Fat pets become big problem

CINCINNATI - On most days, Christine Bender takes her Portuguese Water Dog, Stella, for a long walk or run through their Villa Hills neighborhood.  But some days, due to weather schedules, she just can't make it happen.

On those days, Bender leads Stella downstairs and onto a treadmill where the dog can get her exercise.  Bender says Stella deserves to have an owner who will keep her healthy and happy.

"I love my pet. She's part of my family and I want her to be healthy," said Bender. "Dogs, like people, would rather do fun things like hike, bike, run after squirrels and this is just a way to supplement those kinds of activities that keep you in shape."

Veterinarians wish all pet owners felt the same way. Increasingly, America's pets are getting fatter.  A recent survey found 50 percent of America's pets are either overweight or obese. 

Dr. Jennifer Jaax, a veterinarian at the Pleasant Ridge Pet Hospital in Pleasant Ridge, estimates that 80 percent of the animals she sees are overweight. 

And, she says, the owners are almost always to blame. 

One of Dr. Jaax's favorite quotes is: "Food does not equal love." 

Dr. Jaax says table scraps are a no-no.

"You can't equate a piece of bread off of your plate with what it is to you, said Dr. Jaax. "A bit of people food to a dog is almost a whole meal."

And all that weight on an animal can shorten their life spans by 25 percent. In fact, dogs and cats are now coming into veterinary offices with something animals don't get naturally - diabetes.

Dr. Jaax says think of a pet like a human. If, for example, you have a cat, remember that a cat's weight should be about nine pounds. If that cat weighs 11 pounds, she is 20 percent overweight. On a 150-pound human, that's 30 extra pounds.

So what do veterinarians suggest to keep weight off your animal?  Here's a list:

- No "people food"

- Make sure they get exercise. For dogs, walks or runs. For cats, toys that keep them active.

- Reduce already overweight dogs food by one-third, supplementing with canned green beans so they feel full.

- Only give pets a treat if they've earned it by exercising

- Don't leave food out all day for animals. 

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