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Get your pet healthy this National Pet Month!

Published: Friday, April 4, 2014

It’s National Pet Month so we are urging pet owners to ensure their pets are in tip top health.

13 million households in the UK have pets with dogs, cats and rabbits being the most popular choices of furry companions. However, the Burns annual pet census recently revealed we don’t have great knowledge of our pets’ nutritional needs or how to spot their most common ailments.

Fiona Firth, Burns Head Nutritionist is advising pet owners on the most common symptoms to look out for in our pets and how we should be treating and feeding them.


The Burns pet census demonstrated 83% of cat owners in the South East don’t believe their pet suffers from excessive moulting, tooth tartar, itchy skin or cystitis. But could this suggest they haven’t spotted the signs? Fiona Firth explains ‘Some of these ailments are harder to spot and may be overlooked. Cystitis and tooth tartar may not be as obvious to cat owners but both are common. If you have noticed your cat is being caught short or there are traces of blood in its urine, it is possible they may have cystitis.

Tooth tartar and dental disease is also prevalent in cats. Plaque is the main cause and the best stage to spot dental health problems to prevent the problem progressing. Initially the plaque layer is not readily visible, but it can be revealed by using a ‘disclosing solution’. As a plaque layer develops it may be noticeable as a soft, grey or white film on the tooth surface.

Also look out for loss of appetite. This often affects older cats but they don’t show discomfort, even when dental problems are quite severe. Cats rarely show they are in pain but signs to be aware of are: salivation, reduced grooming and less exertion.’


Dogs are our most popular choice of furry companion in but we could be loving them too much when it comes to treats. Only 9% of dog owners surveyed in the South East treat their dogs with walks, whereas 62% feed their pets doggy delicacies.

Fiona explains ‘it is wise to be mindful of the pet obesity epidemic, many pet owners overfeed when their dog’s ribs are easily felt and they have an abdominal tuck after their rib cage. But this is in fact an ideal weight. Incorporating a walk as a doggy treat where possible is ideal for overweight dogs.’

Another surprising statistic is that 47% of dog owners choose their dog’s diet based on price. Cheaper foods have been closely examined recently in ‘The Truth about Your Dog’s Food’ documentary. In particular, unclear labelling and the exact ingredients included in dogs food have been under scrutiny.

Fiona advises ‘the chemical preservatives in dry foods have been thought to be carcinogenic and are often labelled as ‘antioxidants’. Meaning many pet owners feed their pets a diet with chemical preservatives and don’t even realise. She adds ‘cheap foods are generally made with cheap ingredients. Unsurprisingly, they are poorer quality and often actually have higher daily feeding amounts than better quality diets. So aren’t as economical to feed as expected.’


20% of rabbit owners, surveyed didn’t realise their rabbits need fresh hay every day. Furthermore, 20% didn’t know the nutritional values to look for when selecting their rabbit’s diet.‘

Fibre is crucial and the best sources are grass and hay’ Fiona says. ‘This should form 80% of your rabbit’s diet and hay should be available all the time. Some vegetables such as brussel sprouts or broccoli are more gas forming and should be fed in moderation to avoid causing bloat.

Feed plenty of grass, safe wild plants and fresh or dry herbs. Dried rabbit food is generally high in starch and low in fibre. If your rabbit eats too much it can cause digestive problems. The dry food should only form 5% of an adult rabbit’s diet.’

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