By Tim Falk
Published: 09/07/2021, edited: 09/07/2021
Hands up if you put on a few extra pounds during lockdown. As hand after hand starts going up around the country (and the world), we’re willing to bet there are more than a few pets sheepishly raising their paws too.
Our fur-babies have been right by our sides throughout the pandemic. Some aspects of the virus and lockdowns have been positive for our pets, such as spending more quality time together — yay, the hoomans are home all day, every day! — but many haven’t. And when you combine a poor diet with a lack of regular exercise, as was the case for many people and pets during lockdown, the result is weight gain.
But if your dog or cat has gained lockdown weight, the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to help them get back in shape.
Let’s face it, lockdown was hard on all members of the family. For some of us, one of the only ways to deal with all the stress and boredom was to find comfort in food. From late-night bingeing to just abandoning healthy eating altogether, it was all too easy to fall into the trap of stuffing your face several times a day.
Unfortunately, these poor eating habits commonly transfer to our furry friends. When you’re spending all day, every day at home with your pet, it’s so simple to give in to those “puppy dog eyes” and slip them an extra treat or two, or maybe share some of your table scraps with them.
Alternatively, maybe you found yourself looking for a fun baking challenge to help kill an hour or two, and decided to whip up a batch of delicious (but not particularly healthy) treats for your fur-baby. And hey, if your dog or cat over-indulged a little, who really cared?
Unhealthy eating was of course only one half of the problem. Combine that with a lack of options or a complete loss of motivation to exercise regularly, and you had a perfect storm for people and pets to start stacking on the pounds.
In fact, one study from Hill’s Pet Nutrition revealed that more than 70% of surveyed pet professionals believed the pandemic had impacted the way pets eat. And with 33% of the parents of portly pets reporting that their fur-babies became overweight during the pandemic, it’s clear that lockdown weight gain is a very real problem for four-legged family members.
OK, so your dog or cat is a little heavier now than when the pandemic started. Surely there’s no need to start with the fat shaming — is there?
Unfortunately, carrying excess weight affects so much more than simply how your fur-baby looks. Obesity can increase your pet’s risk of suffering an extensive range of health problems, including a wide range of cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Those extra pounds can also increase the stress on your dog or cat’s joints, which in turn increases their risk of suffering from osteoarthritis.
And it’s not just seriously obese pets that are cause for concern. One study showed that overweight dogs have a lifespan that is two-and-a-half-years shorter than dogs with a healthy body weight.
Whichever way you look at it, that’s a truly alarming result. So if you think your pup has gained weight during lockdown, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.
Helping your pet get back to a healthy weight range isn’t rocket science. Just like for people, the key to losing weight for your pet depends on two key factors: diet and exercise.
But before you put your dog or cat on any new diet or exercise regime, take them in for a vet check-up. Your vet will be able to confirm that your pet is in fact overweight, check whether there are any underlying health problems that could be responsible for their weight gain, and then help you formulate a plan to get your cat or dog back into a healthy weight range.
The exact approach will of course vary on factors like your pet’s age, breed, overall health, and how much weight they need to lose. In some cases, you may need to simply reduce your pet’s meal portions slightly, cut down on treats and cut out table scraps entirely, or maybe replace unhealthy treats with something more nutritious. In others, you may need to switch your pet to a low-fat diet to help them get back in shape.
As for exercise, your vet will be able to advise you about what sort of physical activity your pet is and isn’t capable of tackling. The good news is that many dogs will jump at the chance to get active with you, seeing it as a great chance to spend more quality time with their humans.
Walking, jogging, dog park visits, and even canine sports can all encourage dogs to raise their heart rate. Cats are much less inclined to exercise alongside you, so try to incorporate fun play and puzzle toys into your daily routine, and encourage them to get active as much as possible.
With a committed approach, you’ll soon help your fur-baby shed those lockdown pounds.
And let’s face it, when you think about how your pet made getting through the pandemic so much more bearable, keeping them happy and healthy is the least you can do.
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