Friday, March 07, 2008

Junk food diet is killing UK's pets, say vets of leading charity

This problem is not strictly speaking an animal rights one, but it shows how bad eating habits are spreading from humans to their non-human companions. Some time ago I would have said that what follows confirms the unhealthy effects of a meat-and-high-fat-based diet on human subjects, but now my awareness that this type of inference does not travel across species differences is more acute and therefore I am more cautious about extrapolating this way.

Huge food portions and junk food are making our pets obese and causing serious illness: this is a warning from one of Britain's leading pet charities, The Blue Cross.

The charity revealed that at least 20% of the pets it treats at its animal hospitals across the UK are now overweight. Indeed the problem is now so great that many Blue Cross hospitals have had to set up weight clinics. The Blue Cross's hospital staff think that the number of overweight pets they see now has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

The problem is so widespread that the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelt to Animals), the British main animal welfare association, has created a special website, for it, the above picture is its introductory graphic.

Burgers, hot dogs, curries, even baked beans and pizzas are responsible for the increase in pets' weight. High fat, high sugar diets and huge portions of pet food, says the charity, are causing pets to become seriously ill. Most overweight pets will have a health problem which has been caused by or exacerbated by their weight. It's very sad because many of these pets no longer have a decent quality of life as they have great difficulty doing the simplest of things such as walking or breathing.

Vets at The Blue Cross animal hospitals connect the increase in obesity among the British public and the same phenomenon in their pets. Not just cats and dogs - they see overweight budgies and rabbits too. They even had to put a pet rat to sleep after he became so obese from being fed curries that he could barely move: this case exemplifies the extent of the problem.

In the last few years Blue Cross vets have seen a rise in the number of pets with diabetes which they believe is a direct result of diet. Diabetes, respiratory problems, arthritis, heart disease and skin complaints can all be caused by animals being overweight.

The Blue Cross believes that the problem can often derive from a lack of education about which foods are suitable and unsuitable for their pets. Recently at a Blue Cross hospital a client brought her very overweight dog in. The dog had chronic joint problems, not helped by his excess weight, and is on anti-inflammatory drugs to help keep him comfortable. The dog's human companion was adamant that she was feeding her dog a sensible diet. However she did say that she had problems giving her dog the tablets, so every day she bought a chocolate bar to hide the tablets in.

So, there is a need to educate people on what they should and shouldn't be feeding their pets; The Blue Cross's weight clinics have also that function, and the charity has produced leaflets with advice. You can see them on its website where you can also vote in the survey "Is your pet overweight?" which is on its homepage at the moment.

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