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Another sign of the COVID-19 pandemic: Our overweight pets and how to help them lose weight

Dogs and cats of Austin, this pandemic has been hard on you, too. Your humans came home and are there all the time. Now you don't know what to do without them and are experiencing separation anxiety.

You also are spending hours of the day watching Netflix with your humans, who give you attention with snacks multiple times a day. Often, they're giving you human food like peanut butter or high-calorie packaged snacks.

When they are hard at work in their makeshift offices, they feel bad that you're just hanging out looking bored or sleeping (but they don't know that when they were gone in the pre-coronavirus days, that's just what you did all day). They feel guilty, and so they give you another treat. 

Now, just like your humans, you've put on some COVID-19 pounds or ounces (depending on your size). 

Dogs can become overweight from lack of exercise, the wrong food or too many treats. Alice, a female Australian shepherd, should not weigh more than 55 pounds according to breed standards.

At your yearly doctor visit, they're going to make you get on the scale. The truth of your weight gain and all those excess treats will be unavoidable.

A conversation will take place and all those fun extra treats will need to go away. 

You're not alone. 

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Dr. Emily McCann of Firehouse Animal Health Center in Kyle says she's seeing a lot of cats and dogs come in with weight gain lately because of those multiple, high-calorie snacks.

Instead of using snacks as forms of attention, she says, humans should pay attention to what they are feeding their pets, how much they are feeding and what activities they are offering their pets.

Instead of giving dogs treats, play with them to keep them active and engaged.

How to help your pets lose weight

Here are some recommendations for helping pets get to or maintain a healthy weight: 

  • Instead of packaged treats, dogs or cats can be given a bit of their food. Subtract the amount of treats from the mealtime food.
  • Low-calorie treats like green beans, carrots or plain chicken or deli meat are also good, McCann says.
  • Measure out food meals using a proper measure (not a mug or a plastic cup).
  • Use the chart on the package of dog or cat food as the guide of how much food to give. Pets that are spayed or neutered can be given 25 percent less than the chart on the bag. 
  • Feed on a schedule instead of free-feeding. If a dog or cat doesn't eat food within an hour, pick up the food and offer it again at a later time. 
  • If two cats or two dogs live together and only one has a weight issue, consider using a microchip-activated food bowl that will open up only when that cat or dog comes to the bowl. This also helps with the cat who steals the dog food and the dog who steals the cat food. 
  • For the indoor/outdoor cat, make sure that no one else in the neighborhood is feeding the cat. 
  • Both cats and dogs need about 30 minutes a day of exercise. Herding breeds need more. 
  • Replace treats with play time or extra walks. Cats can be leash trained or use a cat toy or laser to encourage jumping or pouncing. Cats also can be trained to walk on an oversized hamster wheel made for cats. 
  • For dogs, add an extra walk or playtime with balls or dog toys in between walks.
Sometimes one cat is overweight like Jack and one cat is a healthy weight like Jill. A feeding bowl that only opens for a specific cat's microchip can help with one pet taking food from the other.

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Dogs and cats should have an hourglass figure when humans look down at them from above; from the side, you should see a tuck up from the chest to the abdomen. 

Most dogs or cats can lose a 1/4 pound to 1/2 pound a week with some modifications to their food intake and exercise. 

Like humans, pets who are at a healthy weight have better heart health, life longevity and joints. Dogs also avoid things like pancreatitis, which can plague dogs around the holidays when humans give them too much fatty food.