By Hannah Woit
A pudgy pup may be cute, but extra weight is just as serious for him as it is for you--with the potential for the same health complications, such as joint pain, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (Find out now—Is Your Pet Diabetic?)
If you and your pet could stand to lose a few pounds, you may be each other's best ally in the fight against fat. In a study at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, overweight owners who teamed up with their obese dogs to get in shape were more likely to adhere to a weight loss program than those without dogs. Get started moving your pet--and you--toward a slimmer, healthier future.
Make a plan.
If you can't see a distinct waistline below your pet’s rib cage, it's likely that he's overweight. Aim for a 1 to 2% drop in body weight per week, says Phil Zeltzman, DVM, a board-certified traveling veterinary surgeon in Allentown, PA. Ask your vet if your pet is healthy enough to begin an exercise program. If so, set a goal of 15 to 30 minutes a day for dogs or 5 minutes at a time 4 or 5 times a day for cats, says Leilani Alvarez, director of the Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service at the Animal Medical Center in New York City.
Confirm with your vet that your pet is eating the right formula, then cut feeding amounts by 25% and swap treats for lower-calorie options, such as bite-size pieces of carrots or apples. (Or, make your own pet food—check out our Homemade Pet Food Recipes for inspiration.)
Make your pet work for meals by putting his dish at the top or bottom of stairs or by using interactive food-dispensing toys. Or try this strategy to get you both moving: "I had one owner whose cat followed her whenever she opened a can of food, so she'd walk all around her house, luring the cat," says Deborah Linder, DVM, of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals.
Walk this way.
Dog owner? For the first 2 weeks, aim to walk 5 to 10 minutes twice a day, working up to 30 minutes at a time. Start with stretches (for both of you) and end with a cool-down period of slower walking, says Dr. Zeltzman. (If you have an overweight cat, have her chase a laser beam or feathers on a string.)
Try one of the following get-fit stretches. Hold each position for 10 seconds 3 or 4 times, Dr. Zeltzman advises. If your pet resists doing any of these stretches, he may have joint problems--talk with your vet. (If you don’t already have one, here’s How to Pick the Best Vet.)
Shoulders and Elbows
Take one of your dog's front paws and pull the leg forward and up. Repeat with other leg. (Is stretching too boring? Try one of these 10 Fun Ways to Exercise With Your Pet, instead.
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Hold the knee of one hind leg and gently pull the leg backward until it's almost parallel to ground. Repeat with other leg.