Obese pets are fighting the flab at vets in Northwich

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A campaign has been launched in Cheshire to help portly pooches and fat cats win the battle of the bulge.

Abbeycroft Veterinary Surgery in Northwich has set up the county’s first weight management centre to combat an epidemic of pet obesity.

It’s a big problem because the latest studies show that more than half of dogs and cats in the UK are currently overweight or obese.

The surgery in Station Road, which is part of the independent Willows Veterinary Group, is Cheshire’s first practice to achieve approval as a Royal Canin approved pet weight management centre.

Just like humans, obesity in animals is linked to a shorter lifespan and a variety of health problems including diabetes, arthritis, heart and respiratory diseases.

Around 60 cats and dogs have now embarked on their own tailor-made, weight watching journey with Abbeycroft’s head nurse Katie Hartnoll.

Abbeycroft is a partner surgery in the independent Willows Veterinary Group.

The group offers a wealth of knowledge and expertise through 24 small animal practices, a referral veterinary hospital, two equine centres and a five-office farm practice which are located across Cheshire and into the Wirral and Staffordshire. Willows is accredited by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Four legged patients at the Abbeycroft surgery embark on a series of regular visits to Katie, for a small start-up fee of £20, where they are assessed, weighed and their owners are given expert advice on their exercise and nutrition.

They are given a starting body condition score from one to nine with seven, eight and nine rated as obese.

So successful has the programme been since it started at the end of last year, that 11 of Abbeycroft’s registered podgy pets have reached their target weight with an ideal body condition score of now four or five.

Katie, who has worked as a veterinary nurse for 13 years, said: “We are definitely seeing very overweight pets more and more and in most cases, it is nothing to do with owners not loving or caring for their animals. Often the reverse is true.

“It’s the relationship which owners have with their pets. They feel they are not providing enough love if they don’t reward them all the time with treats.

“One owner told me she was feeding her dog Viennese whirls every day and this seemed a loving thing to do because the dog clearly enjoyed it.

“It’s a common problem that owners spoil their much-loved pets with human food. They’ll have a Sunday roast at the same time as the rest of the family and owners will want them to have the same sort of variety in their diet as we do.

“But it’s simply not necessary and in fact, most animals actually thrive much better with regularity in their diet. They don’t need all the choice and they don’t look forward to a Sunday dinner like we do.”

Katie, a mum-of-two from Middlewich, who has a Staffordshire bull terrier called Rhia, specialises in animal nutrition and oversaw the surgery’s approval as a pet weight management centre.

The scheme is sponsored by Royal Canin pet food manufacturers and staff underwent an intensive three months of advanced training and assessment in pet body condition scoring and nutrition.

Katie said: “What we try to do is work with the owners to find a suitable new regime which helps the pet to lose weight and keep it off. This can involve a combination of exercise and diet but sometimes this might not always be possible.

“For example, it might be an elderly owner who can’t up the exercise and in that case, we can work very closely with them to change the diet to help improve things.

“The main thing is that we don’t want people to feel embarrassed or feel that they have failed if they have to come and see us.

“It can be challenging to manage a pet’s weight but we are here to help every step of the way and the rewards for us all are a much happier, healthier pet with an improved quality of life.”

Pets who make it to their target weight are rewarded with a rosette and certificate.

A doggy duo who are rather proud of their slimming success with Katie and have earned their honours are housemates Sebastian, a nine-year-old Jack Russell, and Moffi, an 11 year-old Belgian Shepherd cross who have reached their target weights.

Both have a bit of a weakness for cheese with Sebastian always choosing Cheddar or Edam and Moffi, who lived out in France with her owners Jacqueline and Pete Nicholson for seven years, preferring brie.

They were also extremely effective high chair hoovers for Jacqueline and Pete’s grandson, 18-month-old Austin. Sebastian is owned by their daughter Helen and her husband Jon. The family all live together in Skelmersdale along with the family’s third dog Molly a two-year-old dachshund who is chasing the others to reach her weight goal too.

Both Sebastian and Moffi were given a score of eight when they first visited Katie and classed as obese. Since then Sebastian has shed more than two kilos and Moffi has lost almost five. Their combined weight loss is the equivalent of around seven bags of sugar or a whopping 14 blocks of large cheddar.

Jacqueline said: “The difference in them is wonderful. They are both more active, which is important as they move into the later part of their lives. Their coats are really, really good and their toilet stops are noticeably improved which makes keeping the garden cleaner a lot easier, especially now my grandson Austin is moving around.

“I have also noticed that Moffi just seems a much happier dog. She looks full of life and I think her weight was getting her down. She obviously just feels so much better and it is lovely to see.

“Katie is lovely and has been a terrific support with it all. She keeps you on the ball but she doesn’t talk down to you. You feel like she is on your side and I don’t think any of us would have been anywhere near as motivated without her encouragement.

“We are still working with her now to ensure the weight stays off.”

One of Abbeycroft’s feline success stories is black and white cat Amber whose rather laid back approach to life has been one of the contributing factors to her expanding waistline.

The pampered puss has shed an impressive 420 grams of weight, the equivalent of almost two blocks of butter or a family size packet of ham, which was her favourite treat before her diet started.

It has brought the nine-year-old cat down a full point on the body condition score from an overweight 6 to an ideal 5.

Owner Anne Tedford, 65, a retired social services council support worker, who lives with her husband John, 59, and daughter, Amanda, 27, in Weaverham, said: “Birds, squirrels, anything you might expect her to fancy chasing, just walk past Amber and she just lies there watching them. Hunting is not her thing and far too much effort. She is at her happiest, curled up on one of my husband’s jumpers on the bed.

“She is a very affectionate cat. We got her from the RSPCA and when we went to choose one, she leapt up on to my daughter Amanda’s knee and made it quite clear she would be happy to come home with us. She’s been good at tugging on our heart strings ever since!”

Amber’s preference for an easy life has not helped with her weight gain so her caring family have changed to a strict feeding regime.

“Amber would know how to get more than one meal out of us. We would all come in separately and she would be straight up meowing as if she hadn’t been fed so whoever had come home would give her something.

“When she came to us as a rescue cat, she was underweight and is quite fussy with her food so I think that also contributed to her becoming too heavy. Now I have a sign up on the wall with the exact food she is allowed and when so nobody has any excuse to overfeed her.

“I’m the strong one and my husband and daughter still want to give her bits of ham but I have been really tough and insisted that we all stick to it and it really has worked.

“She has started to jump up on things again a lot more now and before she was walking slower and looking older. It’s rewarding to see her look so well and know we have improved her health as she starts to get older.

“Katie has been a great support and I don’t think we would have achieved anywhere near the same result because I really wouldn’t have known where to start with what to feed her. She’s very kind with Amber too and I think both of us have looked forward to the appointments because Katie makes such a fuss of us.”

For more information and to get in contact with Katie call Abbeycroft Veterinary Surgery on 01606 40332 or email abbeycroft@willowsvetgroup.co.uk

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