Newswise — MANHATTAN, Kan. — While you're counting calories and getting in extra exercise, you probably should be doing the same thing for your pets, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.
A survey from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that about 53 percent of dogs are either overweight or obese. It's even higher for cats, with about 58 percent weighing more than they should. Much like humans, this extra weight can take a toll on your pet's health.
"Overweight animals also have certain health issues," said Susan Nelson, clinical associate professor in the department of clinical sciences and veterinarian at the Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center. "It can aggravate joint disease. It can lead to Type 2 diabetes. It can aggravate heart conditions, and it can lead to skin diseases as folds in the pet's skin get bigger. It can even shorten their life span."
Even though many people think their pets look in shape, cats and dogs have a distinct body shape when they are at the appropriate weight. You should only be able to feel a thin layer of fat over their ribs, Nelson says. It should be similar to the amount of skin you feel when you rub your fingers across the knuckles of your hand while it is outstretched. Your furry friend should also have an hourglass figure when viewed from above, nipping in at the waist and a belly that tucks up instead of being level. Nelson says the best time to check the shape on longer-haired pets is when they are wet.
Another important part of maintaining your pet's weight is knowing how many daily calories it is consuming. Accurate measurement of the pet's food is essential. Nelson says a recommendation of one 8-ounce cup of food is not equivalent to using a Big Gulp drink cup — it means using an actual measuring cup. If you can't find the calorie recommendation on the bag label, contact the manufacturer to get this information.
"I think it's important to realize that food does not equal love," Nelson said. "It's hard to resist those big, brown eyes, but those extra calories can really add up."
The amount of calories per cup can vary tremendously between different brands and types of food by as much as 200 to 300 calories per cup. You can easily double the amount of daily calories consumed by your pet if you don't adjust the amount you feed when you unknowingly switch from a lower-calorie food to a higher-calorie food. Also, Nelson says the feeding guides on the bags may not always be ideal for your pet.
"In the testing facilities, these animals are typically mandated to have a certain amount of exercise per day because they are research animals," Nelson said. "In reality, a lot of the pets that we own don't get as much exercise as those dogs and cats in the research facilities."
It can be tough to not give your pet any treats, but try to substitute extra pettings and attention instead of extra calories. If you can't entirely give up on the treats, try switching to lower-calorie treats, such as veggies, and limit the total calories from treats to no more than 10 percent of you pet's daily allotted caloric intake.
Nelson says you should exercise your pet at least 20 to 30 minutes everyday, if the pet's health allows. A pet that lies around most of the day takes very few calories to meet its daily requirements, which makes it hard to lose weight. Exercise will increase its metabolic rate and burn more calories. Most people often find it easier to exercise a dog than a cat.
If your cat is not fond of exercise, there are a few tricks for helping them burn some extra calories.
"You can try scattering the food around in small portions throughout the house so that they have to hunt for it and get more exercise that way or you can place the food in a location where the cat has to go up and down stairs," Nelson said. "There are also items call food puzzles that you fill with food and the pet needs to work at it to slowly retrieve the kibble."
If your pet is overweight, Nelson recommends checking with your veterinarian before beginning a weight loss regimen.