Cutting out high-calorie treats -- especially those filled with fat and sugar -- is an easy first step to help a pet shed excess weight. If you must give a snack, opt for healthy, low-calorie alternatives such as baby carrots, broccoli, and celery for dogs; salmon or tuna flakes for cats.
"If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate all of the unhealthy treats for pets and people," said Ward. "This single act would greatly reduce obesity rates and decrease many chronic debilitating diseases."
Keeping pets trim also requires regular exercise, said Ward, who practices veterinary medicine in Calabash, N.C. In general, he recommends that dogs get at least 20 to 30 minutes of sustained aerobic activity each day. That can be achieved by a brisk one to three mile walk or, depending on where you live, going to a dog park, agility course, or even heated swimming pool for pooches. Businesses geared toward keeping dogs fit are found in many major U.S. cities.
For cats, as little as five to 15 minutes of play -- chasing a laser beam, feather toy or crumpled ball of paper -- is all they need each day, he said.
Keeping pets at a healthy weight also requires knowing how much to feed them. But the amounts suggested on food packages are formulated for active, unaltered adult dogs and cats, said Ward.
"That means if you have an older, spayed or neutered indoor lap potato, you'll probably be feeding 20 to 30 percent too much if you follow the food's instructions," he said.
Instructions on diet pet foods aren't much better. Researchers at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine recently examined nearly 100 foods claiming to aid weight management and found that most would actually cause weight gain if owners followed the label's feeding directions.
"As this study shows, packaging might not always be a reliable source of information," said veterinarian Dr. Lisa Freeman, study co-author and professor of n
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