How to help your pet stay in shape

Pet obesity is a widespread and increasing problem in the UK. Around 40% of cats and 60% of dogs in the UK are overweight. Just like us, our pets need a combination of exercise and a balanced diet to keep fit and optimise their mobility. Obesity puts your pets at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, heart problems and diabetes mellitus.

There are four main reasons why your pet may gain extra weight:

  1. Awareness of pet obesity is well below what it should be. With the majority of UK dogs overweight it has skewed our perception of what a healthy weight looks like. See box 1 for more info.
  2. Overfeeding – probably the most common issue in the UK. PDSA PAWS reports found that 5.7 million pets in the UK are fed treats every day. Treat can be exceedly calorific for our pets. For example 30g of ham given to an average cat is equal to 123% of their daily requirement! The PAWS survey found that 25% of owners feed rawhide bones to their dogs; 190g of rawhide bone given to an average dog is about 70% of their daily calorie requirement.
  3. Lack of exercise – make sure they get daily exercise! PAWS found that 16% of dogs in the UK are walked less than once a day and 24% are left alone for five or more hours on weekdays.
  4. Pets that have been spayed or castrated are more prone to weight gain so it is important to tailor their diet. This is often easiest by feeding a diet aimed at neutered animals or reaching for the ‘light’ version.
  5. Medical problems that mean they cannot exercise as much as before. This can be a vicious cycle when you pet has arthritis as they can start to struggle with their normal routine and therefore do not burn as many calories. Talk to your vet if you feel your pet has any signs of arthritis as proactive treatment is vital. Signs of osteoarthritis include limping and postural change, licking at their joints and pacing at night, as well as changes in their behaviour and sleeping more than usual.
How to keep your cat in good health and shape.

Here’s how you can help your pet find their balance:

  1. Calculate their body condition score using these charts. Their score will help you estimate how much your pet needs to loose if they are overweight.
  2. Diet – make sure you are feeding the correct amount for their IDEAL weight. Look at the guides on the packets and make sure you weigh out their allowance each day. Feed them this allowance in small portions over the day.
  3. Feed your pets separately to prevent one greedy pet stealing food from the others. Also make sure that you keep human food out of reach.
  4. Limit the number of treats you give them and use part of their daily allowance for rewards if needed. Try to stop other members of your family giving them calorific human foods such as cheese.
  5. Keep your pet as active as possible to increase their metabolism and also stop them getting bored. Making sure your cats have plenty of spaces to climb and explore can really enrich their environment and burn off some extra calories.
  6. Do not try to crash diet your pets; this may cause severe medical problems and prevent them from getting essential nutrients.

If you have any questions about how you can help your pet then please do get in touch and as always, if you have any concerns about your pets weight, shape or mobility then please contact your vet.

Comment below with a photo of your pet and their body condition score (1-9). You can find the body condition score guide here.


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Deal and Sandwich vet Claire


Hi, I’m Claire and I am a veterinary surgeon working in East Kent. Having grown up locally I was delighted to be able to move home and settle near Sandwich. I love all animals but I mainly treat dogs, cat and rabbits. My lifelong passion for animal healthcare has led me to start this blog in the hope that I can interest your inner animal lover and share some fascinating stories along the way. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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