Simple steps to get your pet trim and healthy in the New Year

Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM

According to the latest veterinary surveys, over half our nation’s dogs and cats are overweight. This means over 90 million pets are at risk for developing crippling arthritis, debilitating diabetes, catastrophic kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure and many forms of cancer.

Here are simple tips to trim excess pounds from your pet and keep them healthy.

Calculate Calories

If you don’t know how many calories your pet needs each day, you don’t know how much you need to feed them. And don’t rely only on feeding guides on pet food; those values are formulated for adult, un-spayed or un-neutered active dogs and cats. For most older, spayed or neutered, indoor “lap potatoes,” you’re probably overfeeding by 20% to 30% too much if you follow the pet food’s instructions.

Instead, ask your veterinarian to calculate the proper number of calories your pet needs each day based on breed, age, fitness, and health. Another good starting point is to use this formula: Divide your pet’s weight by 2.2. Multiply this figure times 30. Add 70 and you’ve got a general idea of how many calories you should be feeding a typical inactive, indoor spayed or neutered pet weighing up to 60 pounds.

Measure Meals

The greatest tool in the fight against excess weight is a measuring cup or kitchen scale. Too many pet owners simply fill the bowl or “guesstimate” how much they’re feeding. Even worse, some pets, especially cats, are fed an “all-day buffet” that results from the “just keep the bowl full” feeding philosophy. My organization, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, has done studies to show that feeding as few as 10 extra kibbles of food per day can add up to a pound of weight gain per year in indoor cats and small dogs! 

Tactical Treating

First off, I’m not “anti-treats,” I am “anti-junk-treats!” If you’re going to give your pets extra goodies, make ‘em count. Too many pet treats are what I call “calorie grenades,” laden with sugar and fat, so choose low-calorie, no-sugar goodies that provide a health benefit. I like single ingredient treats such as sweet potato, salmon, and blueberry bites or functional treats that provide a bonus such as helping to keep teeth clean or promote mobility. Whatever treats you give, be sure to count those additional calories.  As few as 30 extra calories per day means your pet gains over three pounds in a year.

Vital Veggies

As an alternative to highly-processed store-bought treats, try offering baby carrots, green beans, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, sliced apples and bananas or ice cubes. These naturally nutritious tasty tidbits are a healthy option for many dogs. For cats, try a flake of salmon or tuna when you’re feeling generous.

Hustle for Health

Research proves our most powerful partner is daily aerobic activity, and anyone with a dog has a built-in, no-excuse exercise buddy. For dogs, just 20 to 30-minutes of brisk walking is all it takes to reap health benefits. For cats, try playing with a laser pointer, remote-controlled toy or ball of paper for 5 to 15 minutes each day.

Cut Down the Carbs

Most of the pets I treat for don’t need a high-carbohydrate diet. Yet that’s exactly what most of us feed our pets. Many diets contain 60% or more carbohydrates when you analyze the food label. I prefer low-carbohydrate pet food options with a protein source as the first ingredient, especially for cats that need to slim down. As a general rule, I recommend trying a higher-protein/low-carb diet first for weight loss in my patients. 

It’s the responsibility of each of us to help our pets maintain a healthy weight. By using these seven simple suggestions, you’ll be on your way to your pet’s best – and healthiest – year yet!

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