Most people have heard the statistic that over two-thirds of the American population is over-weight or obese. Far fewer of us are aware that according recent research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) an estimated 53% of dogs and 57% of cats are over-weight or obese.

Obesity is as serious a health issue in our pets as it is in our two-legged family members. Excess weight can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, respiratory illnesses such as asthma and chronic bronchitis and even many types of cancer. In addition, it can reduce your pet’s quality of life by making it harder for them to run, play and jump.

So, without further ado, here are the top 6 ways to help your pet lose weight…

1. Make Sure It’s Not Medical

By far, the most common causes of obesity in pets are overeating and a sedentary life style, but occasionally there may be a medical reason your pet is getting bigger. If your pet is gaining weight and you’re not sure why, bring them  to your vet. A detailed history, physical exam, and some routine lab tests can rule out diseases such as hypothyroidism or arthritis which could be contributing to their weight problem.

 2. Increase Exercise  

Has the cold winter weather been keeping you and your dog cooped up in the house? Well it is spring now, so get out there and get moving. Go for a walk, take your dog to the park, play fetch in the back yard, or take her for a swim. You can even take your dog with you on your run. Just make sure to give her plenty of water and regular breaks so she doesn’t overheat.

What happens when the weather gets bad again? The stairs are a good place to start. Or you can incorporate your dog into your own exercise routine. Toss her a ball over your head as you’re doing your sit ups and have her run it back to you.

Cats can be encouraged to exercise by supplying them with plenty of toys to keep them busy. Make sure to take the time to actually play with them too. Cats can learn to fetch just like dogs, or you can have them follow you around while you drag a shoe lace behind you. A laser pointer is a great option for many cats who could chase that little light all day.

3. Cut Back on Treats  

Dogs love to get treats, and we love to give them. But those little extras can add up to a lot of extra weight. An average cat may only need 200 calories a day and a 20 pound dog may only need 400 calories a day. Those Beggin’ Strips and Temptations can easily start packing on the pounds.

So what do you do when you’re faced with those adorable puppy dog eyes while you’re making a sandwich?  Have some healthy treats ready to go, like baby carrots. Or better yet, distract him with a walk or a favorite toy. When you do give treats, cut the portions in half. Your pet will be just as happy with a smaller piece and you’ll get 2 treats for the price of 1.

4.  Reduce Their Pet Food Intake

If you’ve already cut out the treats and your pet isn’t losing weight, you may need to cut back on their meal time calories too.  If your pet doesn’t eat meals and just grazes on food all day, now is a good time to change that.

Check with your vet to find out how much your pet should be eating for their age, weight and activity level, then adjust your feeding plan accordingly. There are several ways to cut back on calories. You can reduce the volume of food you’re giving, or you can switch to a lower calorie food such as a weight-loss formula or a senior diet for pets over seven. If your pet eats dry food, especially if they are a cat, switching to wet food can also be helpful. Since wet food is mostly water, it is less calorie dense and can fill your pet up more quickly than kibble.

5. Add Vegetables

This tip is dog specific. Cats are obligate carnivores which means they have to eat an animal based diet to stay healthy. Dogs, however, are omnivores just like people. And just as for you and me, vegetables are a great way to fill up without adding a lot of extra calories. If you have to cut back on your dog’s food and he’s still hungry all the time, try mixing vegetables such as carrots and string beans in to his meal, most dogs love these vegetables and they can help keep him satisfied while you keep him at a healthy weight.

6. Use a Prescription Diet

When all else fails, sometimes you need to break out the big guns. Talk to your vet about prescription diets that are low in calories, promote the feeling of fullness and can help stimulate your pet’s metabolism. Your veterinarian can formulate a weight loss schedule and let you know exactly how much to feed. Make sure you follow your veterinarians feeding recommendations strictly. Even small changes to these prescription diets can significantly reduce their effectiveness.

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