Weekly challenge: curb obesity in your pet

As Americans have gotten fatter over the years, so have their pets. About 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight, according to a 2013 survey of veterinarians conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Yet, many pet owners don’t recognize the problem or take steps to slim down their pets by helping them get more activity or feeding them less.

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About 45 percent of cat and dog owners whose pets were overweight reported in the survey that they thought their pet’s weight was normal, said Dr. Joe Bartges, an internal medicine specialist at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine who serves on the board of the association.

Like humans, pets who are overweight are more likely to develop high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and weight-related musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis. These conditions could shorten their lifespan by an average of two to three years.

This week’s challenge: Pet owners with overweight pets should take steps to reverse the problem. A veterinarian can provide guidance on reducing calorie consumption to try to help pets lose weight gradually. They can also rule out hormonal problems that could be causing the weight gain. And super-low-calorie pet foods should be used only under a doctor’s supervision.

Committing to take a dog for longer walks can also be helpful. Some vets have underwater treadmills—a partially filled tank of water with a moving motorized belt at the bottom—to condition dogs that have a hard time walking outdoors due to painful arthritis or other joint problems.

Overweight cats can be tricker to goad into activity. The website PetMD recommends trying interactive play toys that simulate an escaping prey, to encourage the cat to chase a moving object. Owners can also consider adopting a friendly and playful cat from a local shelter, so their cat has a playmate.