PugonvetscaleDid Fido indulge in too many holiday treats? Is Fluffy looking a little too fluffy? Winter brings cold weather and with it a decrease in activity for people and pets alike. Obesity is a growing problem in our pet population with as many as 59% of cats and 54% of dogs considered overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Being as few as five pounds above ideal weight for your dog or two pounds above ideal for your cat puts them at risk for multiple serious health condition such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, respiratory and heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and cancers.

What this translates to is a shortened life expectancy -- on average two years less for an obese pet than normal weight counterparts. We all love our pets and want to ensure that they live long, full lives so helping your pet achieve and maintain an ideal body condition is of utmost importance.

The first step in helping your pet lose weight is a visit to the Wellness Clinic at Especially for Pets. Our veterinary staff can weigh your pet and assign a body condition score. Just like people come in a variety of sizes, pets are individuals too. Although we can look at breed weight standards, there is often a large variation, so body condition scoring helps to determine your pet's personal ideal.

Once we have assigned a body condition score we will determine your pet's ideal weight and from there make recommendations on how many calories to feed for weight loss. Your pet can continue to eat his/her current diet (albeit in lesser amounts) or the Especially for Pets staff can help you find the right diet to make your pet's weight loss journey successful. We recommend a high protein/low carb diet for maintaining proper weight. Supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and L-carnitine may also be helpful for weight loss.

Whichever food you choose, counting calories will be required. Use a kitchen measuring cup and level off the food (a coffee mug is not a "cup"). Remember to count the calories in treats as well. As few as 30 extra calories a day from treats will lead to a three pound weight gain over a year! Try breaking treats into small pieces. Your dog still gets a reward but with fewer calories. If your pet seems hungry or is begging throughout the day, feel free to divide the total daily calories in four to six smaller meals. For dogs, adding low calorie but filling veggies and fruits such as green beans, carrots, broccoli, celery, cucumbers or apple slices can help them feel full.

Don't forget the importance of exercise! For dogs, aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking, swimming, agility, or ball chasing each day. This can be done all at once or in multiple shorter sessions to fit your schedule. These walks are meant to get the heart rate up, so don’t stop and save the sniffing for later!

If it’s too cold, snowy or icy for outdoor exercise try to engage your dog in indoor play with a favorite toy, ball or laser pointer for 15 minutes twice a day. Cats benefit from exercise too. Laser pointers, feather-on-a-stick, or even a ball of paper can keep your cat moving. Aim for three five-minute periods of intense interactive play. Providing your cat with climbing structures and moving the food bowl to different areas of the house will also encourage your cat to be less sedentary.

Now that you have committed to helping your pet achieve an ideal body condition, how will you track progress? Most dogs will reach their ideal weight in about six months while cats generally take nine to 12 months. We can expect 3 to 5% weight loss each month for dogs and 0.5 to 2% monthly for cats. That's one to five pounds a month for dogs and half a pound a month for cats. Bringing your pet to the Wellness Clinic each month for a weigh-in will ensure you stay on track.

Remember, the changes you make today will result in a longer, healthier, happier life for your pet!