How to Help Your Pet Whittle His Waist

By Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chilly needs to lose about five pounds.

Those words, uttered at Chilly’s last veterinarian visit, didn’t exactly come as a surprise. During the summer, it’s a challenge to help our boy get enough exercise; his skin allergies prevent us from allowing him to spend a lot of time in the yard because he’ll break out in hives.

We do what we can to keep him active, by taking him to indoor day care and for long walks on the pavement. But we’re all looking forward to when the growing season subsides in Florida (October-ish), so he can be more active and drop some weight!

You may wonder why I’m so concerned about a measly five pounds on a 60- pound dog. The fact is, excess weight in pets can lead to a number of health risks including osteoarthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and heart disease. In addition, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), it can also result in a decreased life expectancy of up to two and 1/2 years!

As most pet parents know, their little lives are already too short as it is. So if there’s something I can do to keep Chilly (and our cats, Turdie and Olivia) around for a few extra years, count me in!

The good news is that it’s not that difficult to whittle our pets’ waists. After all, they can’t open the refrigerator, nor can they operate a can opener. What pets eat is entirely dependent on us.

The same can be said for exercise. Sure, it’s easier to come up with activities for dogs than cats. But it is possible to get your favorite feline moving with a few clever tactics.

DIET

Since you see your pet every day, it can be hard to be a good judge of whether he’s overweight to begin with. In fact, the eighth annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey conducted by the APOP found that “90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pet as a normal weight.”

To get a true handle on your pet’s overall health and weight, make an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she will assess your pet and, if they’re overweight, help you devise a plan for slowly and sensibly trimming him or her down. Quick-loss programs can be bad for your pet’s health, and can even be fatal to cats.

These tools might help too.

Body Condition Scoring for Cats (Click image for larger viewing)

Cat Body Condition Scoring_APOP

Body Condition Scoring for Dogs (Click image for larger viewing)

Dog Body Condition Scoring_APOP

Volume of food and frequency of feeding is key, so it’s very important to have your veterinarian determine the appropriate caloric needs of your pet based on age, activity level and health status.

Knowing caloric needs is more important than what brand to buy. These days, both prescription and over-the-counter diets offer good options for weight management. Just be sure to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations (not the manufacturer’s) for how much to feed and how often. And make sure that you set regular mealtimes since free-feeding almost always leads to overeating.

When it comes to treats, choose low-calorie options and dole them out carefully. And remember that there are other ways to show your pets that you love them – bond with them during a session of gentle brushing and combing, or a half-hour of play. Time spent in either pursuit is better for an overweight pet than eating, and the exercise will help take the weight off.

EXERCISE

Regular exercise is just as important for our pets as it is for us. It gets their heart pumping, burns calories, alleviates depression and keeps them fit and trim.

For dog parents, the easiest option is, of course, to leash up your pet and head outside for a nice long walk. But if you’d like to mix it up from time to time, consider these fun activities:

  • A romp in the dog park (if your dog is well-socialized)
  • Regular visits to doggie daycare
  • A game of fetch
  • Playing “chase” in the back yard
  • Enroll them in agility, flyball or tracking classes
  • Swimming

Cats can be more challenging when it comes to exercise, so feline caregivers may need to be patient while Fluffy warms up to the idea. Start by experimenting with some of the different toys below to see what your cat enjoys:

  • Cat nip stuffed toys
  • Feather wands
  • Cat fishing poles ending in attractive strings or feathers
  • Toys that can be dragged along the floor
  • Laser pen light for chasing
  • Climbing posts or kitty condos (most de-clawed cats climb, too)

You can even keep your cat busy with popular household items like:

  • Brown paper bags or cardboard box
  • Wadded crinkly paper
  • Wine cork or plastic milk bottle tops

Playthings that could be dangerous include string, floss, ribbon, twine, rubber bands – anything that your cat can swallow. Use these things carefully, and put them securely away after the game is over.

MONITOR

While your pet is in weight-loss mode, keep a careful eye on the scale. Either weigh your pet yourself or stop by the animal clinic regularly. If you feel your pet is losing weight too rapidly, or not at all, speak to your vet about modifying their diet or exercise.

You can also put technology to work for you while you’re helping your pet slim down. There are several wearable animal health monitors on the market today. Some, like the HeyRex, allow veterinarians and pet parents to track weight loss and activity information, as well as mobility, scratching, resting patterns and sleep disturbances.

While pet weight loss can be a challenge, with a little time and persistence (and a whole lot of resistance when it comes to those puppy dog eyes!), your furry friend will be fit and trim before you know it!

Share your experience helping your pet lose weight in the comments below.