Summer’s the season for outdoor activity and fitness, for people and for pets.
Remember last winter, when we fretted about being cooped up inside with our pets and being unable—or at least not as able—to get outside and exercise?
Well, warmer weather is here, and it will be with us for a while. Now is the time to make sure we’re out and following through on our intentions to stay active, for ourselves and the animals in our lives.
While we’re at it, now also is a great time to make progress on the other side of the calories-in-calories-out equation. For pets, as with humans, that means eating healthy and watching the size of meal portions.
The U.S. veterinary profession estimates that 55 percent of dogs and cats nationwide are overweight. That’s a serious problem. Overweight pets are more likely to develop certain diseases, to not live as long and to be less comfortable in their daily lives than pets with ideal body weights.
We can dramatically improve the quality of our animals’ lives by taking simple steps to ensure that they achieve proper body weight and to work with them to maintain that weight consistently.
As with people, exercise and calorie control are the cornerstones of weight loss for pets. Keeping pets active on a regular basis doesn’t have to involve a lot of work. Summer is the perfect time in our northern climate for outdoor activities with our dogs and cats that can be fun, easy and healthy.
Walks, swims in the lake, playing fetch with a ball or Frisbee or chasing a toy or a simple string on a stick are excellent examples of pet exercise that can be quite enjoyable for our animals as well as us. Have fun and burn off calories, but also make sure you don’t overdo it.
Heat exhaustion particularly affects dogs at this time of the year. So use cation and common sense when your dog is playing outdoors. For dogs as well as cats, always have water nearby and available during play. And make sure you offer your animal a cooling drink at the end of strenuous outdoor activity.
On the intake side of the calories equation, it’s certainly OK for your dog or cat to enjoy an occasional treat. But nutritionally complete and balanced pet food should make up the bulk of the calories your pet consumes.
Guard against overfeeding by following directions on the pet-food container or, better yet, by talking with your veterinarian about proper portion size. The instructions on food containers are general guidelines and don’t take into account unique needs of some pets, including their age, level of activity and how often treats are provided.
Weight loss in cats can be particularly challenging, so managing their food intake is especially important. Meal feeding is the best method to ensure that your cat does not receive too many calories daily. Always having a full bowl of food and allowing your cat to graze all day increases the risk of overfeeding.
You also can try hiding your cat’s food so he or she can “hunt” for it, burning off calories in the process. Another healthy technique is to use a food-dispensing toy, making feeding more of a challenge and also helping your cat to eat slower.
If your dog or cat has trouble with obesity and weight loss, talk to your veterinarian. Some pets require special diets. Others have diseases that predispose them to weight gain.
Your veterinarian is always a great resource for weight loss strategies and is committed to helping your pet look and feel great in every season of the year.
Dr. Laura Kiehnbaum is a veterinarian at PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at info@PetCareofDuluth.com or 218-461-4400. For more information about this subject go to PetCareofDuluth.com.