If your pet’s most intense exercise is rolling over, or traveling from the food bowl to the couch, it’s time to take action. Pet obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and brought along some disturbing trends in pet health.

Don’t let your pet get stuck in a vicious cycle of decreased exercise and weight gain. Use the following guide from Millbrae Pet Hospital, and help them get moving, slim down, and live longer.

Pet obesity’s hidden dangers

Excess fat tissue creates a pro-inflammatory environment. When your pet’s body is in a persistently inflamed state, life-altering, or life-ending, conditions are more likely to occur, including: 

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Insulin-resistant diabetes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heart disease

Assess your pet’s body condition

Your pet’s ideal weight is based on a physical assessment rather than a number on the scale. You should be able to easily feel their ribs under a slight fat covering, and to see a defined waistline from their side and overhead. For a visual scoring guide, check out this chart. If your pet does not score a four or five, schedule a weight-loss consultation at Millbrae Pet Hospital. 

Medical causes for pet weight gain

Decreased activity and changes in body condition may indicate a medical disorder. Restricting your pet’s calories, or starting an exercise plan without addressing pain or illness, may worsen your pet’s health.

Bring your pet to Millbrae Pet Hospital for a physical examination first, to rule out medical causes for your pet’s weight gain and inactivity, which may include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Orthopedic injury
  • Back or neck pain
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cushing’s disease

Fight back with a pet weight-loss battle plan

Once your pet is medically cleared for weight loss, our veterinarian will review their current diet and make specific nutritional recommendations, such as changing your pet’s food. Veterinary weight loss diets are strategically formulated to improve your pet’s metabolism while creating a feeling of fullness, dropping excess pounds easier for your pet, while not feeling hungry.

Measure your pet’s food to ensure they are receiving the recommended calorie amount. Replace pet treats and table scraps with plain popcorn, oat ring cereal, plain rice cakes, fresh vegetables, or pieces of your pet’s food, and ensure the entire family understands the new rules about feeding your pet.

Get moving toward a healthy weight pet

Motivation can be the biggest stumbling block toward getting your pet to exercise. However, with pain management, treatment for underlying conditions, and a nutritional plan in place, your pet should begin to feel a little better—and more motivated—each day. 

For the best results, do not push your pet. Be patient, and set a goal to simply increase their movement daily with the following exercises and activities. When paired with proper nutrition, you’ll be surprised how the regimen adds upor in this case, subtracts! 

  • Let your pet play with their food — Yes, that’s correct. Use your sedentary pet’s food—which is what motivates them the most—to get them moving. So, ditch the food dish, and engage your pet’s hunting instincts with these activities:
    • Food bowling — Toss or place several food pieces at the end of a hallway or across the room. As your pet eats them, move further away, and repeat. Tossing the food simulates escaping prey, and may create more energetic movement. 
    • Food hunt — Hide your pet’s dry food in a snuffle mat, or scatter the pieces in untreated grass, encouraging them to sniff out each piece. Gradually increase the space, or use multiple snuffle mats hidden throughout your home.
    • Food dispensing ball — These dog and cat toys must be rolled to release food, and can be highly effective for hard-to-motivate cats. 
  • Teach pets to savor the flavor — Serving your pet’s food on lickable mats and in food-stuffed toys forces them to slow down while eating, which improves satisfaction, and digestion, and reduces begging.
  • Walking to lose weight — Brisk walking for 20 to 30 minutes per day provides many  health benefits, as well as calorie burn. Take your dog to a new park or trail to pique their curiosity, and set a steady pace. Begin with a 5- to 10-minute goal, and let them sniff and explore on the return leg—they’ve earned it.
  • Chasing down a (weight loss) dream — Stimulate cats to move by introducing motorized toys, feather wands, or crumpled paper balls. Try some easy DIY feline enrichment to get them on their paws. Cats should have 10 to 15 minutes of active exercise per day.
  • Swim for it — Hydrotherapy (i.e., therapeutic swimming, or underwater treadmill) is an excellent way to exercise overweight pets. The water’s natural buoyancy takes pressure off painful joints, and allows pets to move in a weightless environment. Many owners report visible mobility improvements soon after water exercise.
  • Learn something new — Take a training class, brush up on motion-related skills such as “Come,” and “Heel,” or teach your pet new tricks. Use their regular meal as the reward for a job well-done. 

Regular follow-up appointments at Millbrae Pet Hospital are important, to ensure your pet’s continued health, adjust pain management protocols, and to monitor safe and steady weight loss. 

Watching your pet lose weight and gain a new, more mobile life is a rewarding experience. Get started by scheduling your pet’s consultation at Millbrae Pet Hospital.