Helping your pet on their weight loss journey

Pet obesity Hill's Pet Slimmer
Image credit: Republic PR

“He’s not overweight, he’s just a little bit round.” “It’s puppy fat,” or “Shame he’s just growing into himself.” These are some of the excuses pet parents lovingly make for their “on the higher end of the scale” fur babies.

“Pet parents take pride and joy in knowing the love and attention they give their pets can be seen by others,” says Marycke Ackhurst, pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Hearing your pet is overweight can be more heart-breaking than hearing it about yourself. 

When it comes to loving our pets, we often think that the more we treat them with food, the more we love them. “However, when that attention is too much food and not enough exercise, then it can become a weight problem which can lead to serious health issues.” In fact, 50 percent of pets are overweight, but alarmingly 90 percent of pet parents don’t even realise this.

With lockdown recently hitting the one-year mark, and many of our lives having been reduced to just our homes, we’ve become a lot more sedentary, which has filtered down to our pets too. It’s a challenge to motivate ourselves to get up and get active, let alone our pets.

However, as Ackhurst explains, exercising your pet doesn’t have to be time consuming and can very easily fit into your daily life. Plus, it will be time well spent. Besides the fitness aspect, spending time with our pets releases those much-needed endorphins. 

Ackhurst recommends trying to incorporate the following:

For dogs

  • Instead of a leisurely stroll, why not pick up the pace a little and get your and your dog’s heart rate going, which will help the extra-layers melt away? Adding a little “resistance training” by walking on different surfaces or climbing over tree trunks or benches is also recommended. Remember to be responsible when walking your dog – pet parents should always ensure they walk their dogs in an area that is dog friendly and if your dog does not play well with others please ensure that he is on a leash.   
  • Do you have stairs at home? Get your dog to follow you up and down them a few times a day. If they need some persuasion, throw their favourite toy up and down the stairs, creating a fun game. Remember to alternate arms so that you can get a good arm workout in the process.
  • If you have access to a swimming pool, dam, river or the beach, and your dog is water happy, this is a great way to get them to exercise and have fun at the same time. Never leave your pet in water unattended and ensure they know how to get out by themselves should they need to. Swimming is great exercise for older pets, as it puts less impact on their joints.          
  • If your dog is a good walker, take him with you when you go jogging or cycling as long as it is in a safe environment for him to do so. 
  • If your dog’s fitness is a little questionable, why not build them up to a jog or cycle with you by increasing distance and speed over time? Always make sure this is done in a safe environment and don’t allow your dog off his leash in traffic-heavy areas. Even the most well-trained dogs can become frightened.

For cats

  • Cats love toys and playing, so having these easily accessible encourages her to play and keep active. Some great options are balls, ping pong balls, or even a scrunched-up piece of paper. A wand, cat tickler and high scratch post encourages hunting, running, and jumping. 
  • Boxes are also entertaining for cats. You can place these around the house and encourage them to climb in and out of an empty box. 
  • Many cats love playing hide and seek. Hide their toy and have them run through the house to find it. Your cat will love this quality time with you and won’t even realise they are exercising. 
  • When feeding your cat, change her feeding place on a regular basis so that she can “hunt” for her food. Placing the food on a raised area will also make her work that little bit harder.          

Ackhurst adds that there are ways for pet parents to reward their pets, even using food, but at the same time reducing their intake. This can be done by dividing their daily food intake into:

  • Slow feeders
  • Food dispensing toys
  • Set aside a portion of their daily meals intake to use for training and as treats – divide your pet’s daily food allocation into three parts. One part can be used as training treats, stimulating their minds, and helping with a more mannered dog. Use the second part of the food allocation in a food enrichment toy around mealtime and, the remaining part can be used as usual in a bowl. Remember, the brain also requires energy use and it really helps to enhance your relationship with your pet.

Exercising your pet means you are dedicated to their health, spending time with them, and their overall wellbeing. However, before you start any new exercise regime, be sure to consult your vet and start your pet off slowly to ease them into their new active lifestyle.

“There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration before adding new exercises, such as their age, fitness level and breed. Some pets are not able to handle certain types of exercise, but will thrive on others,” says Ackhurst.

For more information on pet obesity, weight management and the success thousands of pets have enjoyed on the Hill’s Pet Slimmer Programme visit petslimmer.co.za.

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