Approximately 42 million dogs and 50 million cats in the United States are overweight or obese.

Excess weight can affect almost every system in your pet’s body, because excess fat tissue is a source of extra load and inflammation. Obesity in dogs is associated with joint and back problems, certain types of cancers and respiratory problems. One study in Labradors showed that even being 10-20 percent overweight reduced life expectancy by almost two years. Obesity in cats is associated with joint problems, diabetes mellitus, urinary disease and problems grooming.

Always consult your veterinarian prior to putting your dog or cat on a weight management plan. Certain medical conditions, such as low thyroid function or excess cortisol production, can cause changes in weight and these conditions, as well as others, should be ruled out prior to restricting calories.

Veterinarians use a body condition scoring system to evaluate the amount of fat tissue on your pet. For most dogs and cats, you should be able to feel their ribs without padding when you run the flat of your palms along the sides of their chest. It should feel the same as if you run your finger over the knuckles of an outstretched hand. Additionally, their waists should tuck up beyond their rib cage when viewed from the side and tuck in slightly behind their ribs when viewed from above.

Your vet is the best resource for deciding your pet’s body condition and how much weight it should lose, if any. Your vet can also guide you to get your pet to a healthy weight.

There are many ways you can help your pet maintain a healthy weight. Diet and exercise are the cornerstones for healthy weight management in pets, and one of the most important choices you make for your pet is the food you feed it. The goal of feeding is to find a food that meets their energy and nutrient needs without providing excess calories that can lead to weight gain.

Start by taking a good look at what you are feeding your pet. Look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials Nutritional Adequacy Statement on the pet food label to ensure that the food is complete and balanced for your pet’s size, breed and lifestyle.

Adult dogs and cats need approximately 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight to maintain their weight. For example, if Fido weighs 50 pounds, he should eat 1,250-1,500 calories daily depending on his activity level. Couch potato dogs need fewer calories than high energy pups. Your average 10-pound kitty needs 250-300 calories per day.

Treats are a fun way to bond with your pet and reward good behavior. However, treat calories add up quickly. A dog or cat should receive no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from treats. Low calorie treat options include cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, green beans and Cheerios.

Instead of using treats to bond with your companion, reward them with walks, play time or grooming.

Studies in humans have shown that a smart eating plan in combination with increased exercise leads to healthy weight management long-term. Physical activity helps support muscle mass, burn calories and it is a fun way to spend time with your pets.

If your dog is relatively sedentary, start with a short five- to 10-minute walks two to three times daily, and slowly increase the length or frequency of walks until they are walking 30 to 45 minutes per day. Dog walking groups, agility training and pet sitters can help ensure that your dog gets daily physical activity. Cat owners can increase physical activity by using feather dusters, laser pointers, balls, or other toys to stimulate their natural hunting behaviors.

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian today to talk about what weight management means for your pet. The secret to achieving a healthy lifestyle for our four-legged friends is consistency.