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Is your pet overweight?

dogHas your pet put on a few extra pounds recently? Winter weight gain is not uncommon, especially in parts of the country where colder temperatures and inclement weather cut down on outdoor exercise and play time.

An estimated 25 percent of all pets are obese and being overweight is more than just a matter of aesthetics. Extra pounds on both dogs and cats is associated with heart and respiratory problems. Obese dogs and cats are more prone to diabetes, face greater risks from surgery, and may have increased risk of skin disease and cancer. Obese dogs are also prone to arthritis and other orthopedic problems. A poor diet in your cat can result in urinary tract infections.

How much weight is too much? Veterinarians calculate a pet’s body score on a scale of 1 (very thin) to 5 (obese). To score your pet, your veterinarian will feel for your pet’s ribs, look from the side for the desired abdominal tuck, and look from above to see if your pet has a waist. If your pet scores higher than a 3, it’s time to take steps to get his weight under control.

Reduce Your Pet’s Food
Although a few pet weight problems are due to hormonal imbalances, most pets are fat because we overfeed them. Just as with people, the key is to control caloric intake.

It’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian on what you are feeding your pet. Nutritional needs change with age, and some medical conditions require special diets. Once you are sure you are feeding your pet the proper food, here are some steps to reducing calories:

  • Always measure how much food you give. A "bowl-full" can mean different things to different family members.
  • Don’t feed your pet table scraps. They are high in fat and calories and can upset the nutritional balance your pet needs.
  • Limit food rewards. As much as they love food treats, pets also love your praise and play time with you.
  • Establish mealtimes for your pet. If food is available all day, your pet – dogs especially — may eat out of boredom.

If your vet recommends a lower-fat food for your pet, don’t switch "cold turkey" or your pet may refuse to eat. Begin by adding a small amount of the new food to his familiar fare and then gradually modify the proportion over several weeks.

Don’t Forget Exercise
Of course, a healthy diet is only half the battle, since weight problems often go hand-in-hand with inactive lifestyles.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) suggests starting young and middle-aged dogs on a moderate program of walking 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day. Gradually building up to an hour a day as time permits. If you’re too busy to walk your dog every day, hire a high school student or a senior volunteer to do it for you.

Running is good exercise, but hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete are hard on paws and joints. Instead, take your dog on a hiking trail or other soft surface to run. And remember not to overdo it in the beginning.

And there is also hope for that fat cat who just sits on your lap. Although many people think cats won’t walk on a leash, cats can be trained to use a harness leash, which prevents injury to their fragile neck areas. If Fluffy resists a leash or walking, introduce physical activity such as playing with string or other favorite toys.

For more information on diet and exercise for your dog or cat, visit the AAHA website at www.healthypet.com.