Within each of our four-legged friends lies a naturally gifted athlete. Even the tiniest Chihuahua or pudgiest Persian possesses amazing physical abilities. Unfortunately, too many of our pets have been benched, resulting in an epidemic of obesity rivaling that of Americans. In fact, about 44 percent of dogs are overweight or obese and 57 percent of cats are too heavy. When pets gain weight, they increase their risk of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and behavioral problems. To help keep your pet–and you–trim, try these tips for squeezing in a little exercise and fun every day.
1. High and low. This game is like squats for your dog or cat. For cats, place their food on a counter or table (add a pinch of tuna or salmon for extra incentive) and have the cat jump up to get it. Return the bowl to the floor and repeat several times.
2. Find the food. Cats are natural predators. To tap into the instinct and encourage your cat to get its move on, try dividing the food into small bowls placed throughout your house. Have your cat watch as you “hide” the bowls. Your cat will “hunt” the food throughout the day. This is one of the best ways to get corpulent cats on their feet and burning calories.
3. Remote-controlled toys. Technology has provided pet owners an almost endless supply of remote-controlled toys. Many dogs and cats will chase a remote-controlled car or interactive talking toy. Look for a pet-friendly toy or car that has few small parts and is durable enough to withstand a paw strike or bite. Don’t scold your pet if it destroys the toy; fun happens.
Exercising your pet can be as basic as shaking a piece of yarn or as complex as an agility-course competition. Find an activity that suits both you and your pet and do it consistently. Add new routes, games, and toys on a regular basis. While exercise certainly won’t replace feeding fewer calories when it comes to your dog or cat losing weight, it is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle for both pets and people. When you and your pet move together, you celebrate one of the oldest, most unique, and most extraordinary bonds our planet has ever known. Sections of this article were excerpted from Dr. Ward’s book, “Chow Hounds-Why America’s Dogs Are Getting Fatter: A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives” (HCI Publications, March 2010)
Dr. Ward is president of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and the chief of staff at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C.
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