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Study finds more than half of our pets are overweight. Is yours?

Ever since veterinarian Dr. Jaime Morey began working at the Wyomissing Animal Hospital four years ago, she has seen an ongoing problem among patients. "There is definitely an issue with pets being overweight," Morey said. "A lot of dogs and cats are overweight." Morey said some dog and cat owners express shock when she informs them their pet needs to lose weight. "I think that is because people are used to seeing other overweight animals," she said. "I think it's a problem nationwide."

Hard research exists to back her claim. In 2014, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention collected data, which found that 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight. According to Morey, there are two primary reasons pets' waistlines are expanding. "They get too many goodies or treats," she said. "And people are not exercising their pets as much as they should." Despite good intentions behind giving your dog or cat an extra treat, you might want to give it more thought next time. "They think it helps create a strong bond, but there are other ways to do that," she said. "Give treats in moderation." Instead, she suggested going outside and playing ball with your dog as an ideal way to strengthen your bond.

Overall, Morey said, she sees more overweight cats than dogs. "That's because they're not getting any exercise," she said. Ann Marie Hoyt, who lives in Exeter Township and works at The Shoppe Pets Purrfur, also in Exeter Township, has four cats and makes a point to stay on top of their food intake in order to avoid obesity. "I make sure my cats are fed the way they should be and don't let them eat too much," Hoyt said. "I don't feed my cats treats very often because I don't want them to get fat."

When it comes to overweight animals, Morey teaches pet owners how to body condition score their animals to help keep them on track with a healthy weight. Scores range from 1 to 9, with a score of 4 being ideal. "You feel the ribs, and you should be able to feel them with some fat cover, but not see them (the ribs)," she said. "In addition, you should be able to see a waist." Morey has her clients keep tabs on the body condition scores and invites them to come into the office to weigh their pet anytime, free of charge. When pet owners pay a visit to Morey during the puppy stage, she uses that as a prime opportunity to illustrate a healthy weight. "Puppies aren't usually overweight," she said.

Aside from keeping track of their pet's body condition score, in some cases Morey may prescribe an overweight dog food that must be given in specific amounts based on breed, size of dog and calorie content, in order to get a positive outcome. Prescription food is generally high-protein, high-fiber, lower in calories and lower in fat. "There is low-calorie or light food over the counter they can use, and if that doesn't work, we resort to prescription food," she said. "There are studies that shows it does work."

She also recommends a specific, tailored amount of exercise based on breed and size of the dog, among other factors. "Two to three walks a day is recommended," she said. "I customize it based on what they are currently doing."

Dogs and cats who maintain a healthy weight live longer and healthier lives. "It can lead to arthritis in dogs due to extra weight on their joints," she said. "And it can lead to diabetes in cats." Morey also said that, in addition, extra weight could lead to exercise intolerance. "You could see high blood pressure in those patients as well," she said.

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