From pleading eyes to soft whimpers and meows, our pets have a special way of making us cave into their demands. Your dog stares at you whenever you cook or eat, watching you with those huge, pleading eyes that are hard to resist. Cats are also known to give the “are you going to share?” look accompanied by a pleading meow, and both are experts at the ridiculously adorable head tilt.
We love our pets, so it’s only natural for us to want to spoil them with special treats or tidbits from our plate. But too much of a good thing can cause issues that place our pets’ health at risk. It’s estimated that in the U.S., more than half of pets — about 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats — are overweight or obese. The culprit, as it is with humans, is too much food and not enough exercise. Pet obesity has become an epidemic, and it’s time for pet guardians to take responsibility before we love our pets to death (literally).
Excess Weight Puts Your Pet’s Health at Risk
People might joke about their pudgy pets or think it adds to their cuteness, but the health risks associated with that extra weight are serious. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, those extra pounds can reduce your pet’s life expectancy by two years or more.
Being overweight also puts a strain on your pet’s entire body, and it increases their risk of chronic diseases such as heart or liver disease, diabetes, and cancer. It can also cause breathing difficulties, reduce their tolerance to heat and exercise, and lower their immune system function. Research also shows that extra weight can increase the risk of painful joint damage, arthritis, and inflammation.
These conditions all diminish the quality of your pet’s life, so it’s extremely important to help prevent them by regularly monitoring their weight. Your pet’s veterinarian will assess their weight at their annual checkup and let you know where they stand, but there are steps you can take to prevent your pet from becoming overweight in the first place.
Feed Them a Healthy Diet and Don’t Overdo the Treats
Giving pets snacks and treats is fine, but it should be done in moderation. Avoid giving your pets table scraps, especially fatty foods or those that are poisonous to your pets. If you want to share fresh foods with your furry companion, opt for safe, healthy options that pack a nutritional punch or make homemade pet treats — but again, the key is moderation.
Whether you feed them commercial pet food or a homemade diet, it’s important to feed your pet according to the age, weight, and activity level. Commercial pet food has feeding guidelines on the package, but a homemade diet takes more research to determine quantities and ensure that your pet’s nutritional needs are being met.
A veterinarian or pet nutritionist can help you determine how much to feed, as well as any special nutritional needs your pet might have. And if they’re getting extra treats because you’re working on training, scale back the size of their meals a bit or add additional exercise to counteract the extra calories.
Make Sure Your Pet Is Getting Regular Exercise
Exercise is important for the physical and mental health of our pets. Without it, our pets not only suffer from weight problems, but they can develop behavioral issues that are caused by boredom.
For your canine pal, it’s important to incorporate a daily walk whenever weather permits. Trips to the dog park or a hiking trail are also a great way for both of you to get plenty of fresh air and exercise. In the winter, take extra precautions to protect them from the elements and dangers of frostbite or hypothermia. When it’s warm out, protect their paws from the hot pavement and give them plenty of water to prevent heat exhaustion.
Know your pet’s tolerance for exercise. Not all dogs can withstand walking or running long distances, and some are more sensitive to heat or cold. Take their age and breed into consideration when developing an exercise routine, and consult with your veterinarian if your pet has arthritis, a medical condition, or is recovering from an injury.
For cats, keep a supply of different interactive toys to help keep them engaged and active. Play games with a fishing pole-type cat toy a few times a day or hide engaging toys throughout your home to keep them moving. Provide them with a cat tree for climbing and a place to sharpen their claws, and place a few empty boxes or bags around the home to keep them busy throughout the day.
Your pet’s health is important. Spoil in moderation and keep them active daily to help ensure a long, happy, and healthy life.
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