Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Tips for Trimming Fluffy's Extra Pounds

Pet Column for the week of October 25, 2010

Related information:

Related site - Shape Up, Pup!

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Andrea Lin
Information Specialist

Your beloved pet is a little on the chubby side and has mastered the art of the big, shiny sad puppy dog eyes that always get the best of you. You work to reduce the food portions, but somehow the weight stays on.

Sound familiar? Pet obesity is a growing problem that often isn't taken seriously enough even though it contributes to life-threatening and life-shortening conditions such as cancer, heart disease, joint problems, and more.

Kim Knap, a certified veterinary technician and a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, runs the Companion Animal Rehabilitation clinic at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. Through a program called "Shape up, Pup!" Knap works with pet owners to develop a practical plan to safely achieve and maintain an ideal body weight for pets.

A large percentage of pet owners are oblivious to their own pet's weight problem, so here are some simple ways to tell if your pet is overweight: You should be able to easily feel the ribs without a layer of fat. When you look down at your pet, you should be able to see a waist, and when you look from the side, you should see a tucked abdomen.

But what if Fluffy is, well, fluffy? Just run your hands through the fur and feel. Make sure that Fluffy is cute and round because of all that fur, not that the fur is hiding the fat.

If you think your pet's weight may be a problem, call this to the attention of your veterinarian. If the veterinarian rules out metabolic disorders, you may be referred to a consultation with a rehab program like "Shape up, Pup!" that would help create a personalized plan to fit you and your pet. (These programs often have special equipment, such as a doggy treadmill, that will make exercise more fun for your pet!) You will find plenty of options and people who can help once you start looking.

When your pet starts to round out and lose definition, treats can be the culprit. "Commercial treats are typically high in calories," says Knap, "and the semi-moist variety is especially bad. Moist treats add fats and sugars to keep them moist."

So what do you do when your pet looks at you with big sad shiny eyes and begs for treats? Believe it or not, Fluffy may really just be begging for your attention and playtime. Try finding more time to play, advises Knap, which provides both the attention he craves and the activity he needs.

Another approach Knap recommends is to replace calorie-laden treats with baby carrots or ice cubes, inexpensive choices that your pet will love. Most pets will be just as thrilled about getting that carrot piece and your attention as getting a processed commercial treat. And you might enjoy watching your pet dash after the slippery ice cube just as much as your pet likes chasing it.

Keeping pets at an ideal weight helps them live longer, healthier lives. Fit pets can make the most of play time without tuckering out early, and they are less likely to develop chronic, life-threatening diseases.

For more information about your pet's ideal weight, talk to your local veterinarian.