This is the time of year when diets go out of the window, and most of us enjoy unadulterated pleasure in festive food.

At a time of economic hardship, though, some families may not be able to afford the usual extravagances; but a survey by Barclaycard showed that despite rising food prices nearly 20 per cent of dog owners refused to budget when it comes to their pet’s happiness.

And some nine per cent have cut back on their own expenses to avoid reducing the budget for their pets.

The value of the dog food market in the UK has reached around £1.84 billion in 2023, making it the most lucrative pet food market segment, and cat food has followed in second place with a value of £1.43 billion.

Although all pet food has gone up in price, it’s the premium end of the market that has seen most ‘petflation’. Gourmet, organic and ‘sustainably-sourced’ dog and cat food is increasingly popular, as are more exotic meat ingredients such as venison, duck and rabbit. And the names given to some of the premium brand foods are very tempting (to the human eye, at least): ‘turkey casserole’, ‘cottage pie’, ‘lamb hotpot’, for example.

But is humanising what we give our pets simply a clever marketing tactic rather than what’s best for them? Whatever we feed our pets, many of us are giving our beloved companions far too much food – we’re literally killing them with kindness.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says that its members report a continued rise in pet obesity which it defines as a condition in which excess body fat has developed to the point that the animal’s health is adversely affected by it. It says that overweight pets have a shortened lifespan and are predisposed to painful and debilitating health conditions.

A study by Direct Line insurance found that pugs were the dog breed most likely to be overweight, with three quarters defined as fat by vets.

More than half of boxers were too heavy, with golden retrievers next most likely to be overweight. The pet insurance industry has a vested interest in this research because pet obesity causes joint issues, diabetes, and heart and respiratory problems. These problems not only cause huge suffering for the animals concerned, but they result in substantial vet bills, many of which the insurance companies will need to cover.

Pet owners must accept responsibility. All too often people give their pets human food, such as cheese and bacon which are high in fat and calories.

About 30 grams of cheese for a cat is the equivalent of three chocolate bars for a human. The pet food industry also has to take its fair share of blame. It actively markets calorie-filled, over-priced treats and is encouraging pet owners to spoil their beloved animals more than ever over Christmas.

As with overweight humans the answer is, of course, that if a pet takes sufficient exercise and has a calorie-controlled diet then he or she will have a healthy body weight.

Becki, the cat pictured, used to be very overweight when she lived with an elderly gentleman who then went into a care home. She was rehomed over a year ago, and was put on a strict diet, but has just returned to our cattery because she didn’t get on with the new kitten. Poor Becky. She’s thirteen years old and really deserves to find her ‘forever home’ where she will need to be the only pet. She has always lived as an indoor cat, and is very sweet and affectionate towards her human friends – a real lap cat.

Because indoor cats are less active than their outdoor cousins, they are more prone to weight gain, and so Becki’s new owners will have to be disciplined when it comes to feeding time, and provide her with lots of enrichment, such as cat trees and toys, that encourages her to be energetic.