Have you noticed that your pet is looking a little heavier these days? According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight.

This is not just a human problem, and many pets gain weight for the same reasons people do — poor diet and lack of exercise. Just like people, pets can suffer from health problems when they are overweight, including heart disease, liver disease, arthritis and diabetes.

Here are a few tips to help your pet shed the pounds and live a longer, healthier lifestyle.

1. Feed quality food in the right portions: Switching to a healthier food decreases the empty calories your dog consumes. Avoid foods that feature corn, corn meal or wheat as the first or second ingredient, and instead choose foods with chicken or turkey listed first. These foods have more protein for an active, healthy lifestyle. Pay special attention to portion control; even slight decreases in the amount of food your pet consumes will equal fewer calories and weight loss.

2. Give fewer treats: Many prepackaged dog treats have very little nutritional value for pets and are only extra calories. Decreasing the number of treats you offer your pet each day and opting for other forms of positive reinforcement, such as praise or petting, will help with weight loss.

3. More exercise: Exercise is essential for losing weight, and the easiest way to exercise your dog is longer, more frequent walks. If your schedule does not permit lengthy daily walks, throwing the ball in the yard and even adding in small walks or a short jog a day can make a difference. Exercising your pet also leads to more exercise for you so it is a win-win situation.

4. Talk to your vet:Before making any drastic changes, talk to your vet. Sometimes weight gain can be a sign of an underlying problem. Your vet can evaluate your pet’s overall health and make recommendations for the best foods and the right amount of exercise for your pet’s particular needs.

When you combine better nutrition, fewer calories and more exercise into your pet’s daily schedule, you will see the weight come off and have a happier, healthier pet. Who knows? You might just lose a pound or two in the process!

Traci D. Howerton is social media editor of Animal Rescue New Orleans, a 501c3 nonprofit. ARNO operates a volunteer-based, no-kill shelter in the Elmwood Industrial section of Jefferson Parish and depends upon the generosity of people from all over the country who have followed them since Katrina. Contact ARNO at arno.advocate@gmail.com, www.animalrescueneworleans.org or leave a message at (504) 571-1900.