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My 10-year-old Labrador Retriever, Ellen, enrolled with my vet practice’s weight management clinic two years ago, weighing 40kg. She achieved her target of 30kg earlier this year and looks fantastic. However, when I called in at the practice to weigh Ellen recently, I found that she has started putting on weight again – not very much, but I really don’t want her to put on any more.  I am feeding her the same amount of the same food that I’ve been feeding since she reached her target weight, and I have checked with all the family that no one is giving her extras. What can have gone wrong?

Alison Logan advises…

You seem certain that Ellen is still eating the same amount of food. You’ve not changed the food, and no bad habits with titbits or other extras have crept back in. I would therefore suspect that Ellen’s energy output has decreased, so she’s not burning off the food she is eating in the same way that she was earlier in the year.  At this time of year, the back door is probably no longer left open, providing free access to the garden, even if just for a mooch. Dog walks may be shorter because daylight hours are shorter, and you may be put off from walking as far as you normally do by cold, wet and windy weather.

At weekends in the summer, Ellen was probably more active outside while you were in the garden, and she may have had longer or more frequent walks if you weren’t at work.  It is not unusual to see our successful canine slimmers slide back a little as summer gives way to autumn and winter. It is, however, important to recognise that it is happening, and to do something about it. Ideally, increasing the exercise, if possible, will help, but walking in the dark is never a pleasant pastime.

Cutting back the amount of food fed is the alternative approach, but you may need to bulk it out with greens so that Ellen still feels full. A change to a lower-calorie diet may be needed, so I would suggest that you make an appointment at your vet practice’s weight clinic. The veterinary nurse will weigh and measure Ellen and advise on whether a change in diet is needed. Simply addressing the question of exercise may be suggested initially, with a return appointment in two to four weeks to weigh Ellen again, and perhaps look at her diet at that point, if the weight isn’t coming off or is still going up.

Have you thought about hydrotherapy? There are not many Labrador Retrievers who don’t like swimming! This is a non-weightbearing form of exercise that Ellen should enjoy, and it would help keep the weight gain at bay.  Please don’t lose heart. You and Ellen have done really well, and it’s invariably easiest to slim a dog; much harder to keep them at their target weight once reached – particularly as the days shorten and the weather deteriorates.

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