7 Ways to Help Curb Obesity in Your Pet

We love our cats and dogs so much that it’s easy to want to make them happy with the gift of food. There are few things they like better, right? But when your pets pack on the pounds, it’s not good for their health. If you can keep them at an ideal weight, they have a better chance at a longer life.

In honor of National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, we're sharing simple strategies to help your pet get back to a healthy size. Check out our gallery below for great, vet-approved tips.

Ways to Watch Your Pet’s Weight

dry pet food in blue bowl

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Stop Free Feeding

It may seem easy to just fill your pet’s bowl with dry food, leave it out for her and refill it when it’s empty. But free feeding can lead to some very overweight pets. Instead, work with your veterinarian to determine the right amount of food for your pet, set regular mealtimes and measure exactly the appropriate amount every time, writes Dr. Marty Becker. That way, your pets are eating in moderation and you’re controlling the amount of food they take in.

fat cat sitting by window

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Make Them Find Their Food

Cats are hunters by nature. But those who live with humans don’t usually have to do a whole lot of work to track down their next meal — and that may mean they aren’t getting much exercise. Cats in the wild spend a lot of time resting, but they have large bursts of energy when they hunt for a meal. Dr. Donna Spector recommends moving your cat’s food bowl to different spots in the house so he has to walk around to look for it. You could gradually move it upstairs or downstairs. If your feline has mobility problems and can't walk the stairs, at least move his bowl away from his favorite napping places so he has to get up to eat.

Dog Eating Peanut Butter

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Watch the Treats

Just like humans trying to control their weight, many dogs and cats need to cut back on the treats to stay healthy. If you’re always reaching for a cookie to give them, remember that even small treats often hide a large number of calories, according to Dr. Spector. She also reminds us that pets don’t overfeed themselves — their owners are usually the ones responsible for their overeating. Instead of high-calorie cookies, opt for small bites of pet-safe fruits and vegetables.

Pet Food Labels

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Read Labels

Now you know that calories count for pets too — and you may not realize that most dog foods are quite high in calories. The guidelines on the label for how much food to give your pet are generic and go by the pet's current weight, Dr. Spector explains. Your veterinarian may recommend feeding your pet according to her ideal weight. You also need to know how many calories are in a cup or can of your pet’s food and then measure according to the number of calories your pet should be getting (if you're not sure, ask your veterinarian). You should also know the calorie count for treats and make sure your pet isn’t getting more than 10 percent of her daily calories from treats.

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Keep an Eye on the Scale

It’s the moment that makes many pet owners cringe: when it’s time for your pet to step on the scale at the vet’s office. But weight checks are an important tool to keep your four-legged friend’s size on track, and you’ll need the scale to monitor his weight-loss progress. Dr. Spector recommends weighing your pet every one to two weeks to see how it’s going. If the weight isn’t coming off, your vet may recommend cutting back his calories further, she says.

Dog Getting Measured at Vet

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Consider Fat Camp for Pets

If you and your vet determine that your pet is overweight or obese and you’re struggling to help her drop the pounds, a pet fat camp might be a good option. Reputable camps include a veterinary exam and consultation. Their costs might also include an overnight stay, a personalized nutrition plan and an exercise plan. Others aren’t overnight, but might incorporate support from staff through follow-up calls or monthly weigh-ins and a long-term maintenance plan.

Basset Hound with vet

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Talk to Your Vet

Of course, just like in people, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for weight loss when it comes to dogs and cats. It’s important to talk with your vet about factors that may play into your pet’s weight, including their age, changing nutritional needs and whether they’ve been spayed or neutered, among other things. Your vet can tell you if you’re overfeeding, recommend the appropriate food and help you choose the right kind of exercise for your pet to safely shed pounds.

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