Fall Fitness With Your Furry Friends

By Dr. Karen Farnan, Veterinarian

As the cool and beautiful days of fall are arriving, this is a good time to think about the exercise and dietary needs of our pets! The benefits of a healthy body weight in dogs and cats are many, and include reduced risk of injury, joint pain, osteoarthritis, intervertebral disc disease, hip dysplasia, diabetes, and cancer.

Probably the best exercise for dogs is walking. The time and distance walked should be adjusted based on the needs of your dog, which are determined by size, age, and any pre-existing medical conditions. A side benefit is that the owner’s physical health and emotional well-being will also receive the positive effects of walking!

Cats would ideally get several active play times during the day, which might include chasing fishing-rod toys, laser lights, or playing fetch. We even have one cat-owner who walks her cats on the treadmill with her!  (One cat at a time, and please be careful if you try this at home).

Weight loss in dogs can be quite easy if you stick with a few basics.  After all, your dog is not going to go to the store to buy “junk food”, or make unhealthy choices at a restaurant! Start with a good quality light/diet food, and Measure, Measure, Measure! Frequently the suggested amount on the bag is too much. Please consult your Rocky Gorge veterinarian to determine the best quantity to feed. Two meals a day is best; dropping to one meal can slow the dog’s metabolism. Try to avoid treats and snacks. If your dog is expecting treats at certain times during the day, you can substitute fresh or frozen green beans or ice cubes. Better yet, go for a walk instead! They will enjoy it more. If your dog is “senior”, be aware that senior foods are not as low calorie as diet foods. Use the light food until the ideal body weight has been reached, then you can switch to the senior food for maintenance. If you are not having success by following these guidelines with an over the counter food, please ask us about the prescription weight loss foods that we carry at Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital, they can be very helpful. You are always welcome to stop in to weigh your pet if you are unable to weigh them at home.

Weight loss in cats can be trickier, especially in multiple cat households. Cats are at risk of hepatic lipidosis, a type of liver failure, if they lose weight too quickly! A smooth, gradual weight loss is best. Sometimes even getting the weight to level off rather than increasing is a big improvement. Try to feed measured meals, but if even one cat in the household will only “graze” (nibble) rather than eating a meal, then generally some food must be left out for that kitty, and the overweight cat(s) in the house will tend to overeat. You can weigh the cats frequently (weekly or even daily at first) to make sure that no overweight kitty is losing more than 1 pound the first month, and usually 2-4 pounds spread out over a year is an excellent weight loss goal. Most people use a digital scale that shows tenths of pounds, hold their cat and then subtract their weight. Make sure the ideal/normal weight cats in the house are eating enough to maintain their weight. If they are losing, you could feed them their favorite food in a room away from the overweight cats, with the door closed. If these things are not working, talk to your Rocky Gorge veterinarian about dietary recommendations. We have prescription weight loss foods available, or sometimes I will even prescribe a diabetic food, to help with weight loss and diabetes prevention, as that is one of the highest health risks for overweight kitties.

Enjoy the extra time you spend walking your dog or playing with your cat as you seek to improve their fitness this fall!  The simple joys of life are some of the best.

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