The annual feast that is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day is over. Now it’s time to think seriously about the year-round approach you take to keep your cat or dog at a healthy weight.
The main factors behind pet obesity are diet and lack of exercise, although some diseases can also contribute to an overweight pet. Preventing obesity in your dog or cat isn’t just about looks. An obese pet may live a shorter, unhealthier, less comfortable life. Obesity and excess body fat are associated with the onset of diabetes, arthritis, and breathing problems.
5 ways to avoid pet obesity
We’ve given you the whys, now let’s look at the hows.
Pet Obesity Tip #1: Count the calories
It is possible to measure the amount of food you give your dog or cat. The appropriate amount will differ with the breed, age, size, and health of your pet – so be sure to get a number to work with from your pet’s vet each time you visit.
Responsible pet food manufacturers list calorie values on their packaging. If you feed your pet with unpackaged food, do your research. And don’t forget to count any additional treats you give your pet through the day.
Pet Obesity Tip #2: It’s not just how much, it’s what they eat
Calorie-count is important, but the nutrition profile of your dog’s diet is also a sensitive matter. For example, puppies need a particular formula that aids growth, but large-breed puppies require a different type of formula so they don’t grow too quickly!
Older dogs, different types of cat, pets with different health conditions, all respond differently to a particular mix of carbs, proteins, and all the rest. Keep a close eye on your pet, and discuss his needs with your vet.
Pet Obesity Tip #3: Make exercise part of your life
There is no way around pet exercise. You can’t make up for a poorly-exercised pet by reducing its diet. Exercise is essential for muscle development and organ health, as well as your cat or dog’s mental health. So it should become a habit.
A dog needs at least 30 minutes activity a day. That means at least 2-3 walkies, and hitting the park at least once every couple of days. Your cat needs 15 minutes of intense play, and should be encouraged to go outside and do whatever cats do.
Pet exercise is part of your life, too, and it isn’t going away – so find a way to enjoy it, and make it a habit.
Pet Obesity Tip #4: Don’t put your pet on a crash diet
Just like with people, sometimes the fact of your pet’s obesity catches you off-guard. A stray comment or unflattering photo suddenly reveals the truth. Don’t panic. Dieting your pet too quickly can do a lot of damage.
Work out what your pet’s ideal weight should be. A dog is said to be able to lose 1-3% of body weight per month safely. It’s 0.5-2% for cats. So it may take several months: discuss a weight-loss plan with your vet.
Pet Obesity Tip #5: Keep mealtimes regular
It’s hard to say ‘no’ to those puppy-dog eyes (or a cat that won’t stop mewing). Perhaps they evolved this way to get more food. But if you teach your pet that mealtimes are set in stone, they will be less likely to hassle you ‘out of hours.’ And that means you’re less likely to cave (who wouldn’t?) and give them extra treats, which are usually of the fattening variety.
Bonus tip: Your dog will probably eat carrot sticks if you give them to him. He doesn’t care, he’s a dog. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking every treat has to be a sausage!