Eight-year-old chocolate labrador Blue is shaped like a barrel and has a slow, lumbering gait. Rolls of fat bulge from his collar; his belly hangs low, skimming the ground. Mournful eyes look out from a jowly face. Blue is on a diet, you see, and he’s hating every minute of it. No more juicy rabbit ears or plump chicken feet. He sneaked some cake earlier in the week from the kitchen floor, but his owner, Mary, got it away before he could finish it.
“I hate this bit,” groans Mary*, as Blue thunks on to the scales at the Pet Health and Therapy Centre in Welling, south-east London. “It’s like Weight Watchers.” Ideally, Blue should weigh no more than 36kg. The scales creak: 47.1kg. “He’s gone up again,” sighs Mary, who has requested anonymity because she is embarrassed. “My son and daughter are really skinny,” she says in a pleading tone. “People think I starve my children but overfeed my animals.”
Blue is arthritic and finds it painful to walk. If he doesn’t lose weight, he is likely to die young
A 39-year-old dog walker from Mottingham, south-east London, Mary says that Blue is on a calorie-controlled diet and regularly walked. “He goes on walks all the time!” she says, pulling up her phone to show me photos of Blue hulking over her clients’ dogs. Sometimes, members of the public come up to Mary at work and tell her that she’s got to let Blue’s owner know he needs to lose weight. “I am the owner,” she responds.
Reluctantly, Blue is led into a hydrotherapy tank for his weekly session. “The water reduces the pressure on his joints,” says 23-year-old veterinary physiotherapist Miranda Cosstick, “and places less stress on the hips.” When Blue began training in November 2021, he could only manage 10 seconds on the underwater treadmill. Now, he is up to 45 seconds, even if he has regained the weight he initially lost. The treadmill whirrs. Blue stares out glumly from the warm lapping water. Cosstick waves a dog treat in front of him, and he lunges forward and tries to get it out of her hand. “You have to taunt him with it,” says Cosstick, “to get him to move.”
But this is not animal abuse, whatever Blue’s plaintive eyes might suggest. Already, Blue is arthritic and finds it painful to walk. If he doesn’t lose weight, he is likely to die young from obesity-related complications. And he is not alone. Fuller-figured pets are, increasingly, a mainstay of UK homes. “We’ve seen an increased prevalence of obesity in both dogs and …….