There’s nothing like a little healthy competition to stimulate a salubrious fitness regimen—and maybe a little bit of good PR along the way.

It seems some new rehabilitation facilities have found an effective way to market themselves by hosting weight loss competitions that utilize their equipment and services (underwater treadmills, nutrition counseling, exercise physiology education, etc.)

Aimed at whittling obesity down to mere heaviness and eventually to wholesome weightdom, sharp minds at rehab places have concocted an effective scheme to raise awareness of their services’ potential. By offering their help—free-of-charge—to a group of seriously pudgy pets, these companies can market themselves to the wider audience of owners looking for a real-life solution to obesity—without weight loss drugs.

Rehab facilities are all the rage—among vets, at least. The promise of a healthy solution to arthritis, neurological disease, and obesity—along with an additional income stream, of course—leads many vets to invest heavily in equipment and continuing education geared towards rehabilitation services. It’s a great idea for both vets and our patients—if we’ve got the money to spend and the clientele to make it happen.

Problem is, most pet owners are still ignorant of both the perils of extra poundage and the weight loss benefits of a dedicated rehabilitation facility. Even educated pet owners tend to think on pet rehab as an expensive add-on to an expensive surgical procedure. And while that’s true, there’s a wider market out there—for pets whose owners have been unable to achieve weight loss through “simple” means.

That’s why some smart rehabbers have turned to the fun task of hosting competitions. It’s a healthy practice for pets, their people, and the facilities that need to show a currently uninformed public that their dedicated expertise is a worthwhile component of most any pets’ healthcare.

After rounding up a sizable group of willing participants (owners) and their perhaps less-than-willing, but nonetheless weight-loss worthy pets, the facility weighs and measures them. They design a specific weight loss regimen for each candidate, including nutrition (using specific weight loss diets—yes, sometimes the food companies sponsor these promotions), underwater treadmill training a few days a week, and either walking or swimming (at home with their people). The dogs are weighed and measured once a week. After six or so weeks of free services, the most improved pet wins—in one case, to the tune of a year’s supply of free food.

However much you, my educated [and sometimes cynical] readers, may decry the commercialization of something as simple as weight loss, it’s a not-unreasonable alternative to the sometimes confounding directives given by vets. “Lose weight, or else,” isn’t exactly helpful. And though I may counsel my clients on emergency weight loss and how that might be achieved, I find that very few of my specific recommendations are carried out.

It’s perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of my job. There’s got to be a better way. Referring patients to a dedicated service might be just the thing they need. Regardless of how commercial and cheesy the prospect of a food company-sponsored, PR-campaign competition sounds, if it works to raise awareness and make my recommendations stick, I’m all for it.