A healthier pet makes for a healthier owner. Grab a leash and get moving.
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Credit: Illustration: Bee Johnson

It's said that pets resemble their owners. And like their owners, America's pets are getting a little too "fluffy." "These are parallel problems, according to Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) and author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter. According to APOP's most recent numbers, an estimated 54% of dogs and 59% of cats are overweight or obese. Obesity boost animals' risk for all manner of health woes, from arthritis and diabetes to heart failure and liver problems. Several factors contribute to this trends, says Ward, overfeeding being the major culprit. But lack of exercise is to blame, too. Try these tips to help your pet shape up.

Aim for Every Day

Your pup needs at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. Pay attention to these tips to keep her healthy.

APOP reports most people walk their dogs at a too-leisurely 20-25 minutes per mile. Try to boost that to 12-15 minutes a mile, maintaining your dog on a short leash and engaging with her to keep her moving.

Those workouts offer mental as well as physical benefits, especially for younger pups. "Exercise prevents and resolves 95% of behavioral issues," says Los Angeles-based dog trainer Jacqueline Yedgarof thecaninecouch.com. "If dogs get plenty of exercise, they're too tired to act out." For young dogs, she recommends at least two hour-long walks a day, and just playing in the yard doesn't count. "Dogs need the intellectual stimulation of walking," says Yedgar. And change up the route—even just going the opposite direction or a different time of day–to prevent boredom.

This time of year, early morning or early evening walks are best for the coolest temperatures and most shade. Have water available—we love the "Gulpy Water Dispenser" on Amazon—and let your pup drink what she needs to stay hydrated (but never force a dog to drink). "When it gets north of 90 degrees, it's better not to go for a run or walk with your dog," says Ward. He also cautions against walking dogs when the humidity is over 90%.

Panting is a dog's primary way of cooling off, so consider your dog's breed, Yedgar adds. Breeds with smooshed faced, such as bulldogs, Pekingese, and boxers, are especially vulnerable because their shorter muzzles make it difficult to pant effectively. Overweight dogs are most susceptible to heat. So are pups with dark, thick, and/or long coats.

In general, dogs want to keep up with their owners, so it's up to you to watch for signs of heatstroke, which include excessive panting, red gums, thick saliva, and flushed skin along your dog's ears, muzzle, and belly. Some dogs simply sit down when they overheat, Ward adds.

Owners need to stay attuned to changes as their pet ages, including sensitivity to heat. "Physiological changes in animal advance much more quickly than in people," says Ward.

Your dog will give you cues as to what's appropriate as she ages. "Let them show you what they're capable of," says Yedgar. Older dogs may want to "retire" from long hikes in favor of gentler neighborhood walks. "It's kind of like the senior-dog equivalent of just golfing," Yedgar says.

Don't Forget Kitty

"You need to engage their inner predator," Ward says. Experiment with different toys to get your cat stalking, chasing, and leaping. He recommends five-minute bouts of play two or three times a day to keep felines in shape.

It can take a little experimenting to find what engages your cat. Some felines love chasing laser pointers, remote-controlled mice, or feather dancers. Then there are those who are happy with an empty box or paper bag. It's all part of the joy of living with a cat, Ward says.