If your pet looks more like a footstool than an animal, it's time to do something about the excess weight. There is an epidemic of fat pets in the United States, one that's often unrecognized.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, which works within the veterinary community to combat pet obesity, found in a survey last year that more than half of the dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese. (Obesity is defined as being 30 percent above normal weight, and one-fifth of our pets qualify.) The trouble is, many pet owners don't see it.
At least one expert compares it to the childhood obesity epidemic. Thomas Graves is a professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, and director of the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine.
"Probably 40 percent of (pets) are overweight, 20 percent of them obese,'' he says. "And the vast majority of pet owners fail to recognize that their pets have a weight problem."
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has a chart (petobesityprevention. com/pet-weight-check) that will give a dog or cat owner an idea. It's a good starting point, but a visit to the vet is still recommended.
The program generally involves diet and exercise.
Graves advises buying a premium brand of food that's appropriate for the pet's life stage. And check with your vet about how much to feed your animal. A spayed or neutered pet is less active and needs less. Some pet foods recommend more than is needed.
Veterinarian Louise Murray, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York, says that most dogs' weight problems can be blamed on leftovers, snacks and treats, not their regular food.
Cats are different, she says. They become overweight because their diet is too high in carbohydrates. "Unfortunately, a lot of the cat foods on the market are high in carbs, especially dry foods. It's easy for us to leave a bowl out all day, but then they're snacking on carbohydrates all day." Canned or moist foods from pouches are a better choice, she says.
Exercise is the other key. You might even also want to participate, Murray suggests.