We try to do the very best for our pets. After all, they’re a part of the family! They get good food, treats, lots of love, excellent veterinary care, toys, beds (even though sometimes they sleep in our bed with us!) … We could go on and on about how much love and attention we give them.

The last thing we want to hear at our pet’s annual check-up is that they have a health issue. Unfortunately, vets are seeing more and more overweight pets, and while it may not seem like a big deal, there are many health consequences that can stem from your pet being overweight.

Similar to obesity in humans, obesity in pets can lead to osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure to name a few. Apart from the health risks, overweight pets are less able to fully participate in play, exercise, and even daily activities such as walks or getting onto or off of the couch can become difficult for them.

Luckily, your vet can help you determine if your pet is overweight and help create a plan for getting them back on track. Diet and exercise are the biggest factors in keeping your pet healthy. Here are some tips and tricks for weight management:

Diet:

Discuss your pet’s current diet with your vet. Be sure to include all the “extras” your pet may be getting in the form of treats, table scraps, or chews. From there, you can determine what your pet should be eating each day. Most people are surprised to learn that they don’t have to stop giving their pet treats! Moderation is key. A good tip is to portion out your pet’s daily meals and treats – put their entire day’s allotment into a separate container and feed them only out of that. That way you don’t have to keep track of how much they’ve gotten. It can be difficult to know how much your pet has eaten with multiple family members. If you set a rule that they are fed only out of their day’s portion you won’t have to worry about them getting too much or too little.

“But my pet is always begging, they must be hungry!”

Something I have learned from experience is that we train our pets that food = attention. We use food when training, we give them a treat when we leave for the day and another treat when we get home. They quickly associate treats and food with our love and attention. A trick that has worked for me is whenever my pet goes over to their bowl or starts begging for food I take a moment to pet them or play with them. Most of the time all they wanted in the first place was a little attention. You might be surprised to find that after a while your pet will stop constantly begging for food and might pick up a toy to play with or come to you for some affection instead!

Exercise:

If your pet is already overweight excercise can be a little difficult to get started. And of course, you don’t want to ask your overweight pet to run a marathon! However, every pet is capable of some form of excercise. Cats love to play and can usually be motivated to check out a new or novel item in their environment. Sometimes bringing out a new paper bag can lead to 20 minutes of activity! Playing with a teaser toy (usually a feather or some other toy attached to the end of a stick) can get them up and moving too. For dogs, a walk goes a long way. For us Floridians early mornings or evenings are best, especially in the summer, but even a short walk gets their (and our) metabolism going. Of course, playing fetch or letting them run around a backyard is also great exercise and if your pet likes to swim all the better!

Making your pet work for their food is another great way to keep them physically and mentally fit. You can place their bowl at the top of the stairs, or get them any number of products designed to make your pet work for their meal/treats. A favorite of mine is the kibble-nibble which is a hollow ball that you can unscrew and fill with kibble or treats. Your pet has to then push and roll the ball around to get the food out. It’s entertaining for them and for you!

Our pet’s health is important to us, and keeping them at a healthy weight is one of the ways we can help ensure them a long and happy life.