OK, so I once took the politically incorrect step of mentioning that obesity in pets is often mirrored by their owners’ own weight issues. I implied that cultural attitudes on food are transmissible and that our pets are not immune. After all, we’re in control of their diets.

That was quite a leap, you informed me—vociferously. You were right to point out that my statements were inflammatory and potentially derogatory and perhaps even rude—to our pets. And I was appropriately contrite. After all, some pets are special in their weight issues (as anyone with a chocolate Lab well knows).

However, that doesn’t make me wrong. We still live in a nation where obesity is common—almost the norm, if my recent trip to Disney World is any guide. Why should our American pets be any different?

Rest assured, I make no value judgments here. Culturally, we are weight-obsessed—and none of us is unaffected. Consider that eating disorders are ubiquitous among the young, obesity is rampant across the board, Oprah’s waist-line is forever in question and Lindsay’s foray into anorexia is constant cause for office chatter. It’s an unfortunate reality. We all need to adopt healthier attitudes with respect to weight.

Now, new research indicates there’s still hope—if we have a dog. A recent study found that exercising with one’s dog is an excellent way to keep the pounds off us humans—for good. The study reveals that people who exercised with their dogs (walking or running) and lost weight managed to avoid the yo-yo we’re chronically susceptible to.

An early dinner at Cracker Barrell? Happy Hour beers? Sorry…I can’t. Fido’s got to get out for his walk. See how easy it is?

Actually, it is. And that’s why it works. Once you get into the habit of exercising with your dog it’s just like having a work-out buddy. You’re much less likely to let your friend down—even at the end of a long, stressful day.

And, truth be told, that’s when exercise works best—when your stress is at its boiling point, your defenses are down and your caloric cravings are at their worst.

I often tell owners of overweight dogs (even the trim ones) to consider the end-of-the-day walking regimen as an antidote to their charges’ budding obesity. But not all dogs can go from zero to two miles in one day.

If severe obesity or arthritis is already an issue, the walks must be regimented carefully and owners instructed to stay close to home and watch for the impending signs of heat stress. A short course of an anti-inflammatory pain reliever at the start of the program may also be appropriate. Consider purchasing a pedometer. It’s an excellent tool for slowly increasing your daily walkabouts and ticking them off on the schedule posted on your refrigerator door.

A weight loss plan for your dog sounds easy enough, but somehow, it’s not. In the past, I’ve made statements like: How hard is it to control your dog’s weight? Consider skipping a meal, cutting his caloric intake in half, nixing her treats, swimming him vigorously on weekends at the lake. Why is this so difficult?

If my patients’ issues are in any way exemplary, it’s difficult because we are incapable of allowing our pets to suffer what we suffer with respect to food and exercise. And we suffer because that’s what our culture has taught us is an acceptable approach to weight issues.

Our dogs are as sedentary as we are. And that’s depressing, because swimming, walking and running are fun. Problem is, we call it “exercise” instead of “play.” It’s unfair to our pets that we should consider it so. After all, they don’t have our cultural hang-ups and they’re, cognitively speaking, perpetual children. They look forward to brisk walks and frisky play dates.

Instead, our dogs get treated to calorically lavish meals disproportionate to their expenditures. Are we overcompensating for our guilt at leaving them alone all day? Are we buying into our immigrant parents’ (and now quintessentially American) “food is love” doctrine? Or are we just clueless as to what our dogs really need?

All three.

But he’s so happy when he’s fed! (Because you’ve taught him that! If your social interaction with your dog revolves around the food bowl and the kitchen, what do you expect?)

But she only gets X amount! How can I feed her less? She’ll starve! (No she won’t, I promise.)

But every time we go out he just wants to sit halfway down the block. (Rome wasn’t built in a day. And no obese, arthritic dog, after half a lifetime of slothful existence, can be expected to jump into a play program immediately. They have to work up to it. If you turn around every time he sits down you’ll never get anywhere.)

As a vet, it’s so hard to fight these prevailing conditions. I see the same dogs, year after year, return fatter and fatter. It’s gotten so that I wince when I see them hobble in, unsure whether I’m horrified by the dog’s downward spiral or dreading the inevitable discussion.

I know I hit this hot button all the time and you’re all kind of sick of me by now but somehow, if we all really consider our pets our children, then something’s gotta change. If you care for your dog, whether obese or just plumping up, ask your vet about an exercise plan and a detailed feeding schedule. If we can’t manage at least that much, maybe we do deserve a nation of Slentrol-popping canines.