New PFMA study reveals disconnect between perception and reality of pet obesity

New research released today by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) finds that while vets feel up to 45% of all pets they see are overweight, two in three (63%) pet owners believe their pet is the correct weight, revealing a disparity in awareness. This gap represents an opportunity for vets to help address the problem, by educating pet owners on pet obesity.

PFMA’s ‘Pet Obesity: Five Years On’ research arrives five years after its previous report, allowing pet owners and professionals to see how the needle has moved, gauging whether Britain is winning regarding pet slimming. The latest results reveal that three in four (77%) vets believe pet obesity is on the rise, while two in three (63%) owners feel more important problems face their pets. According to the study, the vast majority (93%) of pet owners say they would be concerned to discover their pet is overweight, yet only one in three (37%) know how to check this, indicating that existing tools and guidelines are simply not getting enough cut-through.

To help spread the word about ideal pet weight and support the good work already being carried out by vets across the country, PFMA will launch a #GetPetsFit campaign this May.

Michael Bellingham, Chief Executive of PFMA says: “We need to engage pet owners emotionally, helping them realise that feeding and exercising their pet to the optimum level can result in an extra two years of active life. The #GetPetsFit campaign will provide the perfect opportunity to do this and we hope that with the help of vets, we can work to resolve this important issue.”

HOW VETS CAN HELP

1. SAY: Raise awareness of the issue to help educate pet owners.

Promote good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle as ‘number one’ to help Britain’s pets get fitter and live up to two years longer.

Zara Boland BVSc BE MRCVS, Founder of Vet Voice Ltd says: “It is encouraging that success rates are high for the 78% of UK vets already running companion animal obesity clinics. However, we must continue pushing the health message until overweight pets are no longer seen as the ‘norm’. We need widespread recognition of pet obesity to pave the way for positive action.”

2. DO: Offer regular pet-weighing services in practices.

PFMA recognises that pet weight can be a sensitive subject to broach with pet owners, and hopes the #GetPetsFit campaign will help vets tackle this. Kicking off on 7th May nationwide, a re-launched Weigh in Wednesday initiative will encourage pet owners to monitor their pet’s body size and seek advice on pet health – plus, a pilot scheme launching alongside in Teddington, London Borough of Richmond, will bring together pet care professionals with the local community to turn around the fortunes of its pets. PFMA urges vets in all areas of Britain to get involved.

Here is how:
• Visit www.pfma.org.uk/weighinwednesday and download a free kit. The kit contains campaign posters, website banners and client hand-out materials including Pet Size-O-Meters (for cats, dogs, rabbits and birds), a pet food diary and weight and body condition log. Vets can also sign up via PFMA’s homepage for a free pack to be sent to their practice.
• Display posters in waiting rooms, alert pet owners to the pet obesity issue, run weekly Weigh in Wednesday services from 7th May and find and share inspiration on the #GetPetsFit campaign Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GetPetsFit.

3. SUPPORT: Motivate pet owners to continue to make a difference.

Provide guidance to pet owners and give them a Pet Size-O-Meter, pet food diary and pledge poster to take home and use. Encourage them to commit to a 12 month dietary programme and monthly weighing to ensure continued wellbeing for their pets.

EDUCATING PET OWNERS, DRIVING BEHAVIOUR CHANGE

The ‘Pet Obesity: Five Years On’ study highlights a number of points to be addressed when educating pet owners on ideal pet weight, regarding overfeeding, treating and lack of exercise. Currently, two in three (68%) pet owners do not follow professional guidelines when deciding portion size, with 30% taking a cavalier approach relying on instinct. Though treats should be fed occasionally and taken into consideration with overall food intake, nearly half (48%) of owners are feeding pets treats more than twice a day, with one in three (36%) using potentially toxic ‘human’ food to treat.

Supporting diet with exercise is key in tackling pet obesity. Vets recommend as a rough average at least 30 minutes twice-daily exercise for adult dogs, forty minutes daily for cats (particularly indoor cats) and four hours daily for rabbits – although the level of exercise required for any pet should depend on its age, breed and health. However, this is being adhered to in only some cases. PFMA is advising owners to always seek vets’ advice on this, bearing in mind – for example – that certain dogs may need longer, more vigorous walks. Encouragingly, nearly one in three (31%) owners currently provide up to an hour’s exercise a day, though there is a serious shortfall for rabbits and birds (with 69% and 78% of their owners believing no exercise is necessary, respectively).

Michael Bellingham continues: “All the tools are in place for pet owners and pet care professionals to better pets’ lives together – now is the time to use them.”

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