Pet Obesity: Is It Really A Growing Problem?

As many as one in three of the 8.5million dogs living in the country are currently overweight, according to the PDSA. With more than three-quarters of vets in the country now offering obesity clinics this is not difficult to believe.

A recent survey published by the PDSA reports nine out of ten owners admit to feeding high calorie human foods including take-aways, biscuits, chips and even alcohol to their dogs - something backed up by another survey conducted by K9 Magazine and released by Direct Line Pet Insurance earlier this year.

A new Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association report has warned that with a rise in obesity-related claims, some pet insurance firms are considering cutting payouts for fat pets. A poor diet plus a lack of exercise can cut your dog’s lifespan by up to two years.

Martin Brice has witnessed an increasing number of dogs that are fed too much and walked too little – particularly over the winter months – at his Bristol practice.

Three out of five (60%) dogs visiting the surgery between the winter months of October 2013 and February 2014 had gained weight, compared to just two out of five (40%) the previous year.

With the weather beginning to improve it is the perfect time to start walking with your dog and fix their diet. Here are his top tips to dog owners:

1. Your dog does not need a treat every day

Most people aren’t aware that popular dog treats contain up to 150 calories, but the average 10kg dog requires just 400 kilocalories per day.

As the treats are only small many owners admit to handing out four or six a day which rapidly contributes to their daily calorie recommendation. A quarter of their required daily intake can easily come from treats and dental chews.

Try use non fattening treats for good behaviour like celery or other vegetables.

2. Walk your dog for five miles each day

I hear many excuses from owners for not walking dogs regularly - less places to walk, working longer hours; more adverse weather conditions and higher concentration of dogs in parks – but we are responsible for our pets and time needs to be made to meet their requirements.

Most owners will also only walk for 3 miles a day, many walking for a lot less than that, burning only 90calories per walk. For a well behaved dog enjoying a daily treat this is simply not far enough.

A study has shown that on a brisk walk a dog will expend approximately 3 calories/kg/mile – so the average dog will expend 30 calories per mile.

pet obesity growing problem

The positive effect of exercise on the mental well being of your dog is also underestimated. Exercise ensures that our “working” dogs have something to do. A lack of exercise results in boredom which in turn can lead to barking, phobias and aggression.

3. How to work out how far your dog should walk

To work off the waistline that has built up over the winter you should be aiming to walk a 10kg dog for at least 3-5 miles each day.
How do I know if my dog is overweight?

The best way to do this yourself is to stand above your dog and look down on them. You should see a waistline and be able to feel the ribs (easily!), but not see them.

It is important to keep dogs a healthy weight as this decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and other common problems such as diabetes in later life.

Want to walk but don’t own a dog?

Try signing up for websites which let you borrow a dog for a short time, or contact your local pet rescue centre. Rescue centres up and down the country are full to overflowing, so your volunteer work is sure to be appreciated and has the added bonus of getting you out and about.

About The Author

Martin Brice is the lead surgeon and founder of Emerson’s Green Veterinary Surgery. He qualified as a Veterinary Surgeon in June 1995 at Onderstepoort University, Pretoria, South Africa.

After graduating he gained experience working as an animal vet in Shropshire, England, before returning to South Africa to manage a small animal practice in Johannesburg and emergency veterinary clinic.

Twelve years ago Martin and his wife returned to England and established Emerson’s Green Veterinary Surgery in Bristol. In 2011 they were awarded UK Veterinary Practice of the Year.


  1. I keep seeing dogs I knew as trim, fit and healthy come back to see me in my grooming parlour, much larger, and often suffering from some health problem
    This distresses me i run a grooming business, and seem to see so much of this!
    All I ever see as advice, when pet weight is discussed is don’t feed them human food, ( yes that could be a problem if they get some of the examples mentioned above) but Ii am getting very worried about the weight/fitness issue
    What is happening to dogs at present ??

    I applaud this very sensible with it’s emphasis on exercise and understanding dog calories ,which is probably at least 50% of the solution I recently bough a form of pedometer to see how much I walked and was appalled to find how little I walked,
    our dogs do get decent amount of exercise as apart from walks they play together in a large garden/ paddock
    I also cook their food myself, carefully choosing ingredients, to ensure good nutrition ( on a veterinarian’s recommendation)
    This takes a very little time( yes and i m a very busy person!) and costs less than the a.alternative canned or dry dog food ( yes!)
    I would like to see vets, dog professionals doing some research and owner education on the effect of early neutering and dried “formula” foods , lifestyle and any modern developments And some research on the physique and weight of dogs, after all there is no universal recipe for all dogs, breed needs differ, development

  2. I rescued my Labrador Retriever at age 3 and she is now 12 years old. I maintain her weight at 40-42 lbs. (about 19kg.) by daily walking and weighing her food. She is fed twice daily and she has a lovely hourglass shape. My vet says she is perfect. I see so many grossly over weight dogs in my area.

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