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Get Fit with Your Pet

Keep your pet in shape during the winter months with these smart weight-loss tips.

By Sarah Bruning

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Staying fit during the coldest months of the year isn't just a human problem—it's one pets deal with too. A study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that dogs and cats gain an average of 0.3 and 0.37 pounds, respectively (the equivalent of 1.5 to 4 pounds for people), between October and February. Read on for three major causes behind bulking up and advice on how to combat them from Deborah Linder, D.V.M., lead faculty for the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals.

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Get Fit with Your Dog
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House Arrest

The Problem

In warmer months, animals spend lots of time outdoors, where there are plenty of opportunities to work off extra calories. But when colder temps and crummy weather set in, owners often stop walking their dogs or letting cats out into the yard.

The Plan

Keep your dog active with indoor toys. Handheld penlights and wand toys are good for getting cats racing around and offer the chance to play with your pet. Depending on age and breed, canine companions should be active for 30 to 120 minutes per day; felines, for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Portion Distortion

The Problem

Overfeeding is a common issue, especially during the holidays when table scraps and extra treats are commonplace. Once a pet is used to extra food it can be hard to break the habit, and he'll continue to beg even if he's not hungry.

The Plan

Linder suggests speaking with your vet to determine your animal's baseline caloric needs, which are influenced by body weight, breed and activity level. It's okay to stray from recommended serving portion sizes. "Each pet is an individual, so yours may need less or more than the packaging directs," says Linder.

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Winter Blues

The Problem

If your pet's less peppy, seasonal affective disorder could be to blame. According to the UK's leading veterinary charity, one in three pet owners notice a downturn in their animal's mood during the colder months.

The Plan

Since lack of sunlight plays into seasonal depression, it's important to boost light exposure. Place your pet's bed near windows or skylights, be sure to leave blinds open and turn up indoor lamps. Keep your pooch mentally engaged and alert by teaching him new tricks. Treat cats to games and homemade toys (a sock stuffed with catnip, for example) that arouse curiosity.

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Pet Tech

Boost your pet's wellness with a swipe of a finger.

MapMyDogWalk: Log your animal's walking time, distance and speed. You can also plan out your route on an interactive map. iTunes and Google Play, free

Purina Pet Health: Keep up-to-date on your pet's medical history and appointments and even find the closest vets in an emergency. It will also remind you that your pet's due for a checkup. iTunes and Google Play, free

PetMobi: Create a profile for your dog or cat so you can monitor his daily exercise and caloric intake—and set up weight-loss goals that lead to rewards. iTunes, free

WIN NOW! Pets need pedometers too! Tagg, an activity and location tracker that attaches to a collar, lets owners monitor the movement of their cats and dogs. Enter for a chance to win one at familycircle.com/winpets.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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