ORLANDO, Fla. – A lot of you may think pudgy pets are cute, but doctors say weight problems are slowly taking years off your dog or cat's life. If you're one of those people who fed your pet table-scraps during Thanksgiving, you may be putting them in even more danger.
But now, a new business in Central Florida that claims to be a first-of-its-kind, could help animals trim the fat.
We're talking about a gym for dogs in Orlando named Rocky's Retreat. It's got treadmills, a swimming pool and even pilates equipment.
Local veterinarians say that when it comes to helping pets lose weight, however, exercise is only half the battle.
Local 6 met one dog, a golden retriever-chow mix named Thornton, who's now training at that gym two days a week, swimming 50 laps a day. He's trying to look better than his former self, when he was 10 pounds overweight, sluggish, and in poor health.
"He didn't have any definition, you couldn't feel his ribs, he was just waddling along, and he was a chunk," said Vickie Ambler, Thornton's owner.
After years of watching her dog run out of breath and wince while going up the stairs, Ambler decided that it was time for a change.
"I didn't want to see him become debilitated and old before his time," said Ambler.
She took him to Rocky's Retreat, the health and fitness center for dogs that opened last year.
"The warmth of the facility when you walk in, it feels like a home," said Toby Gass, one of the owners of Rocky's Retreat.
The facility offers everything from gym equipment to aquatherapy -- even massage and yoga for dogs. Prices start at $40 for a half-hour fitness swim, to hundreds of dollars for a 12-week program.
Thornton has been going to Rocky's Retreat since July, swimming twice a week for one hour each day. In four months, he's lost about six pounds. But his owner says, the changes go beyond the scale.
"Wanting attention, picking up toys, and it's an enormous difference, he's always in a good mood, he's just so happy," said Vickie Ambler. "My husband and I look at each other and go, my god, he's a puppy again."
Now a lot of you may be thinking -- I can't even get myself to go to the gym -- why would I want to take my pet? Simple answer -- experts say, it could change their life.
"Fat is becoming the new normal with dogs, and that's very disturbing," said Sherri Cappabianca, another owner of Rocky's Retreat. "It takes an average of two years off their life span."
According to the Association For Pet Obesity And Prevention, 54 percent of cats and dogs in America -- about 93 million animals -- are overweight or obese. Local veterinarians say that the problem starts with their diet.
"When I talk to people, they're either not paying attention to how much they're feeding their pets, or they feel guilty if they withhold any food from their pets," said Dr. Jeff Bacia, who's been a veterinarian in Orlando for 27 years.
He said animals are being fed more than they actually need. His advice -- measure out what you feed your dog or cat each day, then cut that by a quarter. Wait a month, weigh them, and see if there's any change in their weight. If you need to cut a little more food, do it slowly.
"If you make the reduction in quantity gradual, dogs usually don't even notice it," said Dr. Bacia.
He also said you should look for pet food that's low in calories, and you should stop feeding them snacks and human food.
"It just keeps the pet healthier, longer," said Dr. Bacia. "Just getting the weight off them allows these dogs a freedom of movement that they haven't had in a long time."
Besides the scale, there's another way to check your pet's weight...
Dr. Bacia said you should be able to feel your animal's ribs, and their chest should be lean, and taper into a thin waist.
To learn more about Rocky's Retreat, the health and fitness center for dogs in Orlando, click here.