It is estimated that up to half of the dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight. A pet that is overweight is at risk for health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and even certain kinds of cancers. An overweight pet can expect to have a decreased life expectancy, as well as a less active life.
Just as with humans, there are two main causes of obesity in our pets: overfeeding and not enough exercise. If your dog or cat is overweight or obese, it is best to start with a trip to the vet to determine if there are any underlying medical conditions, and to get the okay to increase your pet’s activity level. Your vet can also help you determine your pet’s ideal weight. Once you get the okay from your vet, you can begin making changes in your pet’s diet and activity levels.
Dietary Changes: The most important thing is portion control. Gradually cut back on the amount of food and treats you are feeding, and also switch to lower-calorie, high-quality foods. Read the label on your pet’s food to find the recommended serving size, and be sure to measure the amount you are feeding each day with a measuring cup or scale, rather than just filling the bowl up. Don’t leave a full bowl of pet food out all day! Free-feeding your dog or cat encourages overeating; place the food down, and what isn’t finished within a specified period of time should be removed.
Change treats to healthy, low calorie alternatives. If you love giving treats to your dog or cat, try cutting the treats into much smaller sizes so you can still give lots of treats without increasing the calorie count.
Exercise: Gradually increase your pet’s activity level. Walking is one of the best activities you can do with your dog, and it will also help with your own fitness. Try an active game of fetch, and swimming is a great non-weight bearing exercise for dogs with joint problems. The exercise will help burn calories and result in a fitter, healthier dog. Starting slowly will allow your pet to become used to the increased activity level, and you can then gradually increase the duration and intensity of activity as your pet becomes more fit.
It can be more challenging to get your cat to exercise. Try interactive toys such as lasers and wand toys that your cat can chase. Many cats enjoy climbing and scratching on a cat tree designed for this purpose. If you have a single cat, consider adopting a playful cat from a shelter so your cat has a companion to play with.
Be sure to weigh your dog or cat weekly so you can track your progress. An ideal weight loss is about 0.5% – 2% of your pet’s initial body weight per week. Cats, in particular, should lose weight gradually and slowly to eliminate the risk of hepatic lipidosis.
The beginning of a new year is a great time to start your dog or cat on the road to fitness!