When my husband, Logan, and I adopted our sweet pup, Ozzy, from the SPCA Albrecht Center two years ago, we knew we were going to have to dedicate a lot of time and money into getting him healthy again. Ozzy was heartworm positive, developing arthritis and skin issues from allergies and underweight. The heartworms and skin issues were both going to take time and patience to correct (he is happily heartworm negative and slightly less itchy now), and we had to accept that the arthritis and leftover damage from the heartworms would never be fixed, just managed.

So, for our first step, we set our sights on getting Ozzy to a healthy weight. As a speculated black lab/Rottweiler mix, Ozzy only weighed 65 pounds and needed to be around 75 pounds. To us, the objective seemed easy; buy him a nourishing, higher-calorie food and he’ll put on the pounds.

Over the next few months, Ozzy was looking more and more like a healthy black lab with a beautiful coat, and we were so proud of his progress. He had reached the 75-pound goal, was heartworm negative and building muscles in his legs to help with his arthritis. The issue was, once he reached the goal, we did not stop feeding him the same quantity or type of food. And, in just a short couple of months, Ozzy weighed nearly 89 pounds and we found ourselves with an unhealthy pup again.

The extra weight was adding to his arthritis and skin issues, and we knew the long-term effects would be even more detrimental. Now, the real battle began. As we thought, getting Ozzy to put on the pounds was easy, but we weren’t prepared for how difficult it would be to take some pounds off.

With the advice of the veterinarians at the SPCA’s Veterinary Care Center, Logan and I kept Ozzy on a diet, took him outside at least three times a day for walks around the yard and cut out table scraps and dog treats (Okay ... maybe a treat here and there, but who can resist those puppy-dog eyes?). Luckily, the hard work paid off and, in a year’s time, he lost eight pounds! We still have a ways to go, because animals cannot lose weight quickly or it can cause other health issues, but we see a happy and healthy future for our pup.

Ozzy is not a rare case of pet obesity. In fact, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are overweight in the U.S. alone. These staggering statistics are further confirmed by the increase in veterinary diagnoses of overweight pets. According to Banfield’s Applied Research and Knowledge Team, “(obesity) diagnoses have increased 158% in dogs and 169% in cats” in the past 10 years.

If you’re wondering whether your pet is a part of these shocking statistics, a simple inspection of your pet’s body shape may give you the answers you need. Start by feeling their midsection while they are standing. You should easily feel their ribs and spine, though not excessively, and their waist should have a slight hourglass shape. If you notice your pet’s body shape is more "tubular," it’s time to visit your veterinarian (PetMD).

There are many reasons your pet may have packed on the pounds, but it likely boils down to four main causes: a predisposed breed; preexisting medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, arthritis, joint issues or Cushing’s disease; feeding methods and type of food; and lack of prevention care, such as exercise (Banfield Pet Hospital).

Side note: It is a myth that spaying or neutering your pet will cause them to gain weight.

Pet obesity is not something to take lightly, as it can result in health issues in nearly all of your pet’s organ systems, joints and ligaments. Heart, digestive and respiratory issues, damage to bones and joints, heat intolerance, decreased stamina and liver function, diabetes, digestive disorders, higher risk of cancer, decreased length of life, lower immune function, skin and coat problems, and urinary tract infections are all side effects of pet obesity.

If you’re nervous that your pet is overweight and on the road to major health issues, do not simply overexercise them or drastically cut their food, which can also drastically cut essential vitamins and minerals they need to live a healthy life. Instead, always consult a veterinarian first about a weight-loss and exercise plan that is unique to your pet’s situation.

If you’re looking for an affordable veterinarian to assist with pet obesity, or other conditions, be sure to check out the SPCA Albrecht Center’s full-service, high-quality Veterinary Care Center. We are dedicated to getting your companions on track for a long, happy and healthy life with you.

Claire Grimes is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Development Director. She is an Aiken native, but spent some college years in Charleston, interning with Charleston Animal Society. She is excited to now be working in animal welfare in her hometown and is proud of the community efforts to better the lives of Aiken’s animals. Her family includes her husband, Logan, a SPCA adopted black lab, Ozzy, a SPCA adopted Siamese mix, Luna, and Claire’s first love, Anakin, a 17-pound rescued Maine Coon mix.