Help Your Overweight Pet Slim Down

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By Dr. Marty Becker for Vetstreet.com

It's one thing to point out problems, and quite another to offer solutions. When it comes to trimming excess weight off America's pets, we veterinarians have gotten tougher about pointing out the problem. Now it's time to step up and offer solutions.

Actually, that's the easy part. Because you know, telling someone her dog or cat is fat isn't the easiest thing in the world. Some folks take it personally, especially if the pet owner -- or the bearer of bad news, the veterinarian -- is carrying some extra weight as well. But it's a conversation that we veterinarians must have with you, because being overweight or obese can shorten your pet's life -- and make the life he has nothing short of miserable.

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Change Your Pet's Eating Habits
Now... about those solutions. We veterinarians often hear things like, "He begs, and I can't resist!" or "I've tried, but he's starving." I understand how you feel, and so does your pet's veterinarian. But you know what? I won't let you give up. There are some simple strategies for helping your pet lighten the load that won't drive your or your pet crazy:

Change foods. The food your pet had as an energetic youngster make not be right for a quieter, middle-aged animal. Talk to your veterinarian about your pet's diet. As I always say, pet food doesn't have to be the most expensive to be "the best." No matter what your budget is or where you shop, your veterinarian will be able to help you choose a healthy product for your pet. And don't forget that the perfect match may be food provided by your veterinarian: Therapeutic diets available only from a veterinarian may be what's needed to get the weight off. These aren't just "light" versions of regular diets, but are specifically formulated to increase lean muscle mass.

Shrink the portions. No more handfuls or scoops -- measure your pet's food accurately with a measuring cup. Feed smaller meals more often to help prevent hunger pangs; offer the same total amount of food, but break it up into smaller meals throughout the day. You can also add a low-cal filler to bulk up the volume -- green beans are often suggested by veterinarians, and they work to fill your pet up without piling on the pounds.

Consider a prescription. Talk to your veterinarian about Slentrol, the first FDA-approved medication for weight control in dogs. It works by keeping some fat from being absorbed in the small intestine, which helps the dog feel more full on less food. It may be just what your pet needs.

Make Mealtime Fun
Let your pet play with his food. You can find all kinds of food puzzles for your pet to enjoy, or you can just keep it simple. With our dogs, we scatter kibble in the grass and let them hunt for it. They love that game. For our cats, we hide little amounts in small bowls high and low -- they have to use their noses and their brains to find them. No matter what your approach, make your pet work for his meals -- he will burn more calories and have less time for begging. And he'll also have more fun, which is a nice bonus.

Treat 'em right, on a smaller scale. Pets can count, but they can't measure. Take your pet's treats and break them into tiny pieces; offer one or two of these smaller treats as a reward for good behavior, instead of one or two full-sized treats. Remember: It's all about portion control -- don't undermine the change by feeding your dog or cat big handfuls of tiny bits (yes, people do that). Substitute one small piece for one full-size treat. Your pet will never know the difference.

Get Those Paws on the Move
No matter which strategies you use for adjusting your pet's diet, remember that exercise is also key to weight loss. Easy walks and swimming can be good options for overweight pets who aren't as mobile as they could be. Get younger, mobile dogs moving every day with games like fetch. Cats can get a good workout with interactive toys.

If you commit to feeding your pet less and exercising him more, he will soon be thinner, healthier -- and much, much happier.

For more on pet health, click here.

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