Sure, sometimes pets look adorable when they’re plump—but the extra pounds may set them up for serious health issues, like diabetes and high blood pressure. If your cat or dog seems too rotund, it can be an opportunity to get healthier yourself: A study conducted last year discovered that when dog owners heard that their pups were overweight or obese, the diagnosis spurred them to exercise more, and both they and their dogs slimmed down. What you need to do to get rid of your pooch’s pooch—and your own:
Pay your pet a visit
You’ll want to find out your pet’s body condition score, similar to a BMI number for humans. “Then your vet will be able to figure out how many calories you need to feed your dog or cat each day for gradual weight loss,” says Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity and Prevention. Your vet might suggest a diet food, or recommend reducing portions. She’ll draw up an exercise plan, too, based on the health of your four-legged friend.
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Make walks a must
You may think your dog is playing while you’re at work, but there’s a good chance it’s lounging around. A rule of thumb: Don’t trust that your pup is active unless you or a dog walker is there to confirm it, or you have a canine fitness tracker like Tagg or Whistle. To ensure your pooch is moving enough, walk him for 30 minutes a day, the amount most dogs need.
Work up to a run
“Any dog and breed can be a capable running buddy,” says Dr. Ward. A Chihuahua probably won’t be able to log a 5K, but it may want to do short sprints with you. As for dogs more suited for distance, like golden retrievers, you should ramp it up gradually. “Because your dog loves you, it’ll have the mental stamina to stick with you, but it could injure itself if it’s not physically ready,” says Jeffrey Werber, DVM, founder of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles. Dr. Ward suggests increasing time by 10 percent a week—and be sure to stop for water breaks. Also, wait until your pooch is 18 months to two years old before running—dogs’ joints aren’t mature until then.
Get cats fit, too
“A cat’s favorite pastimes are relaxing and eating,” says Deborah Elliott, DVM, founder of VETDispatch in Flanders, N.J. “That’s why exercise is so crucial.” Aim for your kitty to have two or three five-minute intense play periods per day. To get both of you moving, run around your house and up the stairs with a laser pointer—cats go crazy for them.
Signs Your Pet May Be Packing Extra Pounds
Not sure if your animal buddy is on the heavier side? These checks can help you tell if you should take it to the vet. (Note: The tests may not work well for some naturally heftier breeds, like English bulldogs.)
The rib check
You should be able to lightly feel ribs if you rub on them. If you’re pushing through more than an inch of jelly, your pet is probably too chubby.
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The sagging tummy test
Look at your dog or cat from the side. It’s a red flag if the belly is sagging or dragging. And as in humans, belly fat is the most dangerous kind of fat.
The hourglass test
Observe your dog or cat from above. You should see an indentation, like an hourglass shape. More of a blimp? Time to get in shape.
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