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Your Happy Pet: Trimming your pet's extra pounds

Original Publication Date: July 28, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

More than 50 percent of adult dogs and cats are overweight or obese, according to a recent survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Extra pounds can lead to a number of serious health problems for our pets, including arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease and shortened life expectancy.

More than 20 percent of owners don't realize their pet is overweight. To put things into perspective, a 95-pound golden retriever might seem a little plump to its owner, but it is comparable to a 5-foot 9-inch person who weighs 214 pounds. Similarly, a chubby 10-pound Chihuahua is equivalent to a 5-foot 9-inch person weighing 282 pounds, and a chunky 15-pound cat is akin to a 5-foot 9-inch person who weighs 254 pounds.

To check out your pet's weight, rub your hands along its sides. You should be able to just feel its ribs if its weight is appropriate, and your dog should narrow a bit at the waist. If you can't feel its ribs and its profile resembles a sausage, your pet is probably overweight.

Your veterinarian can evaluate your pet to determine if the extra pounds are the result of some underlying health problem. If not, he or she will help you set a realistic goal weight and recommend a high quality food. Work with your vet to determine the proper amount of food.

Measuring each meal as portion control is key to controlling calories. Experts agree that it's better to feed two meals that are 12 hours apart rather than one large meal.

Treats should not make up more than 10 percent of your pet's total calorie count. Many pets are overweight because of the "hidden" or ignored calories in treats. A 230 kilograms per calorie pig ear may look like a relatively small treat for a 40-pound dog, but it is similar to an adult person drinking six 12-ounce Coke Classics, containing 840 k/cal. Healthy low-calorie treats, like apples, carrots, cucumbers, green beans or ice cubes, are much better treat choices. You may be surprised how much your pet likes those options.

Exercise is an important part of your dog's weight loss program, so take a walk, jog, swim or play fetch. Make exercise a regular routine. Keep it fun, and your dog will look forward to its special time with you.

Start with activities that you both enjoy and work at a pace that is comfortable. You can increase workout time and add more exercises as its fitness increases.

Eating right and being physically active will help your pet stay at a healthy weight. This is something to strive for since studies show dogs that maintain an ideal body weight live 15 percent longer and suffer fewer chronic diseases than overweight dogs.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at