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Ensure your dog or cat lives a healthier lifestyle with a few simple steps.

By Jennifer Aldrich
April 02, 2021
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We've all been doing our best to simply survive this past year. And with less movement due to working from home and social distancing, you might see a higher number on the scale or notice your clothes are fitting tighter. (First off, that is completely normal. Don't punish yourself for enduring a pandemic!) But when it comes to your pet, they should be working to lose the extra weight they've gained during the COVID-19 outbreak. There is even research that shows overweight dogs live shorter lives, and you want to keep your pet around for as long as possible, so helping them get healthier is imperative. "I have definitely had lots of patients that were one weight before COVID, and as it's been going on, have been slowly increasing [their weight,]" says Brianna Armstrong, D.V.M, a veterinarian at Firehouse Animal Health Center in Austin, Texas.

But don't stress out too much if your furry friend has been looking fluffier; there are straightforward ways you can help your dog or cat lose the extra pounds. First, you should make an appointment with your vet, Armstrong says. You'll work together to create a diet plan and exercise regimen that fits both you and your pet's lifestyles. (Plus, your vet will do blood work and other tests to rule out metabolic diseases or other problems that are causing their weight gain.) After your visit, check out these tips to help your four-legged friend live a healthier, longer life.

happy dog running with ball outdoors to help covid weight gain
Credit: Purple Collar Pet Photography/Getty Images

1. Stick to Scheduled Feedings

"In animals, a diet plays a huge role in their weight," Armstrong explains, so you'll want to be attentive to when and what you're feeding your pet. For dogs, a good place to start is to look at the serving size of their kibble and reduce that amount by about 25%. "[This] could be too much or too little, depending on the individual," Armstrong says, ensure you're monitoring your pet's progress. Make sure you're sticking to a feeding schedule as well and only set their food out at specific times. (They might beg, but don't give in!) Also, try a puzzle bowl ($11, Chewy) to stimulate their mind help them eat slower.

When it comes to cats, doing "meal feeding" (setting the food out at a certain time) instead of "free feeding" (always having a bowl of food out) is incredibly important. Also, Armstrong recommends giving them wet food, like Fancy Feast Poultry & Beef Feast ($15 for 24 cans, Chewy), instead of dry food. "Wet food is lower in calories than dry food," Armstrong says. "You can feed them more of it." Plus, the water content in the wet food helps as "cats are chronically dehydrated," Armstrong adds. If your kitty is timid about the change, try different flavors or textures to find what they like the best.

2. Cut Back on the Treats

"Sometimes, food is love," Armstrong says. "When you're spending more time with your pets, they look so cute, and you give them treats." Treats are a major cause of weight gain, especially with dogs, but you can still give them lots of love without the extra calories. One idea is to take the amount of kibble you decreased from their feeding, and offer it to them as "treats." Or, offer praise and lots of attention as a reward instead of food.

3. Get Moving

Exercise is excellent for the owner and the pet. Long walks or trips to the dog park are best for dogs, but depending on how busy you are or your dog's age and activity level, those options might not be a daily occurrence. However, there are plenty of ways to get your pup some movement indoors. Armstrong says could play fetch with a tennis ball or even a treat ball ($13, Chewy) filled with your extra kibble. Another idea is to work on commands your dog knows or even teach them new ones. "Keeping an active mind is just as important as an active body," Armstrong notes.

There are many cat toys to keep your kitty busy, like the top-rated Leaps & Bounds Cat Track Cat Toy ($20, Petco) or Leaps & Bounds Crinkle Cat Tunnel ($20, Petco). "Cats can be more challenging," Armstrong says, so get creative with different toys or activities.

4. Follow-Up with Your Vet

Make sure you go to all your pet's appointments. Armstrong says that you'll probably have to follow up once per month to record progress. Your dog or cat's weight-loss journey will take some time; Armstrong says there are risks with losing weight too quickly (cats can develop liver problems, for example), so be patient. But all the hard work put in by you and your furry friend will be worth it when you can enjoy more time together.

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