While researchers cant be sure that playing less is directly to blame, they say that games provide vital intellectual stimulation and exercise.

London - Millions of dog owners neglect their pets, failing even to take them on proper walks, a study claims.

More than one in three dogs are not allowed to run around off the lead every day, it found.

Fewer than ever are given enough exercise, fuelling an explosion in canine obesity with about a third of pet dogs now obese.

A spokesperson for the charity PDSA, which carried out the study, said it made for “ill, lonely, aggressive, stressed and obese pets”.

Nearly a quarter of homes have a dog but 35 percent, or 2.7million, do not get off-lead exercise every day, a rise of 600 000 since 2011.

The proportion of dogs regularly left alone for more than five hours rose from 18 percent to 25 percent in the same period – meaning around 1.9 million are alone for long times.

Vets say this can lead to behaviour problems including constant barking, chewing and destroying things.

Stephen Goward, a behaviourist at charity Dogs Trust, said: “Dogs need the company of other animals and of humans. They also need daily running off the lead and the freedom to explore new places.”

More than half of owners still feed their dogs leftovers, the study found, breaching health guidelines.

PDSA said most pet owners are not aware of animals’ needs, but added: “What is not in question is the love people have for their pets.” Among owners, 91 percent said it was important to monitor pets’ health.

Nicola Martin, head of pet welfare at PDSA, said: “Signs pets are suffering and are not happy aren’t always as obvious as people might think.

“For example, a dog being fed treats may outwardly show signs of happiness, but what this will be doing inside in terms of weight gain and associated health problems that can develop, such as arthritis and heart disease, can be devastating.”

She said six in ten pet owners are not aware of laws on pet ownership and the basic things every animal needs to be healthy and happy.

The report also found that one in four cats is overweight and millions are not vaccinated against diseases.

About 65 percent of rabbits are left to live alone even though they are sociable and need other rabbits.

Polling firm YouGov surveyed 2 149 pet owners, 555 children and 459 vets for the PDSA’s animal wellbeing report. The charity has urged animal owners to use its new online tool to check their pets’ welfare. - Daily Mail