True story: there was once a dachshund so fat, the only way it could walk was if the owner tied a roller skate to its belly.
A dachshund's weight problems are exacerbated because of its short legs but, nevertheless, that "sausage dog" does not have obesity issues on its own – over 50 per cent of today's pets are considered overweight or obese.
Hill's Pet Nutrition Professional Consulting veterinarian, Dr Jessica Mills, says obesity means your pet is carrying 20 per cent or more excess weight. This may sound a lot, but given the size of some of our pets, it can mean as little as an extra kilo for the average cat or small terrier, or 6kg for the average Golden Retriever.
"Carrying that extra weight can increase your pet's risk of serious health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, bladder stones and diabetes, and it can also shorten their lifespan." she says.
Most pets become overweight due to too many calories in their diet, not enough exercise or a combination of both.
"This can be as simple as feeding a pet a diet with more calories than they need, such as food aimed at growing puppies or kittens – or they can be getting the right food, but too much of it."
Mills says a common issue is too many calorie-laden treats: "We all love to spoil our pets but we often overlook the calories in treats. One small 14g piece of cheese for a cat is the caloric equivalent of you or me eating a hamburger and chips? A slice of salami for a 15kg dog is like us eating two chocolate chip cookies."
Treats, she says, should not form more than 5-10 per cent of pets' caloric intake. One simple trick is to keep a small amount of their daily kibble portion aside in a jar and use this as a treat.
Mills says if pet owners aren't seeing a waistline on their pet (an hourglass figure when you look at your pet from above) or are not able to easily feel their ribs, then it is likely they are carrying some excess weight.
So what should such owners be feeding overweight pets? Mills says there are a number of options such as low-calorie and high-fibre diets but to increase the chances of success, it's best to work with the pet's unique biology.
"At Hill's, we have been studying how nutrition impacts pets' cell function for over a decade. We learned that lean pets have a different biology than overweight pets. With our unique understanding of the biology of overweight dogs, we developed breakthrough weight management foods with a blend of ingredients that helps support pets' metabolism for a healthy body weight."
It is worth having very overweight pets checked by a vet to ensure there are no other health issues before starting them on a weight management diet. Your vet can also help you determine what their ideal body weight is, as feeding them for the correct body weight will increase their chances of successfully losing weight.
Weight management foods have a feeding guide on the pack though that might have to be tweaked to suit a pet's individual needs. They should be fed on their ideal body weight, not their current weight and weighing the food is the most accurate way to measure it.
"Alternatively, use the cup provided by the manufacturer of the food," Mills says. "A little trick is to cut the cup at the level you need to feed (for example half a cup) so that you can't overfill it."
While cutting back on the pet's normal food seems like an easy solution, the pet will likely feel hungry and start begging: "As a pet owner myself, I know how hard it is to not give in and feed more when your pet is asking for food and this is one of the most common reasons diets fail."
In addition to the right food, increase their exercise. Add a couple of extra walks a week or increase the length of the daily walk. You could also change the route to incorporate a hill so they are exercising more intensely.
"We may not take our cats for walks but there are games we can play with them to get them moving. For example, shine a laser on the floor and walls and the brightness and movement will encourage your pet to chase it," she says.
"One other tip for both cat and dog owners: look at using puzzle feeders to encourage them to slow their eating and work for their meal. Or you can simply divide the meal amongst a few bowls around the house so they have to walk about to get their full meal."