Got a cat or dog that could spare to lose a few? According to the 2009 Pet Obesity Study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 50 percent of our dogs and cats are overweight or obese. Like in people, obesity contributes to numerous health concerns in companion animals ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease and diabetes. And, just like in people, the two biggest contributing factors are overeating (especially high-calorie foods) and lack of exercise.
So how can you tell if your pet is overweight? Vets typically use a nine-point rating system, but you can eyeball your pet at home. First, stand behind your dog or cat, and look at the outside lines of his body. At a healthy weight, your pet will have a natural tuck at his waistline, which is just below his ribs. If his body runs in a straight line from his shoulders to his haunches, or if it bows out, it’s likely that your pet is overweight.
Next, run your fingers along his ribcage. Can you easily feel the individual ribs? If not, then your pet is probably overweight. (Conversely, if you can poke a finger between the ribs, then your pet is most likely underweight.)
Lastly, check out your cat from the side. Overweight cats are prone to a saggy belly. In dogs, check the area around their tail. Fat accumulates above the base of the tail.
If your pet exhibits any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your vet to discuss a weight-loss strategy. But between now and your appointment, get started with a few easy steps:
- Decrease the amount of food you feed your pet at each meal.
- Replace some of his commercial diet with fresh fruits and veggies.
- Eliminate treats. If you need to use treats for training, purchase light or low-calorie varieties.
- Get moving! Take your dog for daily walks – if he’s been sedentary for a long time, start slowly and build up to longer distances. Pick up a few cat toys and spend time playing with your cat to get him moving around.
- Always make sure your pet has access to plenty of fresh, clean water.