LONDON, March 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Two-thirds of veterinary professionals believe that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96 per cent of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.(1)

These are just some of the shocking results from research carried out by pet food manufacturer, Hill's Pet Nutrition, which also revealed that the problem mirrored the spiralling human obesity epidemic. Indeed, 78 per cent of those questioned thought that obese pets tended to have obese owners with 80 per cent of vets reluctant to mention the condition to overweight owners for fear of offending them.

Nearly 50 per cent of pets are obese or overweight(2) and central to solving the problem of pet obesity is encouraging owners to accept that a pet has an ideal weight and to commit to a weight reduction programme. Eighty nine per cent of veterinary professionals thought that pets should be weighed every time they visit veterinary practices, with 86 per cent of those questioned believing that vets should have an open door policy when it comes to weight checks.

With this in mind, vets throughout Europe are being encouraged to adopt an open-door policy where owners can bring their pet in at any time to be weighed free of charge. They would be told the ideal weight the pet should be, along with the amount of food and exercise the pet would need to lose weight and remain healthy. Nick Blayney, president of the British Veterinary Association, says: "Weight loss programmes are doomed to fail if owners don't know the correct weight their pet should be. Once they know this, vets need to explain the correct nutritional and exercise requirements of the pet. Data from the PPET study(3) confirms that if an owner and pet go on a diet and exercise programme together they both benefit."

"We'd recommend that vet practices carry out weight checks as a matter of course during consultations to help educate pet owners on their pets' ideal weight and put in place diet and exercise programmes should animals be overweight," comments Libby Sheridan, veterinary affairs manager at Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Furthermore, health services should investigate the possibility of local doctors working with vets to help combat the obesity problem in both humans and pets and develop a dual package for weight loss and exercise.

Obesity carries a heavy price for any animal and, unfortunately, 55 per cent of veterinary professionals knew of cases where a pet had to be euthanised due to developing certain diseases associated with obesity. Studies also show that the life of an overweight dog is shortened by at least two years. In human terms, this would mean a life expectancy shortfall of 15 years.

A Pet Obesity Task Force has been launched to help tackle the number of obese and overweight pets and put in place strategies to help overcome the condition. Featuring leading specialists in both human and animal obesity such as vets, vet nurses, nutritionists, behaviourists, GPs and charities, the Task Force will raise awareness of the growing health implications of obese and overweight pets.

Mark Evans, chief veterinary adviser at the RSPCA, who will be sitting on the board, comments: "We've been trying to treat and prevent pet obesity for 20 years, but the problem hasn't gone away. In fact it seems to have got worse despite everyone's efforts. It's incredibly frustrating. So, is there any point in fighting on in the same old way if we're not winning the battle?

"Let's take a step back, review our knowledge, re-evaluate our approaches, think outside the box and innovate. What could we learn from social scientists, human psychologists and others engaged in trying to tackle the very same problem in people - especially children?"


1. Accessed 13 Feb 2008.

2. Data taken from a poll of 120 delegates at the Hill's European Weight Management Conference. 28 February 2008, Wellcome Trust, London

3. The PPET Study: People and Pets Exercising Together Robert F. Kushner(i), Dawn Jackson, Blatner(i), Dennis E. Jewell(ii), Kimberly Rudloff (i)Wellness Institute, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, IL, and (ii)Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc, Topeka, KS.

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