THURSDAY, Nov. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Before sharing your Thanksgiving leftovers with your pampered pets, take note: The obesity epidemic in the United States is enlarging cats and dogs, not just their over-fed owners.
Overweight pets are a serious health issue today, experts say. About half of the nation's companion animals -- some 90 million cats and dogs -- are tipping the scales, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
"As a practicing veterinarian for almost 20 years, I've never seen this many overweight pets," said Dr. Ernie Ward, author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter -- A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives. "We're witnessing the super-sizing of America's pets before our very eyes."
The cause of obesity in people and pets is the same, added veterinarian Dr. Joe Wakshlag, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
"The Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] says that America has become 'obesogenic,' meaning that we live in a world that promotes increased food intake, unhealthy food choices and reduced physical activity," he said. "Our pets live in the same world and are suffering the same consequences of obesity."
Like their owners, portly pets are at risk for developing diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure and many forms of cancer.
The result: high medical bills. In 2009, the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. said its policyholders filed more than $17 million in claims for conditions and diseases that can be caused by excess weight.
Making matters worse is the normalization of excess weight. Ward calls it the "fat gap" -- where pet owners view an overweight or obese pet as normal.
If a thick layer of fat prevents you from easily feeling your pet's ribs, your dog or cat is
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