Diet and obesity

In 2020, 78% of veterinary professionals told us that they had seen an increase in pet obesity over the last 2 years. Obesity has remained a top concern of veterinary professionals since we collected data for the first PAW Report in 2011, consistently being chosen as one of the top 5 welfare issues facing dogs, cats, and rabbits in the UK. Despite this, in 2020, only 14% of dog owners, 18% of cat owners and 10% of rabbit owners reported their pet to be overweight or obese.

Weight gain in pets during the pandemic

With many owners spending more time with their pets since the start of the pandemic, weight gain due to increased feeding, particularly of treats, was a potential risk, although for dogs, the opportunity to be walked for longer could have mitigated this.

In 2021, 9% of dog owners, 5% of cat owners and 9% of rabbit owners told us their pet had gained weight during the pandemic, while 9% of dog owners, 5% of cat owners and 4% of rabbit owners told us that they had fed more human treats during the pandemic.

Dogs are being walked less frequently, but for longer durations than before the pandemic. Fewer dogs are being walked more than once a day (44% in 2021, 49% in February 2020) whilst more are walked once a day compared to 2020 (38% in 2021, 33% in February 2020).

The highest proportion of dogs are still walked for 31 minutes to one hour (41%), no significant change to 2020 (43%). But less are walked for 11 to 30 minutes (29% in 2021, 39% in February 2020) and more are walked for one to two hours (20% in 2021, 13% in February 2020).

When we asked owners what was preventing their pet from losing weight, the most common response chosen was “my pet doesn’t need to lose weight” (48% of dog owners, 49% of cat owners and 57% of rabbit owners). Unfortunately, from previous PAW Report1 data we know that some owners struggle to recognise when their pet is overweight or obese and in need of weight loss. Of those who had told us that their pet was overweight, the most common factors preventing their pet from losing weight were that owners give in when they beg for food (29%), they like feeding treats to their pet (19%), their pet is fussy with food (19%), and giving treats shows how much they love them (15%).

Worryingly, the detrimental health effects of obesity in our pets do not appear to be well recognised amongst owners, with only 69% of pet owners agreeing that overweight pets are more likely to suffer from serious diseases and 65% agreeing that overweight pets are less likely to live as long as other pets. Owners whose pet was not registered with a vet were much less likely to agree with both these statements (46% and 43%, respectively). This demonstrates how important regular contact with the veterinary team providing owner education is for this aspect of pet welfare.

Reasons owners gave for their pet's weight gain

Hear from Professor Alex German, MRCVS, Royal Canin Professor of Small Animal Medicine, University of Liverpool

Professor Alex German, BVSc(Hons), Phd CertSAM, DipECVIM-CA, MRCVS, Professor of Small Animal Medicine, University of Liverpool

Footnotes

1 PAW Report 2011-2020 https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pawreport