It’s already January and the New Year’s resolutions have begun. Resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight and get more exercise are by far the most common promises we make to ourselves. But this year, why not include your furry companion as part of your resolution?

Obesity is one of the most common problems we see as veterinarians. In my practice I discuss my patient’s weight with at least half of my clients each and every day. The pets I see primarily live indoors, do not get enough exercise and are fed excellent, nutrient-rich diets that just provide more calories than these animals are wearing off.

It is no surprise that this excess weight can cause a myriad of health problems. Obese cats have a frighteningly increased risk of diabetes, not to mention liver problems, arthritis and pancreatic disease. Our obese dogs develop all types of arthritis in their joints and back much earlier than normal-weight dogs. They also are at much higher risk for heart and lung diseases, pancreatic diseases and many other problems.

When I talk to my clients, I try to help them realize that the extra weight is not a cosmetic problem (few of my patients need to find a date for the prom), but a very real health concern for their pet.

So, how do you tell if your pet is one of the “scale challenged” pets I am referring to? You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs with gentle pressure using your fingers. (With very few exceptions – greyhounds, whippets, etc. — you should not be able to see their ribs.) If you are pushing and still can’t find any ribs, your pet is overweight.

Next, while your pet is standing, look down on their back. You should be able to see a waistline (where your pet’s body goes in behind their rib cage). If your pet is rectangular in shape – or worse yet, barrel shaped – you have an overweight pet.

Always feel comfortable talking to your veterinarian about weight-loss strategies for your pet. Your vet can give you an idea of the animal’s ideal weight, specific diet recommendations, or any exercise restrictions or diet modifications needed because of underlying medical conditions.

The most common excuse I hear from clients is, “but he just seems so hungry all the time!” Well, think about it: Our pets have learned that if they beg, we give them treats. What pet in his right mind wouldn’t beg?

We need to realize that as owners we are the ones that control their calorie intake. We measure the food that goes in the bowl, we open the treat jar. None of my patients have figured out how to call Domino’s or go through the drive-thru. It is up to us to give them only the amount of food that keeps their bodies healthy.

For dogs, our practice encourages adding fresh vegetables to pets’ meals and using them for treats. Carrots, celery, green beans, zucchini, squash, broccoli and cauliflower are all low in calorie and high in fiber. Most dogs really like them!

Slowly begin to increase exercise. Cold weather is an excellent time to start. Once you start daily walks, your dog will begin to ask you for them – helping you with your resolution to get more exercise! For cats, you have to be more creative (they don’t like to go to the park). Try cat dancers, puff balls or even just putting their food on the counter to make them jump up.

Weight loss takes time and commitment. It may take months for your pet to get to a healthy weight – but the benefits are enormous. We all want our pets to remain healthy, active and a part of our lives for as long as they can.