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Does your pet waddle when he walks? Is he often out of breath? Are his ribs covered by fat? If you answered “yes” to these questions, your pet may be one of the more than 50 percent of American pets that are overweight or obese. Just like people, pets most often become overweight by eating too much and not exercising enough. And carrying those extra pounds can put them at risk for many problems, including heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and arthritis. You may be able to add years to your pet’s life by keeping him at an ideal weight.

Start Young

Ideally, you want to begin watching your pet’s weight when he is little. That way, you can help ensure that he stays at an ideal weight and avoids weight-related health problems. Another advantage of a lifelong maintenance plan is that it is easier to help your pet maintain a healthy weight than it is to help him lose excess pounds

Stay on Top of It

A pet’s dietary needs will vary throughout his life, from kittenhood or puppyhood to active adulthood to the golden years. His lifestyle may also change as he ages. That’s why you should always get a weight check at every veterinary visit — and work with your veterinarian to devise a weight-management plan based on your pet’s body condition score, lifestyle, age and physical health. The plan should specify food (what kind of food to feed, how much to give and how often), acceptable snacks and exercise.

It’s especially important to monitor the weight of older pets, since they often become less active with advancing age and their daily caloric requirements may decrease. Their ability to digest certain foods may also change. If you notice any changes in your pet’s eating, be sure to discuss them with your veterinarian.

For Overweight Pets

If you are not sure how your pet’s weight stacks up, you can get a general sense of how healthy he is by checking the following:

  • His rib cage should be easy to feel.
  • When viewed from the side, his abdomen should “tuck-up" in front of the hips.
  • When viewed from above, he should have a visible waist.
If your pet is already overweight, do not despair. You can start getting him into better shape right now. Set up an appointment with your veterinarian, who will assess your pet’s condition. He or she will first perform a thorough physical examination to rule out any underlying medical concerns. The next step will be to evaluate your pet’s current diet, daily caloric intake and physical activity. Finally, he or she will establish how much weight your pet needs to lose and will work out a weight-reduction plan.

Regardless of whether your pet is currently in shape or overweight, a healthy lifestyle for you and your pet includes a well-balanced diet and appropriate exercise. Make a resolution to have your entire family—four-legged members included—focus on eating right and enjoying the fresh air. It will do everyone good.

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