Weight trend in America hitting pet population; 20 percent of pets obese

Obesity can shorten a pet's life by 2 years

By Matt Austin - Anchor

MAITLAND, Fla. - America has an obesity problem -- and it's not just humans. Our pets are gaining dangerous amounts of weight.

According to the Association For Pet Obesity Prevention, 20 percent of dogs and cats are obese, meaning they're 30 percent heavier than the average weight for their breed. 

While waging a weight battle is expensive for pet owners, even worse, a pet could pay with its life.

Vets say one of the biggest reasons for weight gain is that Americans no longer treat animals like property.  Today, dogs are treated like a member of the family and shown love with food and treats.

And families like the Marino's of Casselberry must work hard to keep their dog, Zeus, lighter than when they rescued him.

With diet and exercise, they've helped Zeus take off and keep off the 10 extra pounds he was carrying around when they took him in.

"We've been able to keep it off consistently now for years. He's maintained his weight," said Fara Marino.   

But the extra pounds on Zeus when he was a pup took a toll on the Rottweiler's joints. And he needed surgery on both hips.

"It can have a significant impact on their quality of life," said Dr. Kara Fiore of Affiliated Veterinary Specialists in Maitland.

Fiore says she's seeing more pets in her operating room because they're overweight.

"The most common problems that I see it is orthopedic problems," said Fiore

Problems like hip dysplasia and ligament tears which could have possibly been avoided with diet and exercise.

"The difference between a lean body condition and a fat body condition can mean the difference between having surgery and not," said Fiore.

To be fair, Fiore says not all weight problems can be linked to over-eating.

"Things like hypothyroidism, kushing disease, being on steroids for a medical condition those can all contribute to weight gain," explained Fiore.

And that's just what's happened Nyla who's been Jessica Richard's best friend for seven years.

"The steroid causes her to gain weight and causes her to be very hungry and very thirsty all the time," said Richards.

Richards knows the medicine is critical to Nyla living a long life, but the added pounds on such a small dog are now impacting her quality of life.

"I can't take her for walks and for a lot of exercise, 'cause she gets very worn out," said Richards.

And Fiore warns against putting a sick dog on a diet.

"It's important to do that in conjunction with the veterinarian because each animal is an individual and each can have its own specific needs," warned Fiore.    

Those are needs which Zeus's family is making sure they fulfill each day.

Since his hip surgeries, the now sleek 97 pound Rottweiler takes a weekly dip and walk on this treadmill in a tank.

"They're in a decreased weight baring environment. It allows them to exercise, it allows them to lose weight without experiencing a lot of joint pain," explained Fiore.

The Marinos say ten minutes is equal to a five mile walk, and even better than that, Zeus is a happier, healthier pet.      

Fiore says studies show a thin and healthy pet can live 20 percent longer than one who's overweight.

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