By Doug Jimerson

Staying fit and trim is as important for your pets as it is for you. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, almost 53% of dogs and 58% of cats in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. And sadly, chubby pets are more likely to develop serious health issues that result in shorter lifespans and increased visits to the veterinarian.

If you suspect your pet might be tipping the scales, there’s an easy way to determine if he’s overweight. Stand above your pet and look down on him. If there is no waist or if the area between the ribs and hips is wider than the hips or ribs your pet is grossly overweight. You can also place your hands on either side of your pet’s chest. If you can’t feel the ribs without pressing it’s likely your pet is too heavy.

Of course, hair type (long haired dogs and cats can hide weight gain) and body shape vary by breed so for an accurate assessment check with your veterinarian about the ideal weight for your pet. Your veterinarian will keep a record of your pet’s weight at its annual examination.

Here are some tips to help keep your pet fit and trim.

  1. Establish meal times. Allowing your pet to dine whenever they want encourages overeating so do not leave bowls of food out throughout the day. Cats and dogs do just fine with one or two meals a day that are proportional to their body weight, age, and size. Check with your veterinarian about how much food your pet should get each day. Keep clean, fresh water available at all times.
  2. Minimize treats and table scraps. Because they add extra calories to your pet’s diet, treats should be used for training or special occasions. Just because your pet is staring at you with pleading eyes doesn’t mean you should toss a cookie or two his way. And try to avoid table scraps because they are loaded with extra calories, fats, and sugars.
  3. Start an exercise program. Giving your dogs frequent walks will help their waistline, and yours. The more they walk, the healthier they will become. If your dog likes to play fetch or swim, encourage them as much as possible. Of course, if your pet has been enjoying a sedentary lifestyle don’t expect them to run a marathon the first day. Increase exercise a little bit each day and be extra careful in hot weather, especially with short-nosed dogs such as bulldogs, boxers or pugs.
  4. Keep kitties active. With cats, engaging them in play with interactive toys, wands, lasers, or cat tower will encourage even the tubbiest tabby to get moving. Catnip is another great motivator for cats that are interested in it. Or, try something simple like placing a few cardboard boxes around the house. Most cats have a hard time resisting empty boxes they can jump in and out of.