"THE search for the fattest pets is on".

They are the words of an animal welfare organisation as they look to tackle the obesity crisis of pets in the region.

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) say that a ‘couch-potato’ lifestyle and excessive food consumption is fuelling a four-legged crisis.

To help tackle the problem, the charity is searching for the chubbiest cats, dogs and rabbits in the south east as it launches its annual pet slimming contest.

Now in its 13th year, the national competition has helped 124 obese pets lose a total of 71 stone since its launch in 2005.

PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman said: “Sadly the UK’s pet population is suffering from an obesity epidemic.

“Latest scientific literature shows that at least a third of dogs and a quarter of cats are clinically overweight or obese, but the true figures could be as high as 40 per cent, making obesity one of the most common medical diseases seen by vets.

“It is a ticking time bomb that will have drastic consequences for our pets.”

Pets chosen for the fit club are placed on a six-month diet and exercise programme and overseen by vets and nurses.

Rebecca added: “Pets that couldn’t climb stairs or fit through cat flaps have been given a new lease of life.

“Prevention is definitely better than cure, but if owners are worries about their pet’s weight, it is never too late to do something about it.

“With the right advice, a good diet, suitable exercise and a bit of willpower, owners have the ability to make a real difference to their pet’s health, happiness and life expectancy.

“The charity is urging all owners with pets carrying a few too many pounds to enter them in pet fit club.”

Up to 15 overweight cats, dogs and rabbits will be chosen to take part.

Owners can apply online to be selected for the club at pdsa.org.uk/petfitclub.