Just like humans, overweight pets run a high risk of developing illnesses that shorten their lifespan. This guide will help you manage your pet’s weight issues.

Recent studies estimate that just over 50 percent of all pets in the United States are considered overweight or even obese. Being overweight can lead to diabetes, joint disease, respiratory problems, and more. But the good news is that with a little effort, you can keep your pet trim and potentially extend his lifespan by years!

1. Monitor Your Pet’s Intake

While creating an effective weight loss plan for a dog or cat isn’t easy, the formula for managing a pet’s weight is quite simple: If calories burned exceed calories consumed in food and treats, your pet loses weight.

Much of the difficulty lies in the fact that we’re often unfamiliar with our pets’ daily calorie requirements. What’s more, it’s hard for even the most conscientious pet owner to get accurate calorie information from some pet food labels. In addition, if multiple family members feed or give your pet treats, it can get even more complicated to monitor your dog or cat’s intake. But before you visit the vet, try and get a handle on the volume of food and treats your pet takes in during the day.

2. Get a Diagnosis

Because a pet can put on weight so gradually that you may not notice, it’s important to talk to your vet about your pet’s weight. Much like the body mass index for humans, the body condition score (BCS) is a standardized scale to determine whether your pet is fit as a fiddle, overweight, or obese. Your vet can assess this for you. Depending on your pet’s health, your vet may also want to run diagnostic tests to ensure that your dog or cat’s weight problem isn’t the result of underlying health issues such as thyroid disease.

3. Create a Plan and Tip the Scales in Your Pet’s Favor

Once your pet has been diagnosed with a weight problem, it’s time to create a weight-loss plan. Just as in humans, canine and feline weight problems aren’t a quick fix. Work with your vet to establish a long-term solution. Here are a few tips to help get your pet on the right track:

Pick reasonable weight loss goals. Work with your vet to determine how much weight your pet needs to lose and to build a plan to achieve that goal gradually, with plenty of small victories along the way.

Be realistic. Your vet will most likely recommend a plan that combines both dietary and exercise modifications, such as leash walks or swimming. Talk frankly with your vet and be upfront about how much time and energy you can commit to your pet’s weight loss goals. Discuss your pet’s health as well as any exercise limitations. For example, if your dog has joint pain, you may need to address this before you can increase his daily workout routine. Exercising indoor cats can often be difficult so you may need to ask about games and toys. Feel free to discuss all of these things with your vet.

Commit to your pet. There’s no reason to spend time feeling guilty about your pet’s weight problem. Instead of dwelling on it, commit to your pet’s future health and stay positive.

Measure your feeding. The only way to track how many calories your pet consumes each day is to carefully measure each time you feed. Don’t forget to count the calories in your pet’s treats, as they can add up quickly. If you must give treats, discuss low-calorie treats or small training treats with your vet.

Be prepared for setbacks. Your pet may refuse diet food, or beg for table scraps. You must be mentally prepared to stay strong and solve problems as they arise. If you cave in to your dog’s begging, or feed your cat extra treats, your diet plan is doomed. Talk to your vet about how to deal with any setbacks as they arise.

Make the process fun. Your vet may schedule periodic weigh-ins to track your pet’s progress. Work to make these positive and fun. Each time you go to the vet, schedule an extra walk in the park. Each time your pet reaches a goal, go to the pet store for a new toy. Some vets take “before” and “after” photos to boost morale and encourage other pet owners facing similar challenges.

Keep an eye on the “big picture.” While it may be difficult to resist your pet when he begs for treats, the consequences of failure are far worse. By reminding yourself about the negative health impacts of pet obesity, you’re less likely to return to your old ways.

This article was reviewed by a Veterinarian.