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Promoting a Healthy Pet Diet & Lifestyle During the Holidays

By Dr. Georgette Wilson

Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, and Resident Veterinarian at Hartz

For many people, the holidays are often a time of indulgence, and this sentiment is often extended to the family pets as well. But overindulging our pets can have some serious consequences, especially when it concerns their weight.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), about 58% of cats and 53% of dogs in the United States are either overweight or obese. However, many dog owners fail to recognize when their own pets have a weight problem. In fact, the same APOP survey concluded that 95% of owners of overweight dogs and 90% of owners of overweight cats thought their pet was at a normal weight.

Obesity is not just an aesthetic issue: overweight and obese pets are at a higher risk of developing potentially serious medical conditions, such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and certain types of cancer. If your pet already has problems with excess body weight, the best way to address it is by the tried-and-true method: calorie restriction and exercise.

Your veterinarian is the best resource to develop a plan to help you get your pet back to a healthy weight. However, one of the best ways to deal with weight issues is to try to prevent them altogether.  That means limiting the amount of treats you give your pet so that no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories comes from treats.

Ideally, these treats should be made specifically for dogs or cats, since foods high in fats and sugars are unhealthy for pets, and others treats containing chocolate, onions or grapes can be deadly. But “treats” for pets don’t always have to come in an edible form. Cats are hunters by nature, so they enjoy toys that simulate the hunting experience. This type of play can be a great form of exercise. And a recent study from Emory University suggested that dogs prefer human interaction (in form of praise or a belly rub) over a food treat.

So the next time your cat or dog begs for a treat, don’t reach for the treat jar, reach for their belly for a good rub instead!