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Obesity in pets should be taken seriously by all pet owners. It shortens pets' lives and dramatically increases health risks.

Veterinarians have long known that obesity is as harmful to pets as it is to humans. Nearly all body systems are required to work harder to support the extra weight, raising the risk of arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis and cruciate ligament rupture. There are other diseases also correlated with obesity, such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, hepatitis and lipomas. Besides adversely affecting pets' quality and length of life, any one of these diseases could require costly treatment.

Pet obesity begins with excessive kindness. Food is the primary way some pet owners demonstrate love to their pet. When dog treats and table scraps become signs of affection or behavioral tools, it becomes difficult to effectively regulate a pet's diet.

Pets that have been spayed or neutered may experience a decrease in metabolism that can lead to weight gain as well. And lack of exercise will certainly contribute to the problem.

Studies suggest that between 35 and 45 percent of American pets are overweight. While ideal weight varies among breeds and individual pets, smaller pets can tip the scales with only two to three pounds of extra weight. A simple way to determine if a pet is overweight is to feel its spine and chest. The backbone and ribs should be easy to distinguish and void of excess fat.

In order to lose weight, pets must reduce caloric intake while increasing physical activity. For pet owners, this means regulating or eliminating their pet's snacks and treats and finding a fun way to remain active with their pet. Since pets have varying responses to weight loss, advice from your veterinarian is essential for a safe and effective weight loss regimen. A veterinarian can identify a pet's ideal weight and customize a diet and exercise plan to promote healthy weight loss.

The good news for pet caregivers is that obesity can be prevented or controlled.

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