Dog and cat eating food from a bowlJanuary is often a time of self-reflection and lifestyle assessment. Where have I neglected my health and wellness, you may ask? What can I do better?

And, while you are on the theme of health and lifestyle, have you considered checking in with your pet’s health, weight, and exercise schedule, as well? Has Mittens been putting on some winter bulk? Have those daily dog walks fallen to the wayside?

If you have struggled with keeping your pet at his or her optimum weight, or are starting to notice signs of obesity, here are important points of focus to get your pet’s weight under control.

How Do I Know if My Pet is Obese?

To begin, we need to have an understanding of what a healthy weight is. If you have not scheduled a physical examination within the past 6-12 months, we recommend you do so. This will allow your veterinarian to assess your pet for appropriate weight and any possible underlying medical issues that may be contributing to obesity.

Generally speaking, there are some “red flag” questions to ask yourself in determining if he or she has become overweight.

  • Can you easily feel his or her ribs, or do you only feel a “cushion” of weight?
  • When viewing your pet from a side angle, does your pet’s torso near the hind legs tuck in or curve upward, or can you see a paunch?
  • Is your pet primarily motivated by food or treats? Does your family also administer treats?
  • Does your pet tire easily or lack interest in walking or other forms of exercise?

The best gauge for determining if your pet is struggling with obesity or a weight issue is through a veterinary examination where you will be given a weight management strategy for your pet, including proper nutrition, portion control, health risks associated with obesity, and instruction to help you better care for your overweight cat or dog.

Stick with Your Pet’s Diet

Sometimes, albeit unintentionally, we become our pet’s biggest challenge when it comes to maintaining his or her optimum weight. Whether we accidentally double up on food portions or rely on treats as positive reinforcement, our pet is at the mercy of our choices. It’s important that the entire family is on board with your pet’s new diet and exercise plan. For example, assign one person to pet feeding duties to ensure consistency and avoid doubling up on meals. Also ask all family members to stick to the “no treats or people food” rule, or at least consider healthier treats such as green beans or baby carrots.

If your pet is on a strict portion and calorie diet, consider investing in a kitchen scale to help you manage your pet’s daily caloric intake.

Exercise is Essential

As long as your pet is generally healthy and free from mobility issues, your pet’s weight management strategy should include 20-30 minutes of walking or exercise each day. While it may be more difficult to incorporate creative forms of exercise in your cat’s workout routine (although, many LOVE feather toys or catnip mice), dogs will greatly benefit from daily walks to the park or around the neighborhood. If walking is out due to extreme weather or wind chill, consider an appropriate indoor game of chase or fetch in the rec room or other suitable indoor area.

Redefine Positive Reinforcement

How do you show your pet that you approve or are happy with him or her? Is it all too easy to grab that bag of commercial dog biscuits or kitty treats? One of the biggest contributors to pet obesity is the prevalence of pet treats (or people food) in our pet’s diet. If you wish to praise your pet, why not opt for 20 minutes of petting or brushing, or verbal praise, or even better – an extra walk? There are many healthier ways to express our love and praise than food. You’ll be surprised how positively your pet will respond!

If your pet is dealing with extra weight or isn’t as energetic as you think he or she should be, please consider making an appointment. Pet obesity is linked to a shortened lifespan and numerous health problems. By sticking to your pet’s outlined weight management and exercise program, you’ll help contribute to a lifetime of energy, playfulness, and overall health.