As summer approaches and we all try to slim down to fit into our bathing suits, let's take a minute and look at our four-legged friends. The cold winter months have been hard on us all — confined inside for weeks with little to no outdoor activity or exercise. Often our fur babies are curled up next to us on the couch as we binge on the latest Netflix series and munch on whatever salty snacks are satisfying our craving. It is easy to see how we might have put on a little extra weight.

We all like to make excuses for our animal's weight gain; she/he is big boned, she/he needs a haircut, my husband or wife gives table scraps (usually the fault of the person not present at the time of examination for Fluffy's ten pound weight gain). Obesity in our pets is not a joking matter, it is a real problem!

Studies show that over 50% of our pets are overweight or obese... from a clinical setting I would say that this number is likely higher. Being overweight can lead to problems like diabetes, joint disease, and respiratory issues to name a few. Fat causes inflammation throughout the body that can affect all organ systems. The good news is we can start our pets on a weight loss program today that will lead to a healthy, longer life.

Here are some things that you can do to help your fur baby stay at a healthy weight or slim down to an ideal body:

• Monitor the amount of food that you are feeding. Put those big gulp cups away and measure the amount of food that you are feeding using a measuring cup. If you are in need of an accurate measuring cup, our hospital would be happy to provide you with one. You may be surprised once you start measuring the food how much you have actually been feeding.

• Feed your pet at scheduled daily times. Keeping food down at all times can be like having a buffet open 24 hours a day.

How much should you feed your pet? Use this simple calculation — take your pet's weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2, multiply the number by 30, and add 70. Calculation: {(weight in lbs / 2.2) x 30} + 70. Remember this is an estimate as all pets metabolize their calories differently. A couch potato is going to burn a lot less calories per day than a working dog — like humans, pets are not "one size fits all." Pet food bags often list feeding amounts based on adult intact male and female active dogs and cats — while this is a good starting point we all need to adjust for our own households.

• Make treats count! We are a society where we often use food as love. Instead try to motivate and reward your pet with play, grooming/brushing, and belly rubs. If you are giving a treat, make the treat one that has a purpose like a joint supplement chew or dental treat. I know this idea does not appeal to all as some owners still want to give just a "little something." If you must stray from a healthy treat, break the treat into small pieces to help limit the amount given.

Other ideas are to place your pet's kibble in a treat jar and use that as a tasty treat (at the clinic we use Hill's T/D dog kibble in our treat jars... and as you know many of your pets love it!). Use single ingredient treats like dried sweet potato or chicken; many cats love a little tuna while other pets may like carrots or green beans (healthy veggies). Treats can also be put into puzzle toys that will make your pet work for it. This activity will help with mental stimulation/play as well as physical activity which is a win win if you ask me!

• Lastly, get out there and move!Take your dog for a brisk 20-30 minute walk daily and all parties will benefit. If your dog is not the walking type, try playing a game of fetch or frisbee in the backyard. If your dog likes the water, try a romp in the hose or swim at the beach. This daily activity will help give you time to unwind from your busy day and bond with your furry friend. If you have a cat try playing with a laser pointer or place your cat/s dinner at the top of a cat tower and his litter box at the opposite end of the house.

These tips are meant to provide food for thought. Incorporating a few into your daily routine will help add years to your pet's life and help strengthen your bond. As a bonus you may slim down your waist line too and have time to unwind while enjoying each other!