Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Mondays to see common veterinary questions answered. If you have an immediate medical concern with your pet, please call your veterinarian! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org. Today’s post is a reprint from our MichigAnimals newsletter.

“As he’s gotten older, my beagle has packed on a few extra pounds – about five actually. He’s almost round, like an apple! How can I get him back to a healthy weight?”

Your pet is not alone – pet obesity is among the most common problems affecting pets today. Within the MHS veterinary practice, we estimate that more than 25% of our furry clients are overweight or obese, which corresponds to the national trend. Certain breeds of dogs (including beagles) and cats are genetically prone to putting on weight more efficiently.

Also, pets – like people – tend to gain weight as they age. The problem, simply put, is that an overweight animal is eating more calories than his body needs based on his activity level and metabolism. Quite often, we are part of the problem if we demonstrate our affection for our pets with excessive or inappropriate food items.

Pet obesity, defined as the animal weighing 20% more than his ideal weight, can affect his comfort, quality of life and longevity. Excessive weight increases a pet’s risk of serious health problems, including degenerative joint disease, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases, and many types of cancer. Obesity also can increase the risk of anesthesia and surgery complications.

You can quickly assess your pet’s weight with a three-step check: As you place both thumbs on your pet’s backbone and run your fingers along his rib cage, does the skin easily move back and forth over the ribs, and can you easily feel, but not see, the ribs? Does your pet have a discernable “waist” when viewed from above? Finally, does his abdomen have a slightly “tucked-in” appearance from the side?

An apple shape, as you described, clearly indicates a weight problem. So, what’s the best way to start to a weightreduction regimen for your pet? With a visit to your veterinarian.

Your pet should first be evaluated for any potential underlying conditions, such as Cushing’s disease, diabetes or hypothyroidism, which could explain the weight gain. Once medical issues are ruled out, your veterinarian can tailor a weightlost plan, based on calorie reduction and age-appropriate, regular exercise, for your pet. A reduced-calorie food may also be recommended in some cases.

Remember, obesity develops over time, and your pet’s diet and activity levels should likewise change gradually. Even though excess weight is unhealthy, sudden caloric restriction isn’t good for pets. For example, in cats, it can result in a potentially fatal condition called fatty liver.

Pets should be fed a well-balanced, veterinarian-approved food with limited low-calorie treats. Can’t resist those big brown eyes? Try offering a few small carrots. Better yet, treat your furry friend by engaging him in a healthy activity, such as a walk or throwing a ball, at least three times a week.

It’s important for all family members to be on the same page when it comes to feeding and giving treats to your pet. Following the gradual and appropriate dietary and activity changes recommended by your veterinarian will result in your pet having a happier and healthier life.