This week, the animal charity PDSA warned about the growing number of obese pets in Britain: 80% of veterinary professionals reported seeing a rise in overweight cats, dogs, rodents and rabbits brought into their surgeries over the past two years. About one in three dogs, one in four cats and one in four rabbits weigh more than they ought to. As a result, weight-related illnesses are also on the rise: heart disease, arthritis, certain types of cancer and, yes, diabetes among them. Just like us, our pets have become overfed and under-exercised.
My cat, Dollface, was never tiny. Not even when she was three months old and I carried her home in a cardboard box. She looked then like a six-month-old, somewhere between kittenhood and an adult, as if she just had to grow into her ears.
That first week the vet – who had giant bags of kibble stacked up in his waiting room – recommended an all-dry diet, but I felt uneasy about this and fed her the way my family had always fed cats: with a mixture of wet food and crunchy biscuits.
She loved biscuits. Loved them with a mad, caterwauling passion. She would sit by her empty bowl and call out for them, shrill and insistent, like a small black and white seagull. But her appetite – and my willingness to cater to it – seemed less problematic when she spent so much time dancing about the garden, leaping over fences and climbing up and down trees.
But when I left my office job and began working from home, her routine changed too. Instead of days spent largely outside, she liked to be in the house, chattering away to me, trying her best to sprawl over my laptop. And when we moved into a flat with outside access but no long run of lawn for her to pelt along, things changed again: she would go out on nightly adventures across the rooftops, and exuberantly chase her collection of toy mice around the room, but her physical exercise reduced further while her diet remained precisely the same.
Last summer, when she was eight, she became profoundly thirsty, knocking over her water glass in her fury to drink more, climbing into the sink, sitting beneath the bath taps with her face upturned. It was a hot week, and I thought she was merely trying to cool down. But then she began to seem strangely drowsy – taking a long time to wake up, her eyes glassy, staggering a little when she walked.
I hurried her to the vet where, several blood tests later, I learned she was in the early stages of diabetes and would require insulin shots for the rest of her life. I burst into tears in the consulting room, a mingling of worry and shame. And it still stings on hearing of our nation’s overweight pet problem today.