Overweight Miniature Dachshund

Sneaking your pooch or kitty extra food may seem like the ultimate act of kindness, especially when you see them salivating every time you take a bite of your tuna sandwich. Unfortunately, while overeating results in more of your pet to love, the ramifications for your pet aren’t worth the instant gratification of extra treats.

Obesity in pets causes a lot of the same problems it does in people. An overweight dog or cat is prone to a host of related problems, including diabetes, joint, ligament and tendon difficulties, as well as breathing and heart challenges. Overweight cats can even develop skin problems from not being able to groom themselves properly. The overall impact on comfort and longevity can be dire.

Is your pet overweight? Healthy pets have some padding on them, but a little is plenty. Rub your hands over the ribs of your dog or cat. The skin should move easily back and forth, and you should be able to feel (but not see) the ribs. Your pet should have a definable “waist” at the bottom of the rib cage, and a small tuck-in at the stomach. Take a look from the side: If your pet looks pregnant, he’s fat. From above, a bump out from the middle into an apple shape is equally bad news.

Crash diets aren’t good for pets, especially not for fat cats, who can develop a fatal liver problem if forced to reduce too quickly. A pet doesn’t get fat overnight, and he shouldn’t be forced to change course any more rapidly. What you’ll need to do is change your pet’s eating and exercise habits gradually.

The best place to start is with a trip to your veterinarian. You’ll want to make sure your pet doesn’t have any problems that might make lifestyle changes difficult or dangerous. Your vet can also suggest a food and exercise plan that might help.

Carve some time out of your schedule to walk your dog or play with your cat — three times a week, at least. Be sure to work in some aerobic exercise that is safe and will get your pet moving, but watch closely for breathing problems, fatigue, or other evidence that your exercise buddy has had enough. Dividing the daily food ration into smaller portions and making pets work to find them or putting a small portion of a meal in puzzles that require work to get at will also help some pets.