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

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Consider Pets' Health Among New Year's Resolutions


Pet Column for the week of December 30, 2013

Related information:

Related site - Shape Up, Pup!

[fluffy gray cat]
If your pet has so much fur that you can't see whether her tummy tucks in as it should, try feeling for her ribs. There should not be a layer of fat over them.

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

'Tis the season for New Year's resolutions relating to diet and exercise, and the perfect time to evaluate whether your dog and cat may need to shape up as well. Though Fido and Felix won’t have to fit into bikinis in a few months, it is important for their health that those extra pounds come off. Pet obesity is an all-too-common problem that 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 at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, offers these guidelines on determining whether your pet should trim down and implementing an exercise regimen that could help.

"To test whether you pet may have a weight problem, look down at your pet from above. You should be able to see a waistline where the body goes in between the rib cage and the hips. When you look from the side, you should see a tucked abdomen," she says. "If your pet has lots of fur that makes this visual test difficult, run your hands through the fur. You should easily feel the ribs without a layer of fat."

If your pet failed this test and you think extra weight may be a problem, call this to the attention of your veterinarian before embarking on an exercise program or change in diet.

"A routine veterinary check-up before beginning an exercise regimen is very important. Your veterinarian can run basic blood work and hormone levels and can ensure that your pet doesn't have any underlying medical, musculoskeletal, or neurologic issues that could limit exercise," advises Knap.

After obtaining a clean bill of health from your veterinarian, you are ready to decide what activity you'll begin. In addition to running and walking, there are a variety of games you can play with your pet.

"Fetch, Frisbee, chase, and hide and seek are all great games to engage your dog in," Knap recommends. Making games like these high-energy can keep your dog interested and make once-boring exercise into something fun for both of you.

And we can't forget our feline friends — some cats are extremely playful, and might be just as interested in a game of fetch or chase as dogs. Finding a few toys that are particularly interesting to your cat could be the key to get him moving in between cat naps.

But remember to take it easy when introducing an exercise regimen. "Start off with just five minutes of exercise daily, increasing gradually based on how well you and your pet tolerate the activity," Knap advises.

If your pet has special health conditions or you just need help integrating exercise into your dog’s routine, there are plenty of options and people who can help. Knap runs a program called "Shape up, Pup!" to help owners develop practical, individualized plans to safely achieve and maintain ideal body weight for their pets. This program and others like it have special equipment, such as doggy treadmills, that make exercise more fun for your pet.

For further information about your pet's ideal weight and exercising with your animals, talk to your local veterinarian.