In our society today, pets have become a part of our families. Although the extent to which each family interacts with its pet varies, in general we share living space (and sometimes sleeping space) with them, share food with them, take them to social events and occasionally even share health problems with them.

In the news, we are constantly reminded of how prevalent obesity is in people. Some estimates are that greater than a third of all U.S. adults are obese.

Unfortunately, this problem is just as significant in the pet population. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found in 2012 that 58.3 percent of cats and 52.5 percent of dogs in the U.S. were overweight.

Chronic obesity in both people and pets has caused a shift in the perception of “overweight.” A pet (or person) who was once thought to be overweight is now accepted as being normal in weight. In pets, this has created what the association refers to as a “fat gap.”

A recent survey they completed found that 45.3 percent of cat owners and 45.8 percent of dog owners assessed their pet as normal in weight while their veterinarian assessed the pet as being overweight. This “fat gap” makes it hard for the problem to be even recognized. As in human medicine, discussing obesity with our patients and owners can be uncomfortable.

In the veterinary community, we are seeing more and more pets present with obesity-related problems. The joints of a dog who is supposed to weigh 40 pounds but weighs 60 pounds will be predisposed to injuries and the development of arthritis. Just by decreasing their weight, we can often improve their lameness and thus quality of life. Returning to a normal weight will often improve the respiratory symptoms in dogs with chronic bronchitis. The blood sugar in cats with diabetes mellitus is more easily controlled when they have a lean body compared to being obese.

Weight management must be a team approach with both the care providers and owners being involved. As veterinarians, we must provide more advice to pet owners than just “feed less.”

We must be up front and honest about a pet’s weight regardless if we are uncomfortable. As part of every physical examination, a weight and body condition score should be recorded. This allows for objective assessments of progress.

Recommendations must be specific as to exactly how much food can be fed and what (if any) snacks are allowed. Exercise recommendations also should be specific. Recheck examinations should be scheduled so that progress can be tracked and adjustments made as needed.

As the owner of an overweight pet, these recommendations must be followed. No cheating.

When Flipper, my (Jameson) dog, gives me those puppy eyes, it is hard to resist not slipping him something off my plate. Remind yourself of the big picture.

That momentary pleasure is not worth compromising the long term health of your pet. We want them to be with us for years and for them to be healthy into their senior years. It is a terrible sight to see an overweight elderly pet that can barely stand from its arthritis.

Determining the exact amount to feed your pet can be frustrating, especially since most people feed “the amount recommended on the bag.” Most dry pet foods have recommendations listed on the back of the bag as to the amount to feed for a certain weight range.

When formulating a weight loss plan, these recommendations must be more specific. Fortunately, the Association of American Feed Control Officials is adding a new labeling requirement to its 2014 model feed regulations.

They are going to require calorie counts on the labels of almost all dog and cat foods. The requirement will also apply to treats which is great news since treats tend to be discounted by owners as contributing to weight gain. That one 10 calorie treat a day becomes 3,650 calories a year!

In addition to formulating a weight loss plan, it is important to get active.

In Chicago, Tricia Montgomery started the K9 Fit Club where she offers classes where pets and their parents work out together.

On the March 27 edition of the “Today” show, she said, “There’s no better workout partner than your dog because they’ll never cancel on you.”

Each 60-minute session cooperates a mix of cardiac, stretching, and strength exercises. Her plans are to open some 30 clubs nationwide.

This is a great way for both the pets and owner to get in and stay in shape. You don’t have to start with 60 minutes, just start somewhere.

Pet obesity is a preventable and treatable condition. Together, veterinarians and owners can tackle this problem and help improve the long-term quality of life for our four-legged family members.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to