People share a lot when a dog or cat is part of the family. Unfortunately, one trait that far too many owners and pets have in common is excess weight. Two-thirds of U.S. adults and 55 percent of U.S. pets are considered overweight, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-2010) and the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention 2012 Pet Obesity Study.
The silver lining is that while many pets and their owners are tipping the scales, losing weight is something they can do together, as people and pets make great weight loss partners for reasons both scientific and psychological.
"Pets love exercising with their owners and can even help boost their owners' time and intensity level," said Purina certified weight coach Heather Prendergast. According to Canadian researchers, dog owners walk nearly twice as much as people without dogs, while a University of Missouri study determined that walking speed increases 28 percent with a dog.
Tips on how to start:
- Walk before you run. If you and your pet are new to an exercise program, set short-term, manageable goals and gradually increase the level of difficulty and duration as the two of you work together toward your activity goals.
- Play together. Throw a ball and do lunges or squats while your dog runs to fetch, or race to get the ball first. Cats love chasing toys, too, and can even be taught to retrieve.
- Connect mealtime with exercise. Before breakfast or dinner, squeeze in a short walk. Teach your dog to earn his treat by performing a trick first. Have your cat hunt for their food by hiding kibble in different places around the house.
- Embrace snacking. Snacks for people and treats for pets can be built into a healthy meal plan, and can serve as protection against binge eating. Frequent small meals also can boost metabolism and keep hunger away.
- Drink up. Always hydrate, before and after exercise and throughout the day. Sometimes thirst can be confused with hunger, so make sure you and your pets always have a full water bowl.
Don’t forget to consult with your physician – and veterinarian – before beginning a weight loss, diet or exercise program.