By Certified Dog Trainer and Animal Behavior Specialist Mikkel Becker
and DVM Dr. Marty Becker
in collaboration with Sure Petcare
The idea that food equals love shapes how people tend to express their affection for others, including their pets. And, since most people consider their dogs and cats to be beloved members of the family, the expression of such love may be visible as added pounds onto the frames of their dogs and cats.
Unfortunately, such edible expression of love is common among four legged members of the family; with over half of all dogs and cats in the U.S. being overweight or obese. Because dogs and cats live in the moment and lack awareness of how the food that tastes so good could actually cause issues in the long run. They beg with gusto for the momentary pleasures that fail to support their long-term health. And, for the humans it’s still hard to resist the persuasive meow, pleading eyes or prancing puppy paws doing a happy dance in anticipation of getting their share of the yummy morsel in our hands.
However, the way that we show the greatest love to our pets is when we make the choices that actually help our pets to feel at their physical and emotional best long term. Extra weight isn’t cute and allowing our animals to eat whatever they want isn’t the way to pamper our pets, because the reality is that added inches go beyond a pet’s ideal waistline and can take away the quality, and years, of life a dog or cat gets to enjoy.
Pets that are overweight or obese are at higher risk of experiencing a multitude of health issues, including increased risk of diabetes, changes in behavior issues and most concerning of all, both a shortened lifespan and a lower quality of life. from limited mobility and compromised breathing as well.
In contrast, keeping your cat and canine at or near their ideal body weight boasts big benefits for protecting and promoting both their physical and emotional health. And, the process of incorporating healthier eating and increased exercise patterns into your pet’s everyday life can be done in a way that doesn’t leave your pet feeling deprived, but instead something that fits into their daily routine and can even feel like fun… really!
To help your dog or cat reach or maintain a healthy body weight and proportionate waistline, consider the following:
Get Real with Yourself and Your Pet:
Most people underestimate their pet’s weight; thinking their pet is ‘normal’ or only slightly overweight, when in actuality they’re above the recommended weight for their body frame and size.
Your pet’s vet is best equipped to assess your dog or cat’s body condition and provide feedback on your pet’s ideal body weight. Veterinary approved pet weight charts also offer a way to continually assess your pet’s body size through both the look and feel of your pet. The feedback from your pet’s vet, the physical look and feel of your pet as compared to a veterinary recommended pet weight chart, and their weight on the scale all provide helpful feedback for getting your pet to reach or maintain an ideal size.
Monitored Food Intake and Portion Control:
It is important to measure out the portion size of food given to your dog or cat each day, rather than to just guesstimate how much you’re feeding, or relying on the dog or cat to self-regulate.
Feeding each pet in your household a pre-portioned amount of food each day allows for the pet to better gain or maintain a healthy weight. Measuring and tracking the pet’s intake of food each day also allows for more timely attention to changes in the animal’s eating patterns that can indicate underlying issues, including sickness that the animal may be attempting to hide.
One of the easiest ways to monitor food intake and manage overeating to help your pet achieve or maintain a more ideal weight and waistline is by using an automatic pet feeder that helps to measure by weight how much your pet is fed each day.
Portion control and animal-controlled access to their individual food, without complication of other household pets, can be provided through a microchip pet feeder, like the SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder Connect. This feeder both measures portion size as well as allowing only the registered animal with the associated microchip or collar tag to access their daily portion of food, while keeping other animals out. And, with the Feeder Connect, the animal’s ongoing eating patterns, as well as changes in how the animal is eating, can provide information that may relay early signs of stress or changes in health that have a better prognosis when addressed early on.
Cats are especially picky about having a predictable routine and feeding time. And, they also are more likely to be grazers rather than devours; meaning they’re likely to eat multiple small meals throughout the day rather than 1 or 2 large meals. As such, with the Feeder Connect you can allow the cat to access their food on their own timeline as desired, without having to be there to supervise and without worrying about other animals stealing their food.
Treat Type and Size:
While sharing a few bites of hamburger or sandwich may seem insignificant to us, in comparison to our dog or cat’s size, what’s only a little to us can be a lot to our pet’s proportionally. Take note that only about 10% of our dog or cat’s calories per day should come from treats. But we can get more value from our pet’s treats by switching up the type of treats given and how they’re delivered.
Instead of calorie dense treats, consider lower calorie treat options that satisfy your pet’s desire to snack without adding a considerable number of extra calories. You can also consider calorie free ways to reward and show affection to your dog and cat, including petting, attention, toys, play, and quality time.
Also consider that it’s not so much the size of the treat as it is the event of getting the treat that’s most exciting for your pet. One regular sized treat can oftentimes be broken up into multiple tiny pieces increasing opportunities for reward. For instance, what would be one opportunity to treat your dog or cat can instead be five, ten, or twenty opportunities instead.
Another way to increase your pet’s enjoyment of their treats is to elongate the time it takes for your pet to eat them by feeding through food puzzle toys that require both physical and mental output from the pet in order to work out the contents of food from within the toy.
Increased Activity- Amping up the Physical Activity/ Output:
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore for you or your pet. Instead, it’s more practical and easier to maintain if it’s incorporated into your pet’s daily routine as a form of interactive or explorative fun that your dog or cat naturally enjoys.
You don’t need to exhaust your dog or cat either in order to gain or maintain a more ideal weight. Just a little increase in activity can make a difference in calorie burn and building muscle and endurance over time.
Beyond measuring exercise amount by duration of time per play session or walk, another way to more accurately measure energy output for the day and over the longterm is through a behavior and activity tracker, like Animo. Animo, a lifelong behavior and activity tracker that’s lightweight and attachable to your dog’s collar, synchs with your phone to measure and provide ongoing feedback and recording of longterm progress of physical activity and daily calorie burn.
Your pet’s vet may have suggestions for the type of exercise that’s most appropriate and fitting for your fido or feline. But, as a general guideline, it’s most important to look at incorporating exercise into your dog or cat’s routine that’s enjoyable and easy to maintain longterm. And, when setting goals and increasing exercise, it’s important to build up gradually to reduce stress that might make the animal more sore and prone to injury. Instead, take the cat or dog’s current level of activity and build towards fitness goals by increasing exercise by 10% each week to help the pet gain muscle and increase their level of endurance over time.
Play is one valuable and fun way to get your dog or cat moving. Cats especially are best motivated to move through play that brings out the cat’s inner hunter or huntress. Try portioning amounts of treats or food and hiding them in the home or yard. Low calorie treats may also be broken up into tiny pieces and delivered through a food puzzle that requires the dog or cat to manipulate and move the toy with their nose or paws for the food inside to fall out.
Certain animals may also have exercise restrictions or requirements that can be adjusted with creative strategies. For instance, young animals who haven’t yet fully grown into their adult size and senior animals are likely to require greater protection with restriction to lower impact exercise. Dogs, for instance, may benefit from water exercise which decreases impact on joints and adds natural resistance to build stronger muscles. Remember water exercises must always be supervised and your pet needs to wear a canine floatation device for added safety.
Lastly, when it comes to gaining and maintaining a healthy weight, it’s important to think of nutrition and exercise not as a crash diet or bootcamp, but instead as part of an overall healthy lifestyle that can be enjoyed long term. Not only will the long term approach be less stressful for the pet, but it’s more likely to lead to sustained weight loss and well-being.