According to the latest veterinary surveys, more than half our nation’s dogs and cats are overweight. This means almost 90 million pets are at a higher risk for developing arthritis, diabetes, kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure, and many forms of cancer. So how can you slim down your super -sized pet and reduce its risk of these serious diseases? The answer is easier than you think. These seven tips can help you trim excess pounds off your pet and keep her healthy.
1. CALCULATE CALORIES If you don’t know how many calories your pet needs each day, you don’t know how much food to offer. And don’t think you can trust the bag—feeding guidelines are formulated for active, adult, unspayed or unneutered dogs and cats. This means that if you your pet is an older, spayed or neutered, indoor lap lounger, you’ll likely be overfeeding by 20 percent to 30 percent if you’re following the manufacturer’s instructions. Instead, ask your veterinarian to calculate the number of calories your pet needs each day. Or use this formula: Divide your pet’s weight in pounds by 2.2. Multiply this figure by 30. Then add 70. This number will give you a good idea of how many calories a typical inactive, indoor, spayed or neutered pet needs. Of course, each pet’s metabolism is different, so consult your veterinarian before starting your pet on a diet.
2. MEASURE MEALS Your greatest tool in the fight against a pet’s excess weight is a measuring cup. Too many pet owners simply fill the bowl or guesstimate how much they’re feeding. Studies have shown that feeding as few as 10 extra kibbles of food per day can add up to a pound of weight gain in a year for indoor cats and small dogs. Keep in mind that for the average 10-pound cat or small dog, this is a 10 percent weight gain. After you calculate how many calories your pet needs, determine how much food you should feed at each meal—and measure it.
3. VITAL VEGGIES I’m not against treats; I’m against junky treats. Too many pet treats are calorie grenades laden with sugar and fat. If you’re going to give your pets extra goodies, choose low-calorie, sugar-free options with health benefits. I recommend single-ingredient treats like sweet potatoes or functional treats that help keep teeth clean or promote mobility. As an alternative to highly processed store-bought treats, try offering dogs baby carrots, green beans, celery, cucumbers, sliced apples and bananas, and ice cubes. For cats, try a flake of salmon or tuna. While you’re at it, put down the potato chips and share a carrot with your pooch. You’ll both be healthier for it.
4. TREAT TACTICALLY Whatever treats you give, be sure to count those calories. Many pet owners feed the proper amount of food but sabotage their efforts by adding treats throughout the day. As few as 30 extra calories per day means your pet may gain three pounds in a year.
5. HUSTLE FOR HEALTH When it comes to a long, pain- and disease-free life, research proves our most powerful partner is daily exercise. For dogs, as little as 20 to 30 minutes of daily brisk walking is all it takes to boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health, and reduce many behavioral problems. For cats, try playing chase (using a laser pointer, remote-controlled toy, or ball of paper) for five to 15 minutes each day.
6. SMART SUPPLEMENTS When it comes to keeping fit and trim, supplements may help. Many dogs, cats, and people can benefit from taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement. These powerful fish oils pack a potent antioxidant punch that has been proven to help prevent numerous diseases. In addition, they may help ease achy joints and encourage weight loss. L-carnitine has been shown to aid weight loss and promote lean muscle mass. Ask your veterinarian if these supplements make sense for your cat or dog.
7. CUT DOWN ON CARBS Most pet cats and dogs don’t need a high -carbohydrate diet, yet that’s exactly what most of us feed them. Instead, look for low- or no-grain options with a protein source as the first ingredient. Your veterinarian can recommend the best food for your cat or dog. As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to help your cat or dog maintain a healthy weight. Even though they might love eating pizza and ice cream every day, you know that’s not smart. It’s up to you to feed healthy, nutritious foods and treats and to exercise your pet daily. By using these seven simple suggestions, you’ll be on your way to your pet’s best—and healthiest—year yet.