Picture: Claire Diaz Pixabay.
Picture: Claire Diaz Pixabay.

Tips for helping your pet on their weight loss journey

By Sacha van Niekerk Time of article published Mar 25, 2021

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When you’ve had a beloved family pet for some time, you may not notice how much they’ve matured over the years.

Since they were a tiny puppy or kitten, they may have grown bigger and stronger and gained more defined features.

These advancements are signs of their growth, however not all transformations are good. If your dog or cat has changed for the worse, then immediate intervention needs to take place.

From rounded bellies to a lack of energy, initially it may not be obvious what the issue is – especially if it was gradual. Concerned friends and family may even try to mention the weight gain, only to be met with denial.

“They’re not overweight, they’re just a little bit round.” “It’s baby fat”, or “Shame, they’re just filling out a little,” are some of the excuses pet parents lovingly make for their fur babies.

Obesity in cats and dogs may occur because of overfeeding, a lack of regular exercise, or because of other health-related factors such as diseases that may cause them to put on extra pounds.

You can pinpoint whether your pet’s weight gain is problematic by checking the following:

  • You should be able to see their waistline dipping inwards just after the ribs from above, a bulging, rounded abdomen could indicate obesity.
  • The ribs, spine and hip bones should NOT be visible (depending on the breed of your pet and their fur type). You should be able to feel their ribs with a slight covering of muscle over them. However, if you cannot feel their ribs and spine, they may have extra weight on them.
  • Personality changes can indicate unhealthy weight gain too. If your pet is still young and was once energetic, only to gradually lose their love of going on walks and being playful this could be because they are being weighed down.
  • Regular vet visits and check-ups to seek guidance on what is causing the weight gain and how to manage it.

Exercising your pet is an obvious solution for weight loss. After a year into the lockdown, our lives have changed drastically. Trips to the beach, park walks, pet training classes and doggy play dates had to be put on hold for an extended period and getting back into the groove of things can often seem like a huge challenge.

However, Marycke Ackhurst, pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition said that exercising your pet doesn’t have to be time consuming and can very easily fit into your daily life.

Ackhurst recommends trying to incorporate the following into your pet’s life:

For dogs

  • Instead of a leisurely stroll, why not pick up the pace a little and get you and your dog’s heart rate going, which will help the extra-layers melt away? Adding a little “resistance training” by walking on different surfaces or climbing over tree trunks or benches is also recommended.
  • Do you have stairs at home? Get your dog to follow you up and down them a few times a day. If they need some persuasion, throw their favourite toy up and down the stairs, creating a fun game. Remember to alternate arms so that you can get a good arm workout in the process.
  • If you have access to a swimming pool, dam, river or the beach, and your dog is water happy, this is a great way to get them to exercise and have fun at the same time. Swimming is great exercise for older pets, as it puts less impact on their joints.
  • If your dog is a good walker, take him with you when you go jogging or cycling as long as it is in a safe environment for him to do so.
  • If your dog’s fitness is a little questionable, build them up to a jog or cycle with you by increasing distance and speed over time. Don’t allow your dog off his leash in traffic-heavy areas. Even the most well-trained dogs can become frightened.

For cats

  • Cats love toys and playing, so having these easily accessible encourages her to play and keep active. Some great options are balls, ping-pong balls, or even a scrunched-up piece of paper. A wand, cat tickler and high scratch post encourages hunting, running, and jumping.
  • Boxes are also entertaining for cats. You can place these around the house and encourage them to climb in and out of an empty box.
  • Many cats love playing hide and seek. Hide their toy and have them run through the house to find it. Your cat will love this quality time with you and won’t even realise they are exercising.
  • When feeding your cat, change her feeding place on a regular basis so that she can “hunt” for her food. Placing the food on a raised area will also make her work that little bit harder.

Ackhurst says that there are ways for pet parents to reward their pets, even using food, but at the same time reducing their intake.

This can be done by dividing their daily food intake into:

  • Slow feeders – this will prevent your cat from gobbling down food too quickly and allow time for them to register that they have eaten.
  • Set aside a portion of their daily meals intake to use for training and as treats – divide your pet’s daily food allocation into three parts. One part can be used as training treats, stimulating their minds, and helping with a more mannered dog. Use the second part of the food allocation in a food enrichment toy around mealtime, and the remaining part can be used as usual in a bowl. Remember, the brain also requires energy use and it helps to enhance your relationship with your pet.
  • Toy food dispensers.

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