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Pet Obesity – So what’s the issue?

Pet obesity is a pressing issue for the UK’s 24.5 million pets. It is estimated that 45% (just over 11 million) of domestic pets are overweight or clinically obese. A recent study of pet owner perception showed that 63% of pet owners believed their pet to be the correct weight, despite other views from veterinary professionals. This is not surprising as weight gain happens over a long period of time and as the owner sees their pet every day, quite often the drastic change in weight goes unnoticed.

The causes and contributing factors leading to obesity are:

1. Eating too much and excessive snacking
2. Exercising too little
3. Being less active with age
4. Breed Disposition
5. Neutering
6. Certain medical conditions

Just as with people, an overweight or obese animal has a much greater risk of developing serious and/or debilitating health conditions.

Major health risks and concerns include:
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Urinary crystals/stones and blockages
  • Heart Disease
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Cruciate Ligament Disease
  • Skin/coat issues
  • Decreased Life Expectancy of 2.5 years on average

Our pets are part of the family, of this there is no doubt, and it’s easy to want to express affection for a much-loved pet by rewarding them with tasty treats. Recent findings show that nearly half (48%) of pet owners are treating pets more than twice a day. Over the last five years there has been a 28% increase in cat and dog owners feeding pets table leftovers. These acts of apparent kindness can put your pets at risk; treating with leftover food is a leading cause of pet weight gain (approximately 78% for dogs).
It is important to note that animals have very different metabolisms to ourselves; feeding a dog the size of a West Highland White Terrier just 1 small cube of cheese a day is the same as a human eating 1 Big Mac! Equally, feeding a 5kg cat 1 glass of milk a day is the same as a adult human eating 3 Big Macs in one sitting!

What you can do to keep your pet trim

1. Don’t guess: Follow packet feeding guidelines to determine how much food your pet should be getting daily. If you are unsure, then contact the food manufacturer directly or contact your veterinary practice.

2. Remember! Guidelines are just that, quite often we find that feeding amounts and exercise regimes need tweaking from pet to pet.

3. Weigh the food: Use scales to accurately weigh out your pets daily allowance of food; you can then separate this amount into the number of meals your pet needs per day.

4. Treat responsibly: Prepared treats are best aligned to you pets needs. Please remember that a treat should be earned and the calories must be deducted from your pets overall daily allowance.

5. Don’t overfeed: Be aware of how much you are feeding your pet as a family. In a busy household, it can be beneficial to run a rota system or have a check list so your pet is not being fed the same meal twice.

6. Exercise, exercise, exercise: Make sure you are exercising your pet in accordance with its needs. Most dogs should have at least 1 hour of exercise per day; just because you have a small breed of dog, does not mean it doesn’t need to be walked.

Cats should ideally have 40 minutes of high intensity activity per day. Please remember that cats are predators, and the way to get them to play is to let them use their hunting talents. Take a laser pointer and skitter it across the floor like a bug. Get a wand toy that looks like a bird and pretend to land and take off. In the wild, a cat will only stalk prey for about three to five minutes; after that, he’ll give up and go search somewhere else. So don’t try to play longer than the genetic capacity of the cat. When he’s beginning to lose interest, change to another game or let him rest.
Pet rabbits need 4 hours of exercise per day, therefore rabbits that live outside require constant access to a large run in order to run, jump and play.

7. Monitor your pets weight: This will help you nip any worrying weight gain in the bud. You can weigh your pet at home, if they are small enough to fit on human scales, or if your morning walk brings you and your dog past your veterinary surgery, just nip in and use the scales in reception.

I’ve got an overweight pet, HELP!

Here at Milton Keynes Veterinary Group, we offer free of charge nutrition clinics which are run by two of our RVN’s; Louise and Laura both have keen interests in pet nutrition and consult every Wednesday and Friday at our Walnut Tree Hospital site.

In the clinics the patient typically gets a full physical exam; they get weighed, measured and their Body Condition Score is assessed. A full history is also taken from the owner at the first appointment so a better understanding of the pet and owners’ lifestyle can be gained and an individual feeding and exercise plan that fits in with that lifestyle can be designed. The patients are typically seen back at the clinic every 4-6 weeks until they reach their healthy weight.

The nurses cater for most animals and in clinic we routinely see dogs, cats and rabbits of various breeds, shapes and sizes and sometimes the odd guinea pig or 2.

Louise says, I enjoy the owner and pet interaction and I feel that I get to know the pets and their owners very well as we see each other monthly for at least 6 months to a year. The most rewarding aspect of the clinics is seeing a pet become healthier and happier due to reaching its target weight and knowing that they will be living a longer life in their loving home.

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Antifreeze Poisoning in cats

With the recent cold snap many of us will be putting antifreeze in our cars. Antifreeze can be found in brake fluid, hydraulic fluids and even in decorative snow globes. Occasionally gardeners may also add it to their water features.

Ethylene Glycol is a common component of antifreeze. Ingestion in cats, of even small amounts, as little as a single teaspoon, or even from grooming contaminated fur, can be damaging.

Every year thousands of pets are accidentally poisoned with antifreeze. Onset of irreversible renal damage is rapid, requiring early aggressive treatment, but even then may not be successful in preventing problems.

Clinical Signs

Initial signs of antifreeze poisoning are depression and lethargy, with animals often appearing uncoordinated or drunk. These signs can last for a few hours. The next stages of poisoning are characterised by excessive thirst, vomiting, oral and gastric ulcers, and renal failure, followed ultimately by death.

If your cat has ingested antifreeze they must be taken to the veterinary surgery immediately. The main aim of treatment is to decrease the absorption of ethylene glycol from the stomach and intestine and to increase its excretion through the kidneys. Unfortunately the prognosis is extremely guarded, even with treatment.

How to avoid Accidental Poisonings

*Use a less toxic alternative: Propylene Glycol antifreeze is more expensive but less toxic for pets and other wildlife, so if you have a cat, consider using this instead.

* Always keep antifreeze in a clearly labelled and sealed container, away from pets and their environment.

* Clear up any spillage immediately and make sure that your cat can’t access that area until it is completely clean.

* Always dispose of antifreeze safely and responsibly.

If you are concerned that your cat may have been exposed to antifreeze then please contact your veterinary surgery immediately. The sooner veterinary treatment is received, the better their chances of survival.

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Homemade Pet Treats

Dannielle shares her favourite recipes.

The Necessary Bit

These recipes have no added salt or sugar or any ingredients that your dog should not safely be given. Please do bear in mind that if your dog has a sensitivity or intolerance, some of these recipes may not be appropriate. (For a Gluten free option replace flour below with coconut flour this will alter the consistency of the dough and may make using cookie cutters more difficult but is 100% gluten free.)

As there are no preservatives added to these recipes they are prone to develop mould however can be kept safely in a fridge for up to one week or frozen.

The Science/Vet Bit

*Recent studies suggest that approximately 40% of pets are overweight; obesity is now the most common medical disorder of companion animals and a major welfare concern. It is now recognised that obesity is an important medical disease as it may predispose pets to a variety of other disorders including osteoarthritis, cardiorespiratory problems (the body’s ability to supply oxygen to muscles), diabetes mellitus, constipation, dermatitis, anaesthetic risk and reduced life expectancy.

The Fun Bit

CAUTION – When baking any homemade treats for your dogs it is important to remember that a dog’s sense of smell is massively better than ours (no science/vet bit here!) so to leave cookies cooling unattended is just asking for trouble!

Let’s not be taking our obese dogs to MK Vet Group as a result of a regular over indulgence of treats – these are supposed to be given in moderation.

Liver Cake- Ideal Training Treat

250g liver

250g plain flour

2 eggs



Pre heat oven to 180°c, Gas Mark 4

In a blender, puree the liver and eggs.

Put the flour in a bowl and stir in the liver mixture. Add sufficient milk to make a ‘spongy’ texture. Pour into a baking tray lined with foil and cook for 50-60 minutes. Turn out when cold and cut into small cubes for great training treats.

Can be frozen in small bags to thaw as needed.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Cookies

260g Wholemeal flour

70g Corn Flour

1 medium sweet potato, peeled

1 Large carrot scrubbed

70g Sunflower hearts (if desired)

150ml water

3 tblsp olive oil


Pre heat oven to 180°c, Gas Mark 4

Cover a baking tray with baking paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flours. In a food processor finely chop the carrot and potato, add to the flours and stir well. Add the sunflower hearts (if using), oil and water and combine into one ball of dough. Add more water if needed.

Turn out onto a floured surface (cling film over the work top is less messy) and knead until well combined and smooth. Roll out to ½” thick and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Place onto baking tray and bake for about 30 mins.

Turn each biscuit once and cook for a further 10 mins then place onto a wire tray to cool.

Cheesy Cookies

60g Wholemeal flour

100g Oats

100g grated cheese (preferably cheddar)

40g grated parmesan (if desired)

1 tblsp Olive oil

100 – 150ml water


Pre heat oven to 180°c, Gas Mark 4

Cover a baking tray with baking paper.

Mix all of the ingredients except the oil and water together in a large bowl. Add the oil and stir. Add sufficient water to make the dough stick into one ball. Place onto a floured (cling film is less messy) and roll out gently until ¼” – ½” thick.

Cut with a cookie cutter and place onto baking tray. Cook in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until they start to turn slightly golden brown.

Store in an airtight container and they may keep for weeks.

Christmas Apple and Cinnamon Cookies

4 cups of whole wheat flour (as well as a handful or two of some white flour which will not be added to the actual dough, but used for non-stick purposes).

70g of corn flour

1 egg

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 small apple

350ml water


Pre heat oven to 160°c, Gas Mark 4

Combine all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl, mix with a spoon, and set aside. Grate the apple and then add water, vegetable oil and egg. Stir well. Add the dry ingredients in with the wet ingredients. Stir well until the mixture becomes a thick dough.

Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface; roll out gently until ¼” to ½” thick. Cut with a Christmas themed cookie cutter and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

These treats do not rise or expand during baking, so they can be placed fairly close together. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 mins, then place onto a wire tray to cool.

Festive Gingerbread Cookies

420 g Whole Wheat Flour

½ tsp ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

55 ml vegetable oil

170g molasses

100ml water


Preheat oven to 160°, Gas Mark 4

Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, cinnamon and ginger, mix in the oil, molasses and water then let it rest for 15 minutes. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until ¼” thick. Cut out the cookies in Christmas themed cookie cutters and place onto the baking sheet. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until firm.

Yummy Cat Treats

195g wheat or white flour

1 – ½ tsp Teaspoons catnip

40g powdered lactose free milk

120ml Lactose free milk

2 tbsp Lactose free butter, softened

1 tbsp honey

1 Egg


Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix in wet ingredients to form a soft dough. You can add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Turn out dough onto a non-stick baking sheet and roll out.

Carefully cut the dough into bite-sized squares. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove treats from the tray, making sure to break them apart if necessary; let them cool on a wire tray. Store in an air-tight container or freeze and thaw as needed.

Apples are a source of dietary fibre which helps to eliminate toxins as well as containing minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Also contained are beneficial antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin C. A healthy dose of omega 3 and omega 6 in these treats contributes to a healthy skin and coat for your happy hound!

Wholemeal Flour is generally used because it is easier to digest for dogs than white flour and contains a natural pre-biotic which promotes healthy digestion. It also contains selenium (which may help protect against lung cancer) as well as potassium and zinc.

Ginger is fantastically healthy for a dog’s digestive system: relieving stomach aches, nausea, wind and diarrhoea. It also reduces the risk of travel sickness for those dog’s who struggle with car journeys.

Pumpkin is one of the most healthy foods a dog can eat. Packed with crucial minerals and vitamins, especially vitamins A, C and E. Pumpkin helps to maintain your dog’s coat, skin and eyes and it strengthens the immune system as a whole. It’s a fantastic addition to your dog’s diet!

Ground Flax Seed helps to fight against dry, flaky skin in dogs. It is also full of fibre, antioxidants and is another fantastic source of Omega 3 for your happy hound!

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Are You Ready to ‘Take a Tinkle’?

Diabetes is a growing problem not just in humans but also in our pets. Weight loss, excessive hunger and increased water intake are common signs.

As part of Pet Diabetes Month, our practice is offering free urine screening tests for diabetes. The procedure is both simple and pain free, and you can pick up a leaflet containing the test strip and do it yourself at home. Through this method, you may be able to detect if your dog or cat has diabetes (also known as sugar diabetes).

You will be provided with instructions on how to use the test when your pet goes to ‘Take a Tinkle’- it’s very simple and you will have the result in around one minute.

Should your pet’s urine test positive, we can readily provide all the advice and assistance you’ll need.

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FIREWORKS it’s that time of year again!

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it can be a very distressing time of the year, for both pets and their owners. Over 40% of dogs in the UK are reported to suffer with a fear of fireworks. It should also be remembered that cats will also suffer with the fireworks.

Animals who do differ with firework phobias will display a range of problems, varying from those animals who simply bark at the fireworks to try and make them go away, those that hide from them, those that show obvious signs of distress, right through to those that appear to freeze. For us as owners, these signs can be greatly distressing to see. Yet for the animals this fear will not only cause emotional trauma, but often lead to physical injuries as well.

So what do we, as pet owners, do to try and reduce the problems our animals suffer due to firework phobias? Simply put, there is not one simple solution. Yet, by adopting numerous strategies, we should be able make this time of year easier for our cats and dogs.

The following strategies may apply to a greater or lesser extent to certain individual situations, and often many different approaches need to be taken at the same time.

1. If at all possible avoid the fireworks, which is easier said than done these days. If you do have a friend who lives in a remote area consider spending time with them on the worst of the fireworks, for example when the local display is on. Sadly, we all known that now firework night seems to last many weeks.

2. To reduce the impact of the sound of fireworks you can try to create competing noises such as loud music. Remember not to play this too loudly as this noises itself may end up causing anxiety. In extreme cases noise-cancelling headphone can be used. Mutt Muffs are available through www.safeandsoundpets.com

3. It may seem obvious, but do close blinds and curtains well before any fireworks start to reduce the effects the sights the fireworks have on our animals.

4. Absolutely avoid any form of punishment. This will simple lead to more anxiety and even cause your pet to become aggressive.

5. Comforting you animal when they are scared is a controversial area. Definitely try to be at home during any known firework events. Although you shouldn’t pet or over fuss your animal when they are worried, as this can reinforce the fearful behaviour, it may help some pets to hold them firmly and lean into them, while using long, form massaging strokes, rather than normal petting.

6. Create a safe haven cover an indoor crate with a blanket and put their bedding and one or two familiar toys inside. This will become a darkened den for them in which to hide, but it’s a good idea to try to get them used to this area before firework season.

7. In many situations the most helpful method to help control firework phobias is through the use of a technique called desensitisation and counter conditioning. Essentially, this is getting your pets used to the sounds of fireworks by playing a CD at a volume that doesn’t provoke a fearful reaction, and rewarding them for this non-reaction. The volume is gradually increased, and a strict programme followed over several weeks to months. This needs to be, therefore, started well before firework season and should not be undertaken if fireworks are likely to start soon. One of the most successful programs is Sounds Scary and is available through www.soundtherapy4pets.co.uk for less than £10. If your pet suffers from firework phobia we would strongly recommend purchasing this now and to start the program in the New Year once all the fireworks have finished, and to then consider repeating the program next summer.

8. Various medications are available to reduce our pets anxieties. These medications are used alongside a behaviour modification plan such as the desensitisation and counter conditioning described above, and need to be started weeks or months prior to the fireworks starting. Often at the hospital we asked at the last minute to supply something to help to calm pets. Medications are available that reduce anxiety in the short term, and will help at the time but have no lasting effect as your pet will again suffer with the same fears next year. A key point for owners is not to be scared to use these drugs. By not medicating animals when appropriate we may be simply prolonging their suffering.

9. Pheromone treatments area available such as Adaptil. These are available as a plug-in, collar and now a tablet and may help some dogs, but not all.

10. Dietary supplements such as omega-3 supplements, zylkene and calmex again may help some dogs with mild phobias.

11. It is now possible to purchase a tight fighting wrap such as an Anxiety Wrap which is design to apply constant pressure to help relax muscles. Studies suggest these may help some, but not all, dogs. They are available through www.anxietywrap.com.

12. To date there has been no study which has successfully shown any definite beneficial effect for behavioural change for any homeopathic treatment studied in companion animals.

The expected outcome for helping animals with firework phobia should be good if we follow and commit to a thorough desensitisation program. This will take time and patience. It has also been recognised that many animals who suffer with firework phobia also experience other behavioural issues such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Separation Anxiety. If you feel this may apply to you and if you are truly committed to your animal’s emotional well-being, there are many qualified people to help both you and your pet. Don’t be frightened to ask for help!

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