Written by Dr. Ernie Ward

Our pets are facing a health crisis. According to the latest veterinary surveys, over half our nation’s dogs and cats are overweight. This means over 90 million pets are at risk for developing crippling arthritis, debilitating diabetes, catastrophic kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure and many forms of cancer. Besides these serious diseases, obesity is robbing pets of longevity and quality of life. How can you slim down your super-sized pet, keep them fit and reduce their risk of developing many diseases in 2018? The answer may be easier than you think. Try these seven simple tips to help trim excess pounds from your pet and keep them trim.

  • Calculate Calories – If you don’t know how many calories your pet needs each day, you don’t know how much you need to feed them. And don’t think you can always trust the feeding guides on pet food; those values are formulated for adult, un-spayed or un-neutered active dogs and cats. For most older, spayed or neutered, indoor “lap potatoes,” you’re probably overfeeding by 20% to 30% too much if you follow the pet food’s instructions.

Instead, ask your veterinarian to calculate the proper number of calories your pet needs each day based on breed, age, fitness, and health. Another good starting point is to use this formula: Divide your pet’s weight by 2.2. Multiply this figure times 30. Add 70 and you’ve got a general idea of how many calories you should be feeding a typical inactive, indoor spayed or neutered dog or cat weighing between 6 and 60 pounds. ** [(pet’s weight in lbs/2.2) x 30] +70 ** Of course, each pet’s metabolism is different so be sure to consult your veterinarian before starting any new diet or weight loss and exercise program.

  • Measure Meals – A pet owner’s single greatest tool in the fight against excess weight is a measuring cup or kitchen scale. Too many pet owners simply fill the bowl or “guesstimate” how much they’re feeding. Even worse, some pets, especially cats, are fed an “all-day buffet” that results from the “just keep the bowl full” feeding philosophy. My organization, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, has done studies to show that feeding as few as 10 extra kibbles of food per day can add up to a pound of weight gain per year in indoor cats and small dogs. After you calculate how many calories your pet needs, determine how much food you should feed each meal – and measure it.
  • Tactical Treating – First off, I’m not “anti-treats,” I am “anti-junk-treats!” If you’re going to give your pets extra goodies, make ‘em count. Too many pet treats are what I call “calorie grenades,” laden with sugar and fat blowing up our pet’s waistlines and destroying their health.

Choose low-calorie, no-sugar goodies that provide a health benefit. I like single ingredient treats such as sweet potato, salmon, and blueberry bites or functional treats that provide a bonus such as helping to keep teeth clean or promote mobility. Whatever treats you give, be sure to count those additional calories. Many pet owners feed the proper amount of food but sabotage their efforts by adding one or two snacks throughout the day. As few as 30 extra calories per day means your pet gains over three pounds in a year.

Better yet, keep in mind that our dogs don’t do division. Break treats into bite-sized parcels and divvy them out whenever your pet earns it. Be cautious of “guilt-treating” – the practice of giving your pet a treat because you feel guilty leaving them home alone. Instead, use treats only as a reward for good behavior. Pets (and people) need to learn to “earn extra goodies.”

  • Vital Veggies – As an alternative to highly-processed store-bought treats, try offering baby carrots, green beans, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, celery, or sliced apples and bananas. These naturally nutritious tasty tidbits are a healthy – and low-calorie – option for many dogs. For cats, try a flake of salmon or tuna when you’re feeling the need for a special reward. While you’re at it, put down your own bag of potato chips or candy, and share a carrot with your pooch! You’ll both be healthier for it in 2018.
  • Hustle for Health – When it comes to living a long, pain-and disease-free life, research proves our most powerful partner is daily aerobic activity. Speaking of partners, anyone with a dog has a built-in, no-excuse exercise buddy. For people and dogs, as little as 20 to 30-minutes of brisk walking is all it takes to boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health and reduce many behavioral problems. For cats, try playing with a laser pointer, remote-controlled toy, or even a box, bag, or ball of paper for 5 to 15 minutes each day. Do your dog (and yourself ) a favor and commit to daily walks, rain, shine, or snow (okay, you can skip blizzards) this year. The health benefits of walking extend to both ends of the leash.
  • Smart Supplements – A couple of supplements may help keep your pet (and you) fit and trim. Almost every dog, cat and person can benefit from taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement. These powerful fish oils pack a potent anti-oxidant punch that has been proven to help prevent and treat numerous diseases. In addition, they may help ease achy joints and perhaps encourage weight loss. L-carnitine has been shown to aid weight loss and promote lean muscle mass in some studies. I’ve been prescribing (and taking) l-carnitine for over 13 years and been impressed with the results. Ask your veterinarian if either (or both) of these supplements make sense for your pet’s condition.
  • Cut Down the Carbs – Most of the pet dogs and cats I treat for don’t need a high-carbohydrate diet. Yet that’s exactly what the majority of U.S. pet owners feed their pets. Many diets contain 60% or more carbohydrates when you analyze their formulations. I prefer low-carbohydrate pet food options with a healthy protein source as the first ingredient, especially for pets that need to slim down. As a general rule, I recommend trying a higher-protein/low-carb diet first for weight loss in my patients.

It’s the responsibility of each of us to help our pets maintain a healthy weight. Just as you’d never walk your dog without a collar and leash or feed them only pizza and ice cream (which many dogs would LOVE!), it’s up to pet owners to feed healthy, nutritious foods and treats and exercise daily. By using these seven simple suggestions, you’ll be on your way to your pet’s best – and healthiest – year yet!


Written by: Dr. Ernie Ward 

Additional Information: www.PetObesityPrevention.org

Learn More About Dr. Ernie Ward: www.DrErnieWard.com

Join the Conversation at: www.Facebook.com/DrErnieWard


Dr. Ernie Ward has spent his career blending healthy lifestyles and medicine. He is internationally known for improving veterinary medical standards, creating a higher quality of life for animals, and promoting healthier habits for pets and people. Dr. Ward has been a leader in the areas of pet nutrition and weight loss, establishing diagnostic test protocols and evolving pet technologies, promoting senior pet care, and advancing veterinary practice standards and veterinary staff training. Dr. Ward is an award-winning practicing veterinarian and speakertelevision and YouTube personality, and podcaster who specializes in teaching veterinary healthcare teams and pet owners how to lead more fulfilling, meaningful, and successful lives. The guiding principle for Dr. Ward’s work is life enhancement. He is actively involved in developing veterinary and human medical technologies, diet and exercise research, longevity and disease prevention, and integrative medical practices.