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Overweight Pets: When Cute and Chubby Isn’t Healthy for Our Animals

Paunchy pooches and fat cats are no laughing matter. Just as with humans, carrying excess pounds can have serious health consequences for your pet, causing cardiac disease, diabetes, arthritis—many of the same ailments that afflict overweight humans.

Echoing the obesity epidemic that afflicts America 's adults and children, recent studies estimate that as many as 40 percent of America 's pets are overweight. All pet owners should help their furry friends slim down to ensure a healthier, happier, and longer life. You should work with your veterinarian to rule out any serious health problems and start a diet and activity program suited to their individual pets.

Treating overweight pets can be costly. According to Veterinary Pet Insurance, pet insurance claims for obesity-related illnesses have risen steadily in recent years. Heart-related claims have jumped 47 percent in the last two years, while diabetes claims are up 16 percent and hypertension up 27 percent. The cost of prescriptions to treat these illnesses has also increased.

How do you know if your pet is too portly? Veterinarians recommend an easy, visual test: Looking down on your pet, you should see a defined waist. From a side profile, nothing should drag on the ground. Another gauge is to gently press on the side of your pet's rib cage. If you can easily feel the ribs, your pet is likely not overweight. If you have to press harder to feel the ribs, your pooch or kitty is likely a little too heavy.

If your pet appears overweight, consult with your veterinarian to rule out a thyroid or other medical condition that may be contributing to weight gain.

If a medical condition is ruled out, the CVMA recommends pets receive a healthy diet and regular exercise to help lose weight. Check with your veterinarian for a diet suited to your pet's size, age, and activity level. Then schedule weigh-ins at your veterinary hospital to keep track of lost pounds.

A change of diet can make a difference, and you can reduce intake over a period of time by feeding smaller amounts at each meal. Be sure your pets are not feeding out of food bowls of neighborhood pets. Just as many kids would choose a candy bar over a carrot stick, pets can become addicted to high-calorie treats. Don't reward your pet with ice cream, cookies, or table scraps.

Get moving whenever you can. Instead of treating your dog to a doggie biscuit, grab the leash and take it outside for an invigorating walk or run. With dogs, playing fetch or tug-of-war are ideal games to burn off extra calories. Cats love toys they can bat around, containers and paper bags to climb into, posts to stretch and scratch on, or anything they can chase. Even lizards, birds, and bunnies can get exercise in safe, controlled spaces.

Be sure that all family members are feeding your pet the same amount and that no one is duplicating feedings. One family member's "bowl-full" may be twice as generous as it needs to be.

Schedule a veterinary check-up today and get your pet on the scale to better health.