Pets: It's not only humans who need to lose the pounds after Christmas

IT'S not just humans who are feeling the effects of festive feasting with expanded waistlines and piled-on pounds – increasing numbers of pets are, too.

While many of us embark on New Year diets to shed the flab, vet experts are urging owners not to neglect their four-legged friends when it comes to a fitness regime.

It's not just a post-Christmas problem – the veterinary charity PDSA reckons that obesity in dogs has risen by 10 per cent in the last eight years, while there are 5 per cent more overweight cats than three years ago.

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It's a trend which Dr Tom Brown, veterinary surgeon and partner at Haddington's Lothian Canine Rehabilitation Centre, has also noticed. He says that about half of all dogs and cats coming into the centre would benefit from losing some weight.

Dr Brown says: "I would say probably every second dog that comes in now is overweight to one degree or another, whereas before you would see a couple of overweight dogs a day.

"It's very rare to see a house cat that's fit and lean – they are nearly always overweight."

One such patient was Buttons, a chocolate Labrador, who at his heaviest weighed in at just under seven stone.

Owner Alison Joss couldn't resist those big puppy eyes, and the pooch's love for dog biscuits had taken its toll on his weight.

Five months on, following a training programme consisting of a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, 18-month-old Buttons has not only slimmed down to his target weight of just over five stone, but he has also lost 10cm from his now 55cm waist.

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Mrs Joss, who lives in Longniddry, says: "He had an operation on his back left knee in August last year because his knee cap popped out, and he was put on a special diet after that to try and keep the weight and pressure off his knee."

Buttons' original three meals a day have been cut to two, with his dog biscuits replaced with carrots and apples.

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Mrs Joss, 40, adds: "He's more energetic and bouncy now, the diet and everything seems to have helped him an awful lot."

The training programme included fortnightly workouts on an underwater treadmill at the rehabilitation centre.

Mrs Joss, a nursery nurse, says: "He absolutely loved it – he spent most of the time soaking us!"

Dr Brown says Buttons is certainly not alone in his battle with the bulge, nor the reasons for his problem in the first place.

He says: "People are working more now and have less time to walk their dogs. Overweight dogs are more prone to skin disease, joint disease, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease."

On average, an overweight dog will also die three years earlier than a healthy weight dog.

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Dr Brown says that dog owners should be able to feel their pet's ribs and encourages owners to look out for their animal's collars becoming too tight as a sign of them putting on weight.

He adds: "A dog should always have a waist, from the side or above, like Marilyn Monroe."

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He recommends measuring out a pet's food, getting rid of titbits and a minimum of three walks a day for dogs – about 20 minutes each time to keep them in trim.

As to Buttons, he says: "Labradors live for their stomachs to a degree. A Labrador will never turn its nose up at anything, but Buttons is looking great now."

Lothian Canine Rehabilitation Centre,, 01620 825 888