It’s no secret that Americans are fighting a hard battle with obesity. In fact, an estimated 68% of adult Americans are overweight or obese. And the four footed members of the nation’s families aren’t far behind.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, as of 2015, 53.8% of dogs and 58.2% of cats in America were overweight or obese. While pet parents might not mind they way their dogs or cats look when they’re carrying a few extra pounds, the effect on their overall health is cause for serious concern.
Some of the health risks that overweight pets face are arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, and cancer. Yikes! They also have a decreased life expectancy by up to 2 1/2 years. As we know all too well, the time we have with our pets is already far too short, so we want to do all we can to keep them around as long as we can!
How to Tell if Your Pet is at a Healthy Weight
Many pet parents aren’t sure how to tell whether or not their pet has a weight problem. We see our pets every day, so we may not even notice if they’ve gradually begun to put on weight. As a matter of fact, one survey found that “90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pet as a normal weight.”
Your veterinarian is the best judge of your pet’s overall body condition. However, there are a few things that you can observe to help you determine if it’s time to think about putting your furry friend on a weight management program.
As a general rule, your pet is a healthy weight if you can feel his ribs easily, if you can see the shape of his waist from above, and if his tummy isn’t sagging. If, on the other hand, it’s hard to feel his ribs through the fat, if you can grab a handful of tummy fat, if you can’t see his waist, and if his back is broad and flat, it may be time to ask your vet for some weight loss recommendations.
If you are the parent of a pudgy pooch or a tubby tabby, there are a few things you can do to fight pet obesity and help them reach and maintain an ideal weight. And, not surprisingly, they involve diet and exercise.
Tweak Your Pet’s Diet
You should always consult your veterinarian before putting your pet on a diet, since losing weight too quickly can be dangerous for animals, especially for cats. The following are a few things that your vet may recommend:
Portion control. Follow your vet’s recommendations (not those on the package) for the right amount to feed your pet to help him reach a healthy weight. Measure out the recommended amount for the day, and stick to it. Free feeding usually isn’t a good idea, since it allows for overeating.
Watch the treats! You don’t have to cut out treats entirely, especially if you need them for training. Instead, choose treats that are low calorie. I love Zuke’s Mini Naturals and Skinny Bakes, which range from 1 1/2 to 20 calories each. They’re great treats for your dog if you don’t want him to pack on the pounds! We’ve been using them in our training regimen as we work on Chilly’s leash manners this fall.
Give attention instead of food. Food isn’t the only way to show your pet you love him. As a matter of fact, many of them will be just as happy (if not happier) with a little extra attention instead of a tasty (fattening) tidbit tossed their way.
Fight Pet Obesity With Exercise
Regular exercise is just as important for our pets as it is for us. It gets their hearts pumping, burns calories, alleviates depression, and keeps them fit and trim. It’s also a wonderful way to bond with your dog or cat.
Exercise Tips For Dogs
Dog parents have an advantage when it comes to making sure their pooches get the exercise they need. After all, most dogs just live for the moment when they see that leash come out and it’s time for their daily walk! In order for your dog to get the greatest benefit out of your walks, try to keep up a brisk pace. Wait until the second half of your walk before you allow him to sniff and explore a bit. If you start out by letting him stop and smell the roses, you may have a hard time getting him up to speed.
Walking isn’t the only way to get your pup the exercise he needs. You can mix it up a bit by adding in some of 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
Depending on the climate where you live, you may have to get creative. Here in Florida, we’re a little limited in what we can do during the heat and humidity of the summer. My dog Chilly is still trying to lose those last 5 pounds (who isn’t?!). He was able to drop a couple of pounds over the summer, but we’re hoping to get him down to ideal weight now that the weather is cooler.
Exercise Tips For Cats
It can be a little more challenging to get a cat moving. However, just because kitty isn’t thrilled about going for a stroll around the neighborhood doesn’t mean that you can’t persuade him to get active. 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 corks or plastic milk bottle tops
Playthings that could be dangerous include string, floss, ribbon, twine, rubber bands — anything that your cat can swallow. Even under supervision, the fun is not worth the risk!
Thankfully, weight loss isn’t nearly as traumatic an experience for our pets as it is for us. They generally enjoy exercise since it’s a chance to spend more time with their favorite humans. And, since they can’t open the refrigerator or operate a can opener, they don’t have to worry about giving in to temptation and falling off the wagon.
It takes some persistence, and a whole lot of resistance when it comes to not giving in to those adorable puppy dog eyes! But it’s worth the effort to fight pet obesity and keep our furry friends trim, fit, and healthy!
Pet obesity is just one of many health concerns that pet parents need to be aware of. For great tips on keeping your feline friend healthy, click here to follow my Cat Health board on Pinterest.