The easy, at-home exercise to do if you think your pet might be overweight

We're all about body positivity here at Newshub and think it's never ok to fat-shame friends, family or yourself.

But there is a loved one in your life who can be classed as an exception to the rule - your pet. 

After a morbidly obese cat underwent a dramatic body transformation in Christchurch, we turned to vet and founder of Genius Pet Food, Dr Paula Short, for some advice on how to know when your pet is going from merely 'cuddly' to 'crisis-point'. 

Dr Short says currently a third of dogs in NZ are overweight, but there are some simple steps pet owners can take to make sure man's best friend stays within a healthy weight range.  

The best, she says, is a 'body condition score': A quick hands-on assessment that every dog owner can learn to do at home.

The scoring scale runs 1 through 9 and helps you assess whether your dog is underweight, overweight, or just right.

Here's how to do it:

Firstly, run your hands over your dog's body. 

Score 1-3 – Underweight
Can you see and feel your dog's ribs, spine, and hip bones easily? Does your dog have minimal fat and a very defined waist area? They are probably underweight.

Score 4-5 – Just right
You can feel your dog's ribs, hips and spine but you can't necessarily see them, and the waistline is visible - a good indication of your dog sitting at a healthy weight.

Score 6-9 – Overweight
Your dog's ribs, spine and hips cannot be felt easily, and their waist is not visible. Your dog may struggle with physical activity, avoid playing or playing less than they used to, and become tired quickly. If so, your dog may be overweight.

So your dog is overweight. Now what? 

"The amount a dog needs to eat varies greatly depending on their age, breed, activity level and even whether they are desexed," says Dr Short. 

"The feeding instructions on the back of the pet food packet are intended as a guide only, but many people make the mistake of rigidly adhering to the amounts suggested and their pet ends up overweight." 

She says if your dog falls into the overweight category, cutting back their food intake by as little as 10 percent is enough for most dogs to start shedding those extra kilos. 

Pet owners often use all manner of things to measure out how much they are feeding their pet, from coffee mugs to old margarine containers, but studies have shown that even using a proper measuring cup is not a particularly accurate way of feeding, especially with small dogs. 

Using a scale to weigh out your dog's food in grams rather than a variable cup measurement, will set you on the right path, says Dr Short. 

You can even buy dog bowls now with built-in scales to make it easy. 

"Lastly, you may need to avert your eyes when your dog comes begging and cut back on some of the treats and table scraps your dog has been getting, at least while they're losing weight," she advises. 

"While we humans often find those extra rolls are adorable, it's not so good for our pets. For a healthy, very good doggo, get obsessive about their food." 

She adds that It doesn't mean cutting out all their treats, but keeping a careful watch on their diet will leave your furry friend in optimal condition for a long and healthy life.