Harnessing the Olympic Spirit: A healthy and active lifestyle is best for our pets too!

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games kick off this weekend in Sochi, Russia.   Many of us, sports fans and non-fans alike, look forward to the Games, as it’s an opportunity to see the world’s best athletes come together and compete on their sport’s biggest stage.  The Olympic Games give us a great excuse to curl up in front of the television with snacks or cocoa on these cold February nights.  But watching the pure athleticism, stamina, and grace of the competitors should be inspiration for us all – including our pets – to be more active and health-conscious in our daily lives.   Below, Dr. Adrianne Doering shares her advice on creating a healthy and weight-conscious lifestyle for our pets.

Image credit: Ellen Zangla Photography

Believe it or not, obesity is just as common in our pets as it is in the human population.  In my practice, nearly 50% of the pets I see every day are overweight or obese, and owners often ask me for tips on how to help their pets shed these extra pounds.  By keeping your pet slender you will add years to their lifespan and avoid many painful and expensive diseases such as arthritis and diabetes.

To determine if your pet is overweight use these two easy criteria: first, when feeling your pet’s sides, you should be able to feel the ribs but not see them and second, when looking at your pet from above, you should see an hourglass shaped waist.  If your pet doesn’t meet these benchmarks, they are likely overweight.

Dr Henly and Kudzu

Image Credit: J Sealor Photography

Similar to people, weight loss for pets hinges on both an increase in exercise and a decrease in food/caloric intake.  To increase your dog’s daily physical activity, start with a brisk 10 minute leash walk or Frisbee session twice daily.  Gradually increase to 20 minutes twice daily.  For cats, incorporate a feather wand into their playtime routine.

Sealor dogs playing

Image credit: Ellen Zangla Photography

As far as diet is concerned, start by simply measuring what your pet is eating.  You’d be surprised how many people just fill up the bowl once a day or whenever the pets start scratching or begging.  The nutrition label on their food bag will give you a good idea of what a reasonable amount of food is for your particular pet’s weight.  Additionally, when a pet is on a diet, make sure you are feeding a “light” or diet food so they are getting the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals.  And don’t forget about treats and table scraps, which can add a lot of unnecessary fat and calories.  Substitute a baby carrot, slice of apple or a few kernels of plain microwave popcorn for dogs, and a small piece of canned tuna or chicken for cats.

Weigh your pet monthly on your bathroom scale and aim for around 1% weight loss per month.  If you try the above methods for a few months and your pet still isn’t losing weight, consult your veterinarian to discuss prescription weight loss diets and other measures that can be taken to ensure that your pet becomes slim and healthy.

winter dog

Image credit: Istockphoto

And who knows, whether your pet’s favorite sport is figure skating, ice hockey, the luge, or even curling (you know they want to slide around some ice chasing that big granite stone!), maybe this year’s Olympics will inspire your fluffy friend to stop lounging and get active!

One Comment on “Harnessing the Olympic Spirit: A healthy and active lifestyle is best for our pets too!

  1. Pingback: Keep your pets happy and healthy in 2015. | Leesburg Vet Blog

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