ABSTRACT: Many nurses will spend a good proportion of their time seeing overweight pets and advising on weight reduction as part of a controlled weight programme, often run through nursing clinics within the practice. It was in recognition of this and the nursing profession's position as a key stakeholder in controlling pet obesity, that the BVNA was approached by the Pet Obesity Task Force (POTF) to enlist our help in a survey investigating attitudes to obesity and its control.

The task force was conceived in 2008 as an expert, UK-based ‘think-tank’ with the aim of reducing the level of pet obesity in the UK through raising awareness, improving knowledge and changing attitudes and human behaviour. It has adopted a scientific approach to the problem and works through a steering committee made up of professionals involved in animal healthcare and welfare, including our own BVNA representative, Nicola Ackerman, from Plymouth Vets who gives a key nursing perspective.

The survey went out to our e-database of 3,086 members, and we received a healthy 207 replies, making up 64 per cent of the overall responses. Because of this substantial number of vet nurse replies, the team was able to draw some clear conclusions on the attitudes and experiences of obesity within the nursing community in particular.

Perceptions of prevalence

The first part of the survey looked at perceptions of the prevalence of pet obesity in the UK and interestingly, a significant percentage of nurses (62%) thought that over half of the dogs in the UK were overweight, and 45 per cent believed over half of the cats to be so also. Vet nurses also considered that there was a high prevalence of obese animals in the population, and interestingly, their estimates were significantly higher in both the overweight and obese categories than other stakeholders, including vets.

When asked how they perceived the prevalence of obesity to be changing, seven out of 10 considered it to have increased significantly over the last decade, again differing markedly from the perception of vets.

The task force says that it’s difficult from their information to be able to account for this difference in opinion. It may be that VNs deal with obesity much more in practice and, quite literally, see it as a much bigger problem than vets.

Overall attitudes

Part of the survey involved a range of statements about obesity, against which respondents were asked to state their level of agreement. There was general agreement amongst vet nurses that obesity is an important welfare issue and most disagreed that it is less of a welfare issue than other diseases in the dog and cat. When asked to rate how important obesity rated compared to other welfare issues, such as cruelty and neglect, 43 per cent felt that obesity was more important.

Causal factors

Respondents were asked to list the five factors that they considered to be the most important causes of obesity and amongst the most common first/most important

stated cause from vet nurses was overfeeding of pets (30%) and owner ignorance as to what to feed their pet (14%). Lack of exercise (6%) and interestingly, owners feeding the wrong diet for the type of animal (7%) also featured. One per cent of respondents cited medical factors, such as arthritis, as the most important cause.

Important characteristics of owners were also noted; and amongst the characteristics cited as first/most important, 22 per cent mentioned the owner’s own weight as being important and their lifestyle (sedentary/active).

The owner’s attitude/willingness to take on advice was rated as most important by five per cent, along with their education level/understanding (6%).


When asked about owner compliance, vet nurses tended to think that owners were poorly compliant with weight loss programmes, with 83 per cent in agreement on this. Eight out of 10 agreed that more resource should be put into prevention of obesity and 99 per cent agreed that education was a key factor in reducing levels of obesity.

More information contact Nicola Ackerman on icolaa@plymouthvets.co.uk.

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 25 • No6 • June 2010 •