How to get your four-legged friend back in shape.
overweight cat
Credit: Petra Wegner/Alamy Stock Photo

If your furry pal is looking less than lean of late, she's not alone-and there may be several reasons why this might be. Perhaps you oiled her during the holiday season. (A nibble of ham? Sure!) And if it's cold where you live, dogs likely aren't getting out to play as much, while cats may take a cue from your own less-active schedule and spend more time sleeping and cuddling. "It's a perfect recipe for winter weight gain," says Ernie Ward, a veterinarian and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. The related risks are serious: heart and respiratory diseases, arthritis, diabetes (particularly in cats), and certain types of cancer. Here's how to keep their weight at a healthy level.

Gauge the Girth

"It can be challenging for owners to tell if their dog or cat is at the ideal weight, given the tremendous variances across breeds," says Ward. (Plus, all that fur can conceal fat.) However, there are a few helpful visual cues: While your dog or cat is standing, look down from above, then from the side. You should see a slight tuck at the waistline and a distinct nip in the belly; a straight or bulging waist and a sagging tummy are signs he may be overweight. You should also be able to easily feel his ribs when rubbing the chest area. For more accuracy, see your vet and have her perform a body-condition score, which is the equivalent of body-mass index in humans, Ward suggests. It can also help rule out other possible causes, such as hypothyroidism (in dogs), abdominal swelling, and stomach tumors.

Count Calories

If you think it's time to put your pet on a diet, remember that every animal has different nutritional needs at different ages of life. "Ask your vet how many calories to feed her each day-then stick to that amount," says Ward, who encourages precision (e.g., weighing three ounces, rather than measuring a half-cup). Also, keep an eye on between-meal rewards. "We all use food to communicate with our pets and show them affection," says Kirk Breuninger, a veterinary research associate at the Banfield Pet Hospital, in Portland, Oregon. "Try to satisfy their cravings for attention with belly rubs in lieu of table scraps."

Keep Her Moving

Even on the frostiest days, dogs need their walk. If it's too bitter, take more frequent shorter ones, head to a pet-friendly indoor mall, or turn a hallway into a run. As for cats, "remote-control toys, feather dancers, and empty boxes all engage their inner predator," says Ward. "Three five-minute intervals a day is all you need." And it still leaves plenty of time for naps.


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