Is your pooch a couch potato? Would your feline rather be fe-lyin’ down than exercising? Have you tried to help your overweight pet lose some pounds, but they can’t seem to resist the siren song of the sofa?

They may have a good reason. Overweight pets can become trapped in a cycle of pain, discomfort, and poor health that can make physical activity a challenge. But, obesity doesn’t have to be a life sentence—check out these tips from Creature Comforts Veterinary Service on helping your overweight pet get back on their paws.

The big deal—health risks for overweight pets

Obese and overweight pets may not be merely uncomfortable or unmotivated, but also struggling with their health. Excess fat tissue in the body creates inflammation that, over time, triggers generalized pain and numerous chronic diseases, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Orthopedic disease and injury
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Kidney failure
  • Allergies and skin conditions
  • Reduced immune health

Pets with chronic conditions suffer every day, so the fact that overweight pets generally live shorter lives than healthy weight pets is no surprise. Fortunately, resolution is possible—but, like humans, pets should lose weight gradually and under professional supervision.

Start here—schedule a veterinary appointment

Although weight gain can usually be attributed to excess calorie consumption and insufficient exercise, several common medical causes and contributing factors should first be ruled out. These include:

  • Low thyroid (i.e., hypothyroidism) — The thyroid gland is responsible for many functions, including metabolism. Sudden weight gain is a classic clinical sign for hypothyroidism in dogs.
  • Endocrine disorders — Cushing’s disease causes excessive cortisol in the body, leading to obesity and reduced energy. 
  • Orthopedic disease or injury — Orthopedic issues include hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament rupture, or luxating patella.
  • Chronic pain — Osteoarthritis is especially common in overweight pets.

If your veterinarian diagnoses your pet with a medical condition, all your pet may need to lose weight is treatment for their issue. However, in most cases, diet and exercise adjustments also are necessary. In that case, your Creature Comforts Veterinary Service veterinarian will recommend specific nutritional requirements—including the specific food and amount—to ensure safe and effective weight loss.

Steps to success—5 steps to increase your overweight pet’s activity

After your pet’s health conditions and pain are successfully managed (i.e., they have no noticeable clinical signs), your veterinarian will approve low-impact exercise. Here are five steps to help get your overweight pet moving again:

Step 1: Momentum is your pet’s best friend—keep moving

When you begin a new exercise routine with an out of shape pet, every movement counts. While eventually working up to a real heart-pumping, fat-burning pace is important, you should start at a comfortable, achievable level. For some dogs, this may mean walking to the mailbox and back two or three times per day, while cats—who are generally known for short-burst activity—may need shorter but more frequent movement.

Wherever you need to start, simply start. 

  • Move your pet’s food bowl at dinner time to increase their steps.
  • Make a “trail” of your dog’s meal up and down the stairs.
  • Every time you notice your cat following you, make a few extra “trips” around the house.
  • When safe, leash-walk your small dog instead of carrying them.

Step 2: Out with the bowl, in with action—feed your pet in a fun new way

Food dispensing toys are a great way to use your pet’s natural reinforcement (i.e., meal time) to motivate movement. If you need to encourage your pet to interact with the toy, ensure the challenge level is easy to prevent frustration. Our favorite food-dispensing toys include:

Step 3: No obstacle is too big for your pet—enhance their environment

Give your pet a reason to move. Encourage your pet to be curious about their environment, which can be as simple as taking your dog to a new park and letting them sniff, or adding new objects to your cat’s familiar space (e.g., a paper grocery bag, cardboard box, or basket of paper towel rolls).

You can raise your cat’s exploration to a new level by including:

  • Cat furniture — Cat trees and modular playsets can prompt curious cats to reach new heights. Place these near a window in a busy area of your home.
  • Outdoor attractions — Bird and wildlife feeders give indoor cats something to stalk and observe.
  • Catio — Get your cat outside with a safe outdoor enclosure.

Step 4: Everything is going swimmingly—hydrotherapy for pets

Water’s natural buoyancy creates a weightless environment for obese pets and relieves chronic joint and muscle pain. Hydrotherapy, including therapeutic swimming and underwater treadmill therapy, are effective weight loss options that can help obese dogs and cats shed their initial pounds and make land-based exercises more comfortable.

Step 5: Teamwork improves success—set a shared goal with your pet

If you’re going to be exercising more often for your pet’s sake, you may as well benefit, too. Consider setting a long-range goal such as a couch—or kennel—to 5k, walking in a local pet parade, or taking a low impact dog training class such as nosework or doga (i.e., dog and owner yoga). By focusing on a larger goal, you’ll be more committed to meet your daily goals. Monitor your progress—and your pet’s—with “yours and mine” fitness trackers (e.g., Fi or Whistle for pets).

That first step toward your pet’s weight loss journey can be the hardest. If you need additional encouragement, motivation, or nutritional advice, contact Creature Comforts Veterinary Service.