Courtesy of the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society

Obesity isn’t just a human issue. It’s common in dogs, cats, birds, and other pets. Being overweight shortens a pet’s lifespan and increases their risk for painful and expensive joint problems, diabetes, and cancer.

Like humans, managing a pet’s weight requires a balance between calories consumed and burned through exercise and metabolism. Young growing active pets can eat more and remain fit, while pets who are finished growing, are spayed or neutered, will naturally require less food. So, talk to your veterinarian about the best time to transition from puppy or kitten food to an adult formula.

Most pets are at their ideal weight at one year old. You can tell your pet is at an ideal weight if you can easily feel its ribs with the palm of your hand and see a well-defined waist. Ask your vet about the ideal weight for your pet, and to provide you with suggestions for achieving that goal.

If your pet has lost its hourglass figure, the first thing to do is reduce the amount of food you are feeding. If you leave the bowl out, measure the amount of food in it, and offer meals two to three times daily. If you already measure meals, reduce each by about 25 percent to start. Also, make sure your chubby pet isn’t stealing food from your skinny pet. If so, you need to separate them for meals.

It’s also important to consider everything your pet eats daily. Dental treats, raw hides, and bully sticks are high in calories. Is your neighbor or mail carrier giving your dog treats? Is your pet stealing food off counters, getting into the trash, or opening up unguarded bags of pet food? The very best treats for your pets are actually vegetables, which are low in calories and high in nutrients. However, do not give dogs grapes, raisins, or onions and avoid avocados for birds. If you have decreased your dog’s food and treat intake and you are not seeing any result in weight loss, talk to your veterinarian about thyroid testing. Like people, some dogs require a thyroid supplement to maintain a normal metabolism.

Cats actually maintain a healthy weight best when they are fed only canned food, as dry kibble for cats is fattening. Most cats do well on 5.5oz of canned food daily. Since cats form their food preferences early on, it is best to introduce them to canned food as kittens.

As with people, exercise helps burn calories and helps keep pets healthy. Easing into a regular exercise routine and gradually increasing the intensity of the exercise is important. High energy activities like running, jumping, swimming, flying, and climbing stairs makes for a great pet cardio workout. Talk to your veterinarian about which types of exercise are appropriate for your pet. Also, try exercising with your pet to benefit both of you!

The Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society consists of more than 75 small animal hospitals and 200 veterinarians in Erie and Niagara counties. Learn more at