the cheese board or after dinner mints, we can somehow find extra space to fit it in.
There's no magic trick to slimming down obese pets. Just as with humans, the answer is a combination of a strict diet and a moderate exercise regime. It isn't easy, and many overweight pets never regain the trim shape of their youth.
It's far easier to step in at an earlier stage, when a pet has just gained a little extra weight. All that's needed then is to trim back the normal daily rations marginally before there's a big problem. If you are not sure about your pet's weight, go to your local vet clinic for an assessment.
Vets and nurses are trained to help you, and it's easier for them to be objective about your pet's body condition, because they're not emotionally involved. I know some people who like their pets to be "pleasantly rounded" because "that's the way they've always been".
The best way to maintain the ideal weight is to carry out regular, routine weigh-ins. Pets are meant to go the vet once a year, for their annual pet health check and vaccination update. This is the perfect opportunity to have a pet weighed. If there has been any significant weight gain on the previous year, a minor dietary adjustment may be all that's needed.
If a pet does become overweight or obese, a more focussed approach is needed. Again, your local vet clinic is the best place to visit to get this sorted out. Many vet nurses have a special interest in animal nutrition, and have had extra training so that they're well equipped to help you solve the problem.
Some nurses even run "obesity clinics" for pets, with plump poodles and fat cats sitting side by side in the waiting room. First, each pet is weighed, to establish the severity of the problem. Next, a diet-and-exercise regime is designed, personalised for each animal.
Special low-calorie diets are available to make it easy for animals to lose weight in a steady, controlled fashion. Owners are told exactly how much to give every day - a carefully measured amount. If you follow the instructions, you are almost guaranteed to be successful.
These obesity clinics are often free-ofcharge, and while there is some cost involved in purchasing the special low-calorie diets, in the long run, you save money in other ways. Your pet will avoid the diseases of fat pets - such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes - which are expensive to treat.
Slim pets are happier, healthier, longerlived animals. Does your pet need to lose weight? Would your pet pass the equivalent of Kiko's "cat flap test"? If not, maybe it's time to take action.
Visit Pete's website at www.petethevet.com