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What to do if your pet cat or dog is overweight, from ‘trick training’ to avoiding giving them leftovers

Giving your cat or dog an extra treat to nibble on is not always the healthiest move. Just like humans, pets can suffer from weight issues. And it’s a growing problem. In a recent survey of veterinarians, 73 per cent said that obesity was “one of the most prevalent conditions” they see, with as many as half of pet dogs and 44 per cent of cats carrying excess body weight.

Although we can sometimes think that a chunky pet is cute, the reality is that even a little extra body weight can cause significant health issues for your pet – from diabetes to cardiorespiratory problems (such as trouble breathing when asleep) to osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.

Here are some ways to keep your dog or cat in great shape.

Get lazy animals more active

Many dogs aren’t regularly exercised. And while outdoor cats generally keep themselves fit and active, indoor cats can have a level of body fat that is at least 5 per cent higher than outdoor cats and are more prone to obesity. Exercise is key to maintaining a healthy body weight and to losing weight.

Try to exercise your dog at least once a day and ideally more. Take care to ensure the length and type of exercise is appropriate for their age and ability, and increase any exercise slowly.

Dogs love “scent work” or “trick training”, which can be done in your living room. And there are numerous cat toys to encourage your indoor feline companion to burn off some calories.

Hydrotherapy – getting your dog to swim or walk in a pool or water treadmill, can be a great option for gentle or non-weight-bearing exercise, especially for older dogs.

Track their diet carefully

Some pets simply enjoy their food so much that they can get a bit chubby whatever their age. Or, just like people, “middle-age spread” can occur in pets who may naturally slow down as they get older. Either way, their diet might need to change to maintain a healthy body weight.

Weight loss should be a gradual process. Always follow recommended feeding guidelines on food packaging – or online calorie calculators – and weigh your pet’s food accurately using a scale.

If their weight is far too high – or approaching obesity – it may be best to begin your pet’s weight-loss journey with a trip to the vet.

More on pets

Be aware of other risks

Sometimes it’s just in the genes. Some Labrador retrievers, for example, have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to increased “foodie” behavior and weight gain. And neutered pets can have reduced daily calorie needs, so if their diet isn’t altered accordingly they can inadvertently gain weight.

So it’s important to recognize what a healthy body weight and shape is for your cat or dog. Take your vet’s advice.

Ditch high-calorie treats

High-fat food and treats provide lots of calories in small amounts, so it can be easy to overfeed your pet without realizing. And fattening “human” food, such as leftovers, can also contribute to them piling on the pounds, alongside an increased risk of pancreatitis – and potentially even worse if toxic foods, including onions and some artificial sweeteners, are ingested.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t treat them. Look for healthy alternatives in pet shops. Or look in your fridge. Many dogs love carrot or cucumber, especially when chopped up as a training treat. Cats love a bit of tuna or chicken, both of which are high in protein but low in calories. Don’t forget to look at other ways of treating your pet, too – exercise, play and simply spending time with them will benefit both animal and human alike.

Anne Carter lectures in animal biology and Jacqueline Boyd in animal science at Nottingham Trent University. Article republished from theconversation.com

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