How to tell and what to do

According to Project Pet Slim Down, 53 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese. That's a problem.

How fat is too fat? Because your pets aren't too concerned about slimming down for the class reunion or fitting into a sleek wedding dress, they'll continue eating what you feed them, even if they're obese. That means it's up to the pet owner to help obese pets. Both feline and canine obesity is defined as 20 percent to 25 percent over ideal weight. For those who don't weigh their pets regularly, an obese pet is simply one that has enough fat to impair health or body function.

What are the effects of pet obesity? Americans are bombarded with bad news about the ill effects of obesity in humans. The effects of obesity in pets is just as deadly. Common health problems associated with pet obesity include lameness, diabetes mellitus, exercise intolerance, overheating, increased surgical risk and reduced life span.

What are physical signs of obesity in pets? The folks at Project Pet Slim Down identify what an "ideal" pet looks like: You should not see the animal's ribs, but you should be able to easily feel them. The pet's stomach should tuck in behind the rib cage. If you cannot feel the animal's ribs or have to apply significant pressure to feel them, then your pet has a weight problem. Other indicators are if there are fat deposits at the base of the animal's tail or if the belly is round when viewed from the side.

What to do if your pet is obese? Stop feeding your pet table scraps and measure its food before putting it in the dish. Consult a veterinarian when putting your pet on a diet. An examination should reveal if a metabolic disorder is the cause, in which case a change in diet will not be sufficient. In most other cases, changing your pet's diet should alleviate the problem. Be aware, however, that just because the food says "low calorie" doesn't mean it is. In addition, a lower calorie diet combined with exercise will prove more beneficial than just diet changes.

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