Ever wonder why you pet seems to be packing on the pounds? Curious as to how your canine suddenly started taking on the shape of your coffee table? Wondering what to do to help your pet trim down to a healthier weight?

Just like in humans, weight issues can lead to many health problems in our pets! Obese pets are much more likely to develop major health problems, such as diabetes; overweight pets are more prone to arthritis, creating difficultly getting around to enjoy normal, daily activities. Obesity in our pets reduces their lifespan and impedes on their quality of life, so it’s essential we recognize and help our “rounder” 4-legged friends establish a healthier routine.

First and most importantly, obesity and weight gain in our pets should be examined by your trusted veterinarian! There are many medical reasons why a pet may be overweight. In dogs, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease come to mind as metabolic dysfunctions in the body that cause canines to gain weight, and have a harder time loosing it. Many people don’t realize that neutering or spaying a pet can cause them to gain weight too, as their metabolism changes after these surgeries. Sudden “weight gain” or distention of the belly may not actually be weight — it could be ascites (also known as fluid build up) or even bloat. Your vet can run tests to rule out medical reasons for your pet’s weight, give you advice on proper nutrition, and also help you keep track of weight loss as you venture on to help your pooch or kitty trim down.

Once you’ve ruled out any major medical concerns as to why your pet may be overweight, it’s time to start a new nutritional and exercise regiment to help them shed those excess lbs! Introduce more exercise at a gradual pace to condition your dog. If all of a sudden you start running your dog for miles a day, your canine is going to get sore and learn to hate exercising! You don’t run a marathon from the start — instead you condition and build up your stamina and strength with time. Do the same for your pets, please!

Don’t have enough time or energy to exercise your pup? Consider hiring a professional dog walker! This is a wonderful option for those with a busy lifestyle, or perhaps those who may be physically limited themselves, and cannot provide the adequate exercise needed to help their pets loose weight.

Find other ways to get your pet active that may require less effort on your part! Let your pet chase a laser light, teach them how to fetch, or train them to walk on a treadmill. Invest in a doggy backpack and add some light weights to it to get more bang for your buck on daily walks. For cats, consider feeding on top of a cat tree, encouraging exercise by climbing to eat. Laser lights, door danglies, and battery-operated chase toys tend to be helpful calorie burners for kitties too.

Re-evaluate your pet’s nutrition. Look at the ingredients of what you are feeding in their daily meals. Cats are carnivores, and don’t digest grains like corn and wheat the same as an omnivorous dog. Consider feeding a grain-free diet, or even try raw food. Though dogs may tolerate “non-meat foods” better than a carnivorous feline, think about the extra effort your pooch will have to put in to burn off those complex carbohydrates. Finding an appropriate diet will be different for each individual pet, based on their specific needs. Research and educate yourself, then discuss with your veterinarian and local natural and holistic pet food store to find a diet that will work best for YOUR pet.

Look at the treats you are supplying. You may go through all the effort to find a better food for your pet, but then it all goes out the window when you add in those biscuits. If I ate a bag of Cheetos every day, I would have a hard time loosing weight too! Find healthier, more natural treats as well. Consider feeding raw carrots or veggies as a snack, low in calories and packed with nutrients. As a professional dog trainer, I like to use freeze-dried raw meat for food reinforcements, such as the WildSide Salmon, Stella & Chewy’s, or Fresh Is Best products. I love the economical and healthy Natural Ball Rolls, because they’re aromatic and easy to break into tiny pieces, so a little goes a long way!

Some pets are so food-motivated, they will eat their regular food like a treat. Slow down your dog or cat’s eating process, and make them burn to earn! Invest in some interactive puzzle games that you can fill with their kibble, so they have to work at getting the food out. Nina Ottosson games, Busy Buddy toys by Premiere, and the Kong company are some of my favorites for this. If you’re low on cash or time, just scatter your dog’s kibble all over a doggie-proofed room or in the yard, and make him “hunt” for it piece by piece!

Here’s to a happier and HEALTHIER New Year!dog on treadmill