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Is Your Pet Overweight? Exercise and Eating Tips for Dogs and Cats | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Is Your Pet Overweight? Exercise and Eating Tips for Dogs and Cats

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My sons dog playing at the beach

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Diane Peck
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How Can You Tell is Your Pet is Overweight?

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Is your pet overweight? Pets have the same tendency to gain weight (and consequences from doing so) that humans do. Here are some simple tricks to incorporate better health into your pet’s life.

Is Your Pet Overweight?

Feeling a pet’s rib coverage is a good, easy method for you to do at home. 

  • First, place the palm of your hand on the side of your pet’s rib cage and press gently.
  • If you feel your pet’s ribs with this amount of pressure, it probably weighs the right amount.
  • If you have to push harder to feel the ribs, your pet is overweight.

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Most veterinary practices use a body condition scoring system on a scale of either 1-5 (3 is normal) or 1-9 (5 is normal).

It’s best to address the extra weight as soon as possible as overweight pets are more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and disease—which may lead to more medical complications, expense for the owner, and discomfort for the pet. 

Obesity also shortens a pet’s life. Studies show that even a moderately overweight dog reduces life expectancy by nearly two years. This may be a wake-up call but it’s not hard to adjust a dog’s diet and exercise for better health if we know the right steps to take.

Better Eating

  • For overweight pets, consider low-calorie food. However, note that is it not appropriate to simply reduce the volume of their current food. This will cause malnourishment over time. You’ll need to look at food specifically for weight loss that is formulated with the right nutritional balance. Consult with your vet. S/he can tell you what kind of food to get, as well as how much the particular pet should be getting, initially for safe weight loss, and then how much to maintain the ideal weight.
  • It’s essential to set a strict diet. Only serve a set amount daily, based on your pet’s weight, breed, and age. Also, don’t leave food out all day for pets to snack on. 
  • If you’re introducing a new diet to your pet, do it gradually. Begin by mixing one part of the new food with three parts old food at each meal. After a few days mix to equal amounts of new and old food. Next, do three parts new food, one part old food.
  • Table scraps are infamous for packing on unwanted pounds. Pet’s regular meals should be designed to give them all the calories they need; the extra snacks at your kitchen table aren’t necessary.
  • If you give your pet a regular treat, however, switch to a tasty, health alternative. For example, many dogs like crunchy raw vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, and green beans. (If digestion is an issue, ice-cubes are crunchy and can act as a treat as well.)

Learn more about proper pet nutrition.

Better Exercise

  • Walking a dog is important for any size of dog, including small dogs. It’s not just a bathroom break and exercise; it provides mental stimulation and the chance to explore the world instead of being confined to home and yard.
  • For dogs, start slow and work your way up to a faster pace or longer distance so your pet can build endurance. Always provide plenty of water before and after a walk. Dogs can’t cool off by sweating because they don’t have the glands, so it’s very important to be careful in the heat not to overexert them and to keep them hydrated. An ideal route for you and your pup is one where you can walk on a path or sidewalk and the dog can walk on grass. Different breeds of dogs are more disposed to be active. Small dogs and toy breeds won’t be able to keep up; where as any medium to large breed can be conditioned for walking.
  • For cats, it’s also important to exercise a bit. Older cats naturally tend to sleep more, which reduces the amount of play time, and can lead to obesity. Or, if a young cat likes to snack a lot, the same symptoms occur—they become more lethargic and don’t exercise off the extra calories. Try to set aside some time to interact with the cat, and gradually introduce more play time. Get him/her interested in playing. Find some toy that s/he especially likes—balls, sticks with felt strips on the end, cat “fishing poles” with a bit of rag on the end, or the toys that have a ball that rolls in a circular track that the cat can bat.
  • Remember, when starting a diet or exercise plan of any sort, it’s always a good idea to contact your vet.

Learn more about caring for a senior pet.

How old is your pet in human years? See our Dog Age Chart and Cat Age Chart.

2023 Almanac Club