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Posted on 01-17-2013

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That big belly may look cute, but it's not healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. And we are sharing it with our pets: An estimated 54 percent of our pet dogs and cats are also overweight or obese. And with that extra weight comes diabetes, arthritis and other joint problems, digestive disorders, decreased liver function and a host of other health problems.

6a00d8341c630a53ef010536a7fedb970c_800wi.jpgIs your pet overweight? Take a look at him from the top and from the side and compare to a body condition chart like the one shown HERE. Feel around the ribs: You should be able to feel the ribs and the abdomen should tuck in toward the hind legs. Also feel for fatty deposits along the backbone and near the tail.

If your pet is overweight, the first step is to visit your vet to make sure there isn't an underlying health problem such as hyperthyroidism. It he is otherwise healthy, the next step is to discuss feeding habits and exercise.

Common causes of pet obesity:

  • Free feeding. Many pets will eat if there is food available, whether they are hungry or not. A good first step in shedding some weight is to offer food only at set times, then take it away. Ask your vet how much he should be getting and how often.
  • Lack of exercise. Just like with people, many dogs and cats need to be coaxed into exercising. Make sure your dog goes for at least one good walk per day (this is an excuse for you to get exercise, too) and make your cat chase around a laser pointer or feather toy to get her heart rate up.
  • Boredom. This is another common problem with indoor pets, especially cats. Be sure there are plenty of interactive toys to keep your pet active and keep their mind stimulated. Make your cat work for her food by putting it in a treat puzzle or a treat ball and give her plenty of places to climb and explore. Access to a window where she can watch the wildlife is good, too.
  • Stress. If your pet is under stress or scared, he may spend more time hiding than playing. It can also affect how he east; he may make a mad dash for the food and gorge instead of eating a more moderate amount. If children or other pets are causing fear or stress, give your dog or cat a safe and secure place to pay and eat.

There are plenty of resources online to help you with your pet's weight problems. Here are a few places to start:

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