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Treat Yo’ Pet (the Right Way)

With Love Yo’ Self Week just around the corner, we thought we’d kick things off a wee bit early by talking about pets … and how to treat ’em right! Considering 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs were found to be overweight in 2014 by the eighth annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, we figured we’d take a look at how the right treats can help you keep your pet in great shape.

I just got back from taking both dogs to the vet, and overall, their report cards (yes, they get actual report cards) indicated pretty decent grades all around, except for one thing — Rudi, my almost-9-year-old Lab mix, was slightly overweight. And since she has some arthritis, being an overweight dog is more than slightly unfortunate. I love my old girl, and the last thing I want to do is put more stress on joints that are already creaky!

cute dog picture

Oh, sure. YOU try saying no to this face.

Now, it seems like slimming her down should be super simple — I’m totally in charge of her meals and treats, so I should just feed her a little less, right? Well, the problem is a little more complicated because Rudi is permanently on a medication that makes her positively ravenous. Like, she’s taken to eating cardboard boxes when we’re not looking. It’s pathetic, heartbreaking, and — let’s be honest — neither convenient for us nor safe for her. So, we’re constantly trying to strike the balance between giving her enough to eat that she feels satisfied without feeding her so much that her weight increases even more.

Since I know I’m not the only one with an overweight dog or cat, I thought I’d share a few of my top tips and treats, because while Rudi might be a tiny bit tubby, I’ve also gotten praise from our vet for keeping it semi-under control despite her medication, age and genetics, so I feel like I’m doing something right!

taco dog

Taco dog spelled backwards is … wait. That only works for cats. And now I just want a taco.

Overweight Dog or Cat? Try These Tricks

If you’re already feeding your pet the recommended amount (and, of course, always talk to your vet before changing anything with your pet’s food!), then you might want to look at how you’re “treating” him or her. A few small changes there could lead to big results over time! (Now where have we heard that before?)

1. Use the smallest treats possible. We’re big fans of Zuke’s Mini Naturals in our house because, while they’re less than 3.5 calories per treat, they’re (apparently, if Rudi and Hollie’s reactions are to be believed) flavorful enough to be really desirable. They’re great for training (which I’ll get to in a moment), but if there are just certain times of the day when you tend to give them treats, they’re perfect for that. Oh, and bonus — they aren’t so smelly or mushy that they gross me out.

2. Reduce the size of your dog’s favorite treats. If you’ve got a type of treat your pup is partial to, try tearing or chopping it up ahead of time. I guarantee that your dog is more interested in the number and flavor of his treats than he is in the size of each one!

3. Look for safe options in the produce aisle. The amount of food Rudi gets is completely appropriate, but it clearly doesn’t fill her up. At all. And we’ve all been there — it’s a terrible feeling, and can you imagine feeling that way and having zero control over it? I’d probably eat a cardboard box too. So, I add a handful or two of chopped carrots to Rudi’s kibble at every meal. It doesn’t add too much in the form of calories (and, by the looks of things when I do my poop scooping, she doesn’t really digest them too much), but it does provide bulk and seems to quell her voracious appetite, at least a little. Plus, when I’ve got a container of chopped carrots ready to go in the fridge, that’s another easy, tiny treat option!

Now, it’s extremely important to note here that, while some fruits and veggies are great choices to use for treats or to add into kibble, there are quite a few that are dangerous (like onions, grapes and raisins, just to get started). Here are good options for dogs and for cats, and here are a few to watch out for with your dogs and cats. If you don’t see a food on those lists or on the ASPCA’s Poison Control list, just play it safe and don’t feed it to your four-legged friend.

4. Make ’em work. Neither my dogs or my cat ever get a totally free treat. It’s not because I’m cruel — I’m not — but I want to encourage them to think and move. I might just require a “come” and “sit,” or I might have them go from “sit” to “down” and back again a few times, maybe with a “stay” thrown in as I walk around. I’ll even make them heel as I walk from the kitchen to the living room. (Okay, fine — that’s for the dogs. The cat? Mostly I just make her come to a different part of the house to claim her prize. We’re working on the Trixie tricks.) Of course, this isn’t a major source of exercise and doesn’t take the place of taking a walk or playing in the yard, but movement is movement, right? Both for them and for us.

Do you have any tricks you use for keeping your pets at a healthy weight while still spoiling them a little? I also really like using a slow feeder or puzzle toy to keep them from inhaling their food! Kristen

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