How can pet owners keep their furry friends healthy and not 'give in to those puppy dog eyes'?

Dog Sadie shed a quarter of her body weight to be crowned joint slimmer of the year. Credit: PDSA/PA

More often than not pet owners only visit the vet when it's absolutely necessary.

But as the new year approaches, it's the perfect time to discuss doggy diets and how to champion pet weight loss like the winners of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals' (PDSA) annual Pet Fit Club awards.

Olivia Anderson-Nathan, a vet at the charity, has shared some advice on keeping your pet healthy and how not to "give in to those puppy dog eyes."

She told ITV News that owners could always be doing more to keep their pets trim and away from overindulging on treats.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, the key to a keeping your hound healthy is similar to how any human would approach the lifestyle change.

Ms Anderson-Nathan said: "Diet is energy in, exercise is energy out.

"I think both are important, it might be different from pet to pet but it is similar to humans."

  • What should owners do to keep their pet healthy?

Vets can provide a tailored plan and specialised diet. Credit: PA

Regularly visit your vet

The worst thing an owner could do is put off a visit to the vet, she told us.

Ms Anderson-Nathan cautioned: "You don't want to make any assumptions, visit your vet to get a tailored plan and specialised diet."

But much can be done at home to spot if something is wrong with your animal.

"With dogs, you should be able to see their ribs if they are not covered in a thick coat of fur. Their spine should not be visible but you should be able to feel it if you touch it without too much force," she added.

Adopt new feeding techniques

You can bring out your cats inner tiger by placing their meals in high places, thereby encouraging them to forage for their food and keep active, according to Ms Anderson-Nathan.

But if your cat is more of a Garfield, now's the time to gift them a Christmas treat from the range of products designed to make feeding time fun.

Ms Anderson-Nathan suggests: "Buying a maze, snuffle mat or playing scent games can help to get all your pet's senses going.

"Ultimately it's thinking about how you can give enrichment to their mealtimes and routine."

Know your pet's habits

Not everyone has the time or space to exercise their pet but - like with people - keeping active can improve their mood.

Ms Anderson-Nathan told us: "You don't want to go from couch potato to running marathons. Like with people, you will end up with an unhappy pet."

Lazy pets could benefit by starting off with just 10-minutes of exercise a day and slowly increasing their activity.And with many exotic animals who hibernate, it can be hard to tell if they will cope with the cold weather.

It is important for owners who choose not to hibernate their pets to seek the advice from specialist vets to prevent them from under or overeating.

For creatures like snakes and bearded dragons, Ms Anderson-Nathan said: "It's more unusual for them to be overweight and I would advise speaking to an exotic pet specialist but it's important to know what makes them move and not move."

Sadie was crowned joint slimmer of the year by the PDSA after she successfully shed the pounds. Credit: PDSA/PA

Learning from other owners, the joint PDSA slimmers of the year have come a long way with the help of experts.

Labrador Sadie and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Borris both lost a quarter of their body weight.

Borris' owner Annmarie Formoy admitted that her formerly obese dog munched his way through too many sweets - and Annmarie's dad's false teeth - seeing his weight climb to a whopping 28kg.

After six months of shedding the pounds, Borris' owner said: "The best part was the first time that I saw Borris taking his first few running steps, it made me want to cry, I was so happy."

Even Annmarie's other pet - cat Charlie - noticed Borris' improved physique adding: “Before, she used to creep up and hit Borris with a paw and he was too fat too fight back. Now she thinks twice about it as he will chase her up the stairs.”

More owners have brought their pet rabbits to PDSA vets recently for weight management advice. Credit: PA

Even smaller furry friends are piling on the pounds, with the PDSA revealing that there has been an increase in pet rabbits who have hopped into their clinic for help with weight management.

Owners are getting it wrong by supplementing their rabbits diet with alternatives to fresh hay, making them overeat and lazy.

"80-90% of their diet should be hay, if you get the diet right for rabbits they will be more active," Ms Anderson-Nathan said.

  • What are the worst things an owner can do?

Vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan warns not to give in to your pets. Credit: Unsplash

"Give in to those puppy dog eyes"

Christmas dinner leftovers should stay on the plate if owners are not factoring the extra calories into a pet's ordinary diet.

Pet owners need to not "give in to those puppy dog eyes" and dish out the treats with caution.

Ms Anderson-Nathan added: "Cut down their ration of food if you are giving them treats, it's about balance."

Not weigh their food every day

A common misconception is that a couple of bowls of pet food is all they need to get through the day.

But every pet is different and the best way to encourage healthy eating is to weigh their food according to their breed and size.

Ms Anderson-Nathan advised: "When you're feeding them look at the packet rather than guessing the weight out everyday."

Change too much too soon

With both diet and exercise, overweight pets need to adjust to change gradually - cutting too much from their diet can mean they will not get enough vitamins and minerals.

"Even if a cat does not eat for a couple of days it will become unwell, you should be giving them some calories," Ms Anderson-Nathan warned.

Introducing small steps to get your pet moving will encourage your them to adopt healthier habits.

She added: "Over time they will build up their stamina. If you're realistic you can't go too far wrong."

Introducing small steps to get your pet moving will encourage your them to adopt healthier habits. Credit: Unsplash

Changing a pet's routine is not easy but the first steps any owner should take is to visit a vet to note any changes in their behaviour before it's too late.

The pet charity PDSA tour the UK with a PetCheck service so dog owners can get advice on how to keep their pooch happy and healthy.