Losing Weight Can Help Your Pet Live Longer

Losing Weight Can Help Your Pet Live Longer

Want a longer life for your pet? It might be as simple as helping your dog to lose weight.

Excess weight gain affects as many as 50 percent of dogs seen by veterinarians. Research shows that your pet will live two years longer by shedding those extra pounds.

Overweight animals experience some of the same health risks that overweight humans do, including arthritis and a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. If overweight females become pregnant, they may have more complications.

During a visit to the veterinarian, thick layers of fat make examining your pet difficult and increase the risks for anesthesia and surgical procedures. In overweight pets, wounds heal more slowly and there is a higher risk of infection.

Does your pet need to slim down?

It is easy to tell if your pet is overweight. Put your hands on either side of the chest and attempt to feel the ribs. If you can easily feel (but not see) the ribs, your pet’s weight is satisfactory.

But if you have to push too hard to feel the ribs, then a layer of fat is obscuring them and your pet is overweight.

The abdomen of a dog should be tucked up when viewed from the side, and the dog should have a waist when viewed from the top. Cats should have minimal extra skin and fat hanging from their rear legs.

How does it happen?

Animals become overweight the same way that people do: They take in more calories than they burn. (Metabolic diseases occasionally result in obesity and can be ruled out with a simple blood test.)

Too much food and not enough exercise is the most likely reason for being overweight, after ruling out health problems such as underactive thyroid glands or heart disease. Contrary to what most people think, spaying and neutering will not cause weight gain if you lower your pet’s calorie intake appropriately.

Making some changes

We try to get a pet to a healthy weight by changing food habits and encouraging exercise. A number of reduced-calorie foods are available.

Remember that just as the animal gained weight slowly, it will lose that weight slowly as well. Reduced-calorie diets should be introduced gradually, over the course of a week. The day’s total food should be divided into two or three meals to help sustain weight loss and decrease the amount of begging.

If your pet begs between meals, one of the meals could be used for snacks between meals. If feeding snacks is one of the reasons your pet became overweight, then eliminating snacks altogether may be advisable.

Treats such as green beans or carrots (fresh or frozen) can be used. Treats for training should be used in moderation and only to provide positive reinforcement. When giving treats, decrease the calorie intake of your pet’s regular diet, and remember that treats are not a balanced diet. 

Your overweight pet should be fed separately from the other family pets and should not have access to their food. Find an activity for your pet to do while the family members are eating, to take away the temptation to feed your dog when he begs.

Exercise is an essential part of weight management. But avoid exercising your overweight pet too vigorously. The extra strain on an already over-burdened heart and breathing system could result in severe problems. Begin with short leisurely walks and gradually increase the distance and time as the animal’s tolerance allows. In warm weather, avoid exercising your pet during the hottest part of the day.

Altering your habits

Sustained weight loss requires a change in your relationship with your pet. You must begin to respond to your pet’s need for affection with something other than food. Try playing with your pet or teaching him new tricks.

If you weigh your pet weekly and plot the numbers on a chart, you will have visual evidence of your pet’s weight loss. Getting your pet to a healthy weight ensures the best relationship with your pet, a better quality of life and a longer life.

About this Experts contributor: Dr. Rex Bailey, of Michigan City Animal Hospital, providing veterinary services in Michigan City, Indiana, received his doctoral degree in veterinary medicine in 1985 from Purdue University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Michiana Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, American Association of Feline Practioners and Veterinary Missions.

As of  November 3, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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3 tips to help your pets live longer


Regular checkups with your vet can keep your dog healthy and fit. (Photo courtesy of Animal Care Clinic)
Regular checkups with your vet can keep your dog healthy and fit. (Photo courtesy of Animal Care Clinic)

Did you know that a fit pet will live longer? Unfortunately, most of our beloved dogs and cats are overweight. Try these three tips to help your pets shed those extra pounds, lower your vet bills and feel better.

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