Couch-potato lifestyles and harmful junk food diets, scraps and treats are threatening the health of millions of pets. Now, leading pet welfare experts are warning that flat-faced dogs are at increased risk from the effects of piling on the pounds, and are urging owners to take action.

According to the PDSA, almost half of dogs (48 percent) are overweight or obese, huge numbers of our four-legged friends are sadly suffering devastating health problems as a result. Heart issues, arthritis, joint problems, diabetes and the daily struggle of carrying too much weight to enjoy life may all be associated with obesity and are issues that are seen every day by vets and vet nurses across the country.

But of the many types of dogs affected, flat-faced breeds such as Pugs, and English Bulldogs, are at even higher risk of developing potentially fatal health problems from being overweight or obese. The Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) – made up of leading experts in dog health and welfare, veterinary organisations, charities and breed clubs – is urging all owners to ask for their vet’s advice on how to check their pet’s weight and body condition.

Chair of the BWG, Dr. Dan O’Neill said to the PDSA: “Obesity is one of the most common disorders affecting our dogs, according to Royal Veterinary College VetCompass research. But while obesity can harm any dog, it is of particular concern for flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs. Many of these dogs already struggle to breathe freely because of their squashed faces, which leads to snoring and noisy breathing. Consequently, excess bodyweight with fat deposits in the neck and chest only worsens these breathing problems in flat-faced dogs.

“To highlight the scale of this problem, VetCompass research has shown that obesity is the single most common disorder in Pugs. Given the unique issues relating to obesity in Pugs, Cambridge University have developed a breed-specific body condition scoring chart for Pugs. The volume of evidence showing that obesity is so common and harmful means that obesity cannot be ignored; it is a real and present danger, especially for flat-faced breeds. BWG has therefore identified preventing and managing obesity as a key priority for improving the welfare of brachycephalic breeds.“

The annual PDSA PAW Report cited obesity as one of the most concerning issues facing pets in the UK according to a survey of veterinary professionals by the British Veterinary Association and the British Veterinary Nursing Association. Additionally, a Pet Food Manufacturing Association (PFMA) survey of veterinary professionals highlighted that all vets were concerned about the high frequency of pet obesity and 74 percent believed that its frequency had increased in the last five years.

Sean Wensley, PDSA Senior Vet and BVA Past President, commenting on the obesity epidemic said: “Pets are usually regarded as family members and owners often express their love by giving food and treats. Coupled with a lack of exercise, this is having a devastating effect on our pets, but flat-faced dogs are in particular danger of developing breathing problems.

“Prevention is always better than cure. But even if pets are already overweight or obese, the good news is that it can be reversed with the right diet and exercise advice from veterinary professionals. We would urge owners to speak to their vet or vet nurse to get the help and guidance they need to help their pets lead a healthier and happier life.”

Dr. Dan O’Neill concluded: “Owners love their dogs but are often completely oblivious that their dog is overweight or is suffering from obesity. We hope that by raising awareness of this issue, we can help more owners recognise obesity as a serious problem and encourage them to seek veterinary advice.”