The United States obesity epidemic isn’t limited to its human citizens. More than half of all dogs and cats in this country are overweight, but their owners don’t recognize it as the health problem it can be. Obese pets are more likely to suffer injury and disease than those at their ideal weight; but, just like with people, diet and exercise can take off the weight and reduce the health risks to our beloved pets.
To help promote a healthy and positive pet lifestyle, here are six simple fixes for both dogs and cats:
1. Get outside: Taking your dog outdoors will trigger its natural play instincts. Running, jumping, and chasing are natural ways to energize your pet, burn calories, and boost metabolism. A new breed of outdoor enclosures also allows cats to run, roam, prance, and pounce freely in fresh air. When outdoor play just isn’t an option, there are a number of motorized animal treadmills, indoor play yards, and pet toys on the market today that will get your pets moving and playing more.
2. Be consistent: Set exercise goals for your pet that are manageable for your schedule but that establish a consistent routine. A moderate level of exercise each and every day is key for fostering a healthy and fit pet. For example, a 20-minute walk every day is more beneficial for your pet’s health than an hour-long walk twice a week. For both dogs and cats, keep a set of toys, a feather or ball, or even a laser pointer handy for an energized and sustained play session, either indoors or out, at least once daily.
3. Boost blood flow: While a leisurely stroll with your dog is better than no exercise at all, a fast-paced walk will elevate the dog’s heart rate, improve its cardiovascular function and turn calories into fuel rather than fat. A multi-story cat climber or “tree” with strategically placed low-cal treats or play toys can readily get kitty jumping from level to level for a heart-pumping playtime.
4. Log on and learn: As with humans, Body Mass Index (BMI) can be a reliable indicator of an animal’s body fat levels and serves as a free and easy way to screen your pet for weight concerns that may lead to health problems. Use free online dog and cat BMI calculators and calorie calculators to determine how many calories your cat or dog needs to help avoid obesity.
5. Measure the meals: Even for animals, dieting and weight maintenance is all about portion control. Feed your pet using a designated measuring cup, so you know exactly how much food they’re consuming each day. If you still aren’t getting the desired results, call the pet food company for dietary recommendations to ensure you aren’t over-feeding—especially as dietary requirements change as a pet ages and becomes less active.
Automated pet feeding systems are also helpful. These tech tools utilize a wireless tag attached to a pet’s collar to regulate and monitor one or more pet’s food intake to ensure the pet isn’t eating too much or too little at once or throughout the day—also keeping multiple pets away from each other’s’ food.
6. Skip the scraps: Your pet is likely smaller than you, so while a small scrap of table food may seem insignificant, it can be a huge portion for your pet. Instead of giving your pet random table scraps, try offering raw veggies like baby carrots. Your pet will be happy it received a treat and will avoid a belly-busting calorie-bomb.
*The above should not be construed as medical or veterinary advice. Individuals should consult with their pet’s own physician regarding any fitness, exercise and/or nutrition regime.