The exploding number of obese humans in the US is mirrored by the exploding number of obese pets.  We want to show our pets that we love them, but sometimes we are loving them into shorter and less fulfilling lives.  Before we even talk about food and treats let’s establish if our pet is fat or fluffy.  We see photos of clearly overweight animals and think…my pet is not that fat!  So maybe your pet is not obese…but are they overweight?

Dogs and cats with longer hair make it that much harder to detect if your pet is carrying a bit too much weight.  It can be a slight difference and in smaller pets it can be something as small as a pound.  What should you look for?  Here is a transition of a dog or cat from underweight to overweight.

If your pet is furry then I would suggest you go by feel.  If you feel your pet’s mid-section softly you should be able to feel their rib cage without fat covering them.  Their ribs should feel like the back of your hand.  Your pet should have visible a waist (which is most easily judged from looking down over them).

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This can be a delicate subject.  In general people do tend to over feed their pets and it is more common than not that pets are slightly over-weight.  Did you know that a pet that maintains a healthy weight averages 1.8 years longer life?  The consideration of quality not just quantity of life is important too.  Healthy weight will lower the risk that your dog will have pain in their joints etc., reduce risk of injury, but also research tells us they suffer lower amounts of anxiety and have more general well-being.

OK, so my pet might be a little pudgy…. what next?  Here are some tips to getting your baby in tip top shape:

#1- Portion Size.  This is a more complex question than you might think.  Every food has general feeding instructions for a pet based on weight, but this can vary drastically based on the activity level of your pet and frankly the quality of the food.  Every pet can also have a different metabolism, so one 40-pound dog may need a different portion than another 40-pound dog.  The best thing to do is to start with what the current portion is and reduce it from there.  If you are going to keep the same food start with a 15-20 percent reduction in portion and see if their weight changes in 1-2 weeks.  If you have not seen a difference then you will want to cut their portions by another 10%, until you can find a portion that causes weight loss.  When the ideal weight is reached, increase 5% at a time to determine a portion that maintains their current weight.  The goal is to see a gradual reduction, not a sudden swing.  A 5% change in weight in a two-week period is good progress.  Premium pet foods with higher quality ingredients will tend to have smaller portions prescribed for the pet to receive balanced nutrition.  A high-quality food designed for limiting fat and calorie intake is a great idea.  Choose a food that uses good quality ingredients with high digestibility, so they are getting the most nutrition from their calories and stay satisfied.  A couple excellent choices in the Husse line up for dogs are Optimal Light, Prima Plus or Senior.  For your fat cat try Husse Exclusive Light.

#2- Feeding Schedule.  If you are still free feeding your pet this is a great place to start.  Control the amount of their daily intake at scheduled times throughout the day.  Once you have identified their portion size divide that into at least 2 meals.  If your schedule allows for 3 per day even better.

#3- Reduce/Discontinue Snacks.  Who doesn’t want to show our pet we love them by giving them a treat…right?  Food rewards will only perpetuate their weight problem.  Especially difficult to gauge the calorie consumption for their proportional size are the human foods.   You must realize a 1 oz. cube of cheese given to a 25 lb. dog is the equivalent of a human eating 2 cheeseburgers!  One single potato chip is like us eating an entire chocolate bar.  So even if you have a 25-pound dog on a strict diet of 2/3 cup twice a day, that can all be ruined with an ounce or two of cheese.  If you must give an occasional human treat try a small piece of apple, banana or a bite of carrot.  Remember our pets most valuable reward in the world is our attention.  Reward your pet with love, hugs, kisses and snuggles.  Our undivided attention and praise are just as valuable to them as food.

#4- Increase Activity.  The same principles apply with pet fitness as with humans…increase the burn and reduce the intake.  Adding some exercise will make a huge difference.  Start with a short walk and increase gradually.  Maybe your schedule does not allow long walks.  Get a ball and have your pet chase the ball even if it is while you sit on the couch watching TV.  Also practice obedience, the mental exercise can provide increased calorie burn.

Be strong for your loved one.  They may act like they are starving all the time, begging etc.  Their stomach will begin to adjust to their new plan.  Once you see them in ideal physical condition you will realize what a great thing you have done for them.  Let your pet be their best…. overweight pets really are not to blame for their condition, we are the hand that feeds them and exercise them.  It is worth repeating- maintaining a healthy weight will prolong their life and will reduce their likelihood of painful injury.

Always review your pet’s fitness plan with their vet.

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