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The owner’s perspective


Carole Sweeney attributed her pet cat’s weight gain to his advancing age. But a trip to her local veterinary practice revealed complicated underlying causes – and gave her techniques to address them.

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When her children were babies and cried because they were hungry, Carole Sweeney hurried to feed them. So when her Burmese cat Elvis did the same, she did the same. It meant that soon she was filling up his food bowl every time it was empty and, over time, Elvis’ weight crept up.

‘It really took my family to say Elvis is getting fat,’ remembers Carole. ‘They said they thought I should take him to the vet.’

A visit to Glasgow Shamrock Street PDSA Pet Hospital revealed that Elvis tipped the scales at almost 23 pounds – about 14 more than his ideal weight. ‘His stomach was literally dragging on the floor and he was sleeping maybe 20, 22 hours a day,’ reflects Carole now. ‘The rest of the two hours was just feeding. He used to follow me about crying constantly.’

His condition got to that point gradually, she says. ‘I kind of put it to the back of my head, thinking: “Oh, he’s getting older”, but not realising the actual damage I was doing.’

With the support of staff at the pet hospital, and food supplied by Dechra, Carole put Elvis on a strict calorie-controlled diet and set about changing his lifestyle. She found it challenging – ‘foolishly I’d just been filling up his bowl, never weighing it out, and it was difficult not to give in’ – but several key factors helped along the way. One of the most crucial: the ability to understand the progress being made.

‘He was getting weighed every month, and that was important.

‘Every four weeks they were saying he’d lost more and more, and it was such a boost. They were taking photos of him, and they were always complimenting me for being so good with him and for sticking to what they told me on how much to feed him.’

She was also provided with an information sheet showing the human equivalent of certain treats or amounts of food, something she said was eye opening. ‘I think if you give them five of the small treats its like the equivalent of giving them three or four hamburgers. It’s absolutely shocking. It’s so, so easy to fall into that trap. I did.’

A scoop to judge quantities and specific instructions on how much food Elvis needed, along with tips on how to make him more active, also made a difference. ‘Even when he was a kitten, he was never one for toys,’ muses Carole.

He would actually be lying on the ground just tapping it, because he couldn’t sit up straight or stand up without being out of breath

The PDSA staff encouraged using one toy at a time. ‘First we started him off with a ball with a bell in it. He would actually be lying on the ground just tapping it, because he couldn’t sit up straight or stand up without being out of breath.’

In time, Elvis was playing with a range of toys, and for longer each day. And if he wanted to eat, Elvis had to use a puzzle feeder, which required him to use more energy.

Today Elvis is just one pound off his ideal weight. ‘He’s an entirely different cat,’ reports Carole. ‘He’s more mobile, he’s more healthy, his coat is fantastic.’

Understanding owner behaviour

About 60 per cent of people in the UK have a close emotional bond with their animal.

‘That means the risk factors we’re talking about in terms of obesity apply to 60 per cent of your clients. They’re not odd, unusual things, therefore – they’re common things.’

Jon Bowen, lead for behavioural medicine referral service, Royal Veterinary College

She is convinced that, had it not been for the support of staff at the PDSA, Elvis would no longer be alive. ‘I think he would have passed away last year. And it was all down to my own foolishness.’

The harshness of the way in which she describes the cause of Elvis’ weight gain is striking – in a half-hour conversation, Carole mentions her foolishness more than once and characterises herself as stupid at another point – but talk through the reasoning for it and it’s clear the overfeeding was in many ways entirely logical.

‘They’re part of your family, and you’re thinking to yourself you would feed your baby if it was hungry,’ she says. ‘So you’re doing the same thing with your animal, not realising [the damage].’

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