Many people come into my clinic all  the time with overweight dogs and I try to convince them of their dog’s problem. “Hey, I should have charged you two consultation fee,” I tell them. “After all you’ve got two dogs in one skin!” Or a little more subtle, “Oh, what a novel idea, you’ve got a moving coffee table!”

Many of my owners reply by saying, “I just  haven’t been able to exercise him much lately.” Or you really know that the dog is in trouble when they ask, “You don’t really think he’s that fat, do you?” The biggest part of the problem is the owner. If the owner admits their dog is too fat, then the problem can be addressed. If not, then the dog will die sooner rather than later.

One of the longest pet food studies ever conducted was by a dog food manufacturer in the USA. Two large groups of dogs were tested. One group was fed as much food as they wanted. Many of these dogs were labradors so you can imagine how much they ate. No dogs were allowed to become so overweight that they would unduly suffer, but many were the weight of any average size pet at home. The second group were fed two-thirds of the amount eaten by the first group. These dogs were thinner, some might even say skinny but none ever become so thin that they were unhealthy. The outcome of the study that not only were the thinner dogs were much more active but they all outlived the dogs in the fat group by many years.

If you’re not sure whether you dog is overweight talk to you vet, ask some experienced breeders and check some references about your breed of dog.

Before embarking on any weight reduction program for a fat dog, you need to make certain that the animal’s obesity doesn’t stem from a disease such as a poorly performing thyroid gland. A low-acting thyroid (hypothyroidism) leads to obesity, lethargy and hair loss.

Assuming your dog has no health problems, obesity occurs simply because of too much food. De-sexed dogs do have a lower metabolism and tend to lay fat under the skin quickly, but this just reflects too many calories going down the gullet.

So how do we diet the overweight dog without starving the poor animal? Answer: change foods. There are commercial foods that are labelled ‘lite’, which means they have fewer calories. However, you must still following the feeding instructions on the packet and never give any tasty titbits.

Alternatively, you can feed the dog a homemade diet. Mixed cooked cabbage, zucchini, marrow and squash with a little lean mince or even some canned food. For a large breed of dog, feed the dog no more than 150g of meat, for a medium size breed, feed no more than 100g of meat and for a small dog, feed 20 to 50g of meat. Do not include any other vegetables, rice or pasta. This is low in calories, high in roughage and very filling. Your dog still feels loved and you can be happy in the knowledge that you’re filling the dog’s tummy with fewer calories and it will therefore lose weight.

Exercise will raise your dog’s metabolic rate but the single most important thing is fewer calories. Weigh your dog each fortnight so you can monitor its weight loss.

It’s important to realise that a 30kg dog that should weigh 25kg is 20% overweight. Five kilos overweight doesn’t sound like much but imagine what you would be like if you were carrying an extra 20% in weight!