Who’s watching their weight in 2020?

Have you started the New Year with a resolution to lose a few pounds and ramp up the amount of exercise you do? It seems that this is exactly what our pets need too. There’s a whole raft of data that reveals beyond doubt that the UK is in the grip of a pet obesity epidemic. The facts and stats
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19th January 2020

Have you started the New Year with a resolution to lose a few pounds and ramp up the amount of exercise you do? It seems that this is exactly what our pets need too. There’s a whole raft of data that reveals beyond doubt that the UK is in the grip of a pet obesity epidemic. The facts and stats make for grim reading.

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association’s (PFMA) latest Obesity Report highlights that an alarming 51% of dogs, 44% of cats and 29% of small mammals are overweight or obese. The PFMA states: “With almost 8.5m pets in the UK currently overweight, the last five years has seen a worrying increase and today almost 600,000 more UK pets are overweight or obese and at risk of living two years less than a healthy, fit pet.”


A recent study found that Pugs were the dog breed most likely to be overweight, with three quarters categorised as obese by vets. Similarly, more than two thirds of Boxers were considered too heavy, with Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Spaniels and Staffordshire Bull Terriers next most likely to be overweight.
Source: Direct Line pet insurance

The RSPCA cites obesity as a “serious welfare issue” that can cause suffering and be extremely disabling for pets. “Pet obesity can also cause serious health problems, and make existing problems worse, which can reduce the length and quality of your pet's life,” the charity states, adding that weight problems can cause and contribute to diabetes, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure and cancer. 

What our survey revealed

Our own survey, recently conducted with pet scales manufacturer Marsden, revealed that 76% of pet owners do not know or are unsure about the ideal weight range for their pets, 62% of pet owners admit they have never asked their vet for weight management advice and 32% of pet owners said that they didn’t measure portions and guessed how much food they needed to give their pets.

It’s clear that something has to be done. Burgess in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes advises: “When it comes to managing pet obesity, knowledge is key. From identifying that your pet is overweight to understanding what constitutes a healthy diet to portion control and ensuring they have the right amount of exercise. This is where your vet can help. Many practices have weight management clinics and your vet will be able to provide you with expert advice, practical tips and support. Very overweight pets will require an individual vet-devised weight loss programme. This may take several months before your pet reaches their ideal body condition.” 

In denial?

According to the PFMA, while an overwhelming 100% of vets are concerned about pet obesity, research among 8,000 households reveals that the majority of owners are seemingly unaware of the problem – 68% of pet owners think their pet is exactly the right weight and 67% admit they are not worried about pet obesity.

The PFMA research also analysed professional and pet owners’ insight on why pets are obese. Most revealing is the significant mismatch between the views of vets and pet owners – 98% of vets but only 41% of owners think excessive treating contributes most to obesity. With regards to fitness, 80% of vets think that a lack of exercise contributes to obesity while only 44% of owners share this view. 

The PFMA states: “Pets are an important part of the family and while many owners show love for their pet through food, this is often a case of killing them with kindness.”


Snacking comes at a high price. A slice of buttered toast to a Cocker Spaniel provides about a sixth of their daily calorie requirement – the equivalent of two bags of crisps for a person. A sausage to a Staffie is the equivalent of one and a half chocolate bars to a person and a chocolate digestive to a Jack Russell is almost the same as a portion of chips to a person.

Source: Blue Cross

Identifying if your pet is overweight

The RSPCA outlines a few simple checks you can carry out: 

  • You should be able to see and feel the outline of your dog's ribs and your cat’s spine and hip bones without excess fat covering. 
  • You should be able to see and feel your dog's waist and it should be clearly visible when viewed from above.  
  • Your dog's belly should be tucked up when viewed from the side, while your cat’s belly shouldn’t be sagging underneath with only a small amount of fat. 

There are also some useful online tools:

  • International Cat Care has a Body and Muscle Condition Chart that you can use to help identify if your cat is very thin, thin, normal, overweight or obese.  
  • The PFMA has developed Pet Size-O-Meters for dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Controlling food portions

Paying closer attention to portion sizes is one of the best ways to manage your pet’s weight:

  • Always follow the product’s feeding guide, which will be on the pack. You may need to adjust the amount you feed depending on your pet’s age, neuter status, breed and lifestyle. 
  • Always weigh food portions with kitchen scales, until you know the right amount to feed using a cup. Don’t estimate as this is the easiest way to overfeed.
  • Avoid human food and table scraps.
  • Treats should never make up more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie intake. If you do provide treats, always reduce the size of your pet’s meal.
  • Weigh your pet regularly – at least once a month. 


According to feline charity International Cat Care, it’s estimated that between 39% and 52% of cats in the UK are overweight or obese. Our survey revealed that 40% of cat owners guess their cat’s food portions.

How exercise can help

Ensuring your pet has an active lifestyle with lots of walks and playtime is good for both their physical and mental health. However, the Blue Cross advises that increasing exercise alone is not enough to help your pets lose weight, but it is helpful. The charity recommends: “Start gradually, and be especially careful with elderly pets, particularly in hot weather. Older pets should see the vet first. Little and often is the safest way to start. Try to take your dog out at least twice a day and start to introduce active games – ambling down the road on a lead is not going to burn off many calories. Increase the activity level at home as well. Buy toys in which you can hide food but remember to deduct the ‘treat’ from the daily food allowance.”

As a rough guide, it’s recommended that cats (particularly indoor cats) receive about 40 minutes of playtime daily, and healthy adult dogs are exercised for at least an hour. Small pets should be given the opportunity and space to exercise and play as much as they want to – in the wild, rabbits run about five miles a day. Find out more about how much exercise your dog needs every day here >>


According to our survey, while 81% of guinea pig owners know the ideal weight range for their guinea pig(s), 28% of rabbit owners believe they could improve their knowledge of what constitutes a healthy diet for their rabbit(s).

Dr Suzanne Moyes adds: “Just as with humans, any weight loss programme requires a dedicated effort to be successful. However, the improved quality of life for your pet when they reach a healthy weight will be well worth it.”

If you found this interesting, we’ve lots more useful advice and tips on giving your pets the right nutrition:

Just 48 hours after neutering cats need an estimated 20% fewer calories and neutered cats are more prone to weight gain. Find out more about our award-winning Burgess Neutered Cat food >>

Recent newspaper reports have revealed some shocking news about the food that some owners dish out to their pet cats, with some not even realising that felines are carnivores. Our in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes explains the specific nutritional needs of felines.

Burgess Supadog Finest  Adult Light Chicken is specially created for overweight adult dogs. It contains L-Carnitine to help reduce, and then maintain your pet’s weight at the correct level.

How much should you feed your dog? How many times a day should you feed them? Will feeding treats lead to obesity? What foods are dangerous to dogs? Our essential guide has all the answers...

Rabbits need to eat their own body size in hay every day to stay healthy. Our in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes advises on how to help your bunnies munch their way through their daily ration by making hay-time a fun experience

Take a closer look at your pets’ diets:

Guinea pigs






Sources: pfma.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, independent.co.uk, icatcare.org

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