Is Your Pet Overweight?
When looking at your animal from above, their “waist” (the area behind the ribs) should have a smaller diameter than that of the rib cage. If your pet is more tube-like, with no obvious narrowing in this area, he or she is likely overweight. The animal’s ribs should be felt easily (but not protruding), with a thin layer of fat and skin covering them. Dogs and cats should also have an “abdominal tuck,” meaning that the animal’s tummy area has a smaller diameter than the chest when viewed from the side. If ribs are hard to find and the belly hangs low, your pet is probably overweight.
First, Visit Your Vet
Overweight dogs are at higher risk for joint problems, diabetes, breathing problems, liver disease, lowered immunity, heart disease, impaired fertility, and certain cancers. Heavier cats are more likely to suffer from diabetes, arthritis, dermatologic problems, and liver disease.
Your veterinarian can perform an in-depth assessment of your pet’s health and run tests to rule out certain medical conditions that can contribute to weight gain. Once you get the go-ahead, it’s time to start slimming down.
Dogs are omnivorous by nature, whereas cats are strict carnivores. Carnitine—a naturally-occurring amino acid in meat—may help heavier animals trim down.
Many commercial cat foods are high in carbohydrates, mostly from added grains. To help your cat lose weight, gradually—over a period of several weeks—transition him to a diet with roughly equal parts protein and fat, and little to no carbohydrate.
Many commercial dog foods contain about 20% of calories from protein and 15% from fat, with the remainder of the calories from carbohydrates. Most dogs will lose weight when transitioned to a higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate, lower-calorie food. Over a period of a few weeks, gradually add more of the weight-loss food to your dog’s usual diet, keeping a tally of her total caloric intake. Also, consider supplementing kibble with canned food, which tends to be higher in protein and moisture that will keep your furry family member feeling satisfied.
Offer two to four small meals per day, instead of giving free access to food. This will help regulate food intake and give you an accurate read on your pet’s appetite.
Weigh your pet before putting him on a diet. Keep a journal of your pet’s weight and make sure that his weight loss doesn’t exceed 2% of his total body weight per week. This is especially important for obese cats. Overweight cats whose diets are suddenly severely restricted may suffer a potentially life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis.
After your pet has reached his ideal weight, you’ll likely need to increase his food intake to maintain that weight.
Fiber-rich vegetables like carrots, green beans, and apples can make a tasty, low-calorie treat for dogs. Avoid feeding dogs high-fat snacks like pig’s ears and high-carb treats made from processed grains.
If you’d like to give your cat a food reward on occasion, offer her some bits of cooked chicken, liver, eggs, or fish.
Buddy Up with Your Pet to Get in Shape
One of the great things about dogs is that they’re pretty much always ready to go for a walk when you are, day or night. Consider them your built-in exercise companion. So, instead of putting your dog out back to do her business, take her on a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Go swimming together (especially if one or both of you have arthritis). Throw on her leash and walk to the market instead of hopping in the car. Many cities and towns are becoming more pet friendly, with water bowls and tie-outs so owners can pop into the store while their dog waits safely outside. Getting exercise together strengthens the pet-owner bond and gives you both the chance to slim down.
Cats aren’t likely to want to go for a stroll with you, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some active time together. Cats thrive on interactive play. Natural born predators, cats enjoy stalking, pouncing, and rolling around—all activities that simulate what they’d be doing in nature. Dozens of interactive play toys are available at most pet stores. The best ones are simple, consisting of a fishing rod-type of stick on one end, and a small prey-like toy attached to a string on the other.
A cat might also find an exercise companion in another feline friend. If you have a single-cat home, consider adding another kitty to help motivate your cat to move by playing.
Cater to Your Cat’s Instincts
Veterinarian and author of The Soul of All Living Creatures Dr. Vint Virga suggests placing your cat’s food in different places throughout the house—behind doors, on top of shelves, and inside places that the cat will have to figure out how to open. This helps mimic the natural way cats forage for their meals, providing them with mental stimulation as well as giving them some exercise.
Match the Exercise to the Dog
When planning an exercise routine for you and your dog, take his breed and size into consideration, and check with your vet about what types of exercise are best for him.
Veterinarian Marty Becker suggests that for dogs with short faces (like Bulldogs), you’ll have to take it a little easier on the exercise, since these breeds can suffer from breathing problems from exertion. These dogs are best suited to gentle walks at cooler times of day. Similarly, dogs with short legs and long bodies (think: Dachshunds) shouldn’t jump and twist to catch a Frisbee, as their backs are prone to slipped discs.
Here are some other breed-specific recommendations:
Retrievers love to fetch, and most like to swim.
Herding dogs and hunting dogs make great running partners.
Greyhounds and similar breeds do better with sprinting, and not so well with longer runs.
For dogs with an insatiable fetching urge, consider getting a ball-throwing apparatus to help you rapid fire the ball long distances.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise for you and your pet, every single day!