— Remember a time when a dog could avoid the pounds by outrunning the dog catcher? Now, in the age of obesity, extra dog pounds takes on a whole new meaning.
The National Research Council now estimates that up to 25 percent of household pets in Western countries are obese. It's no laughing matter, but at the very least this proves one old wives' tale true — that pet owners eventually start to resemble their pets.
Fat cats and chunky dogs suffer the same growing health risks as their two-legged friends. In the last two years, doggy and kitty heart attacks have risen 47 percent, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance, America's largest pet insurer.
Pet obesity is hardly just an American problem. In Berlin last week, German officials reported finding a 41-pound black and white cat that was so fat, it was barely able to walk four steps without becoming exhausted.
At six times its normal weight, the 6-year-old feline was about the same weight as a 4-year-old child, and may be one of the largest house cats in world history.
The kitty's elderly owner, who was taken to a nursing home, had apparently been feeding his pet 4 pounds of ground meat every day.
Now that Americans are starting to come to grips with the need to put their pets on diets, you can expect typical American solutions — miracle low-carb Atkins-like diets for dogs and exercise gadgets for cats. Let's take a look at some of the strange new offerings.
1. Doggie Atkins: Swimsuit season is just around the corner, and now even the mangiest mutt can jump on the low-carb craze.
Pedigree Foods is now offering the first high-protein 12-week doggie diet, inspired by the overwhelming success of the Atkins and the South Beach diets.
"Until now, moderate to severe calorie restriction using high-carbohydrate/low-fat diets was the most commonly accepted method for reducing a pet's weight," says canine nutritionist Tiffany Biere.
"Our study looked at trends in human weight loss where, in contrast, high-protein diets are used to reduce body weight without severely limiting the number of calories consumed."
The company's new dry dog food, Pedigree Weight Loss, contains 50 percent protein, "the highest protein dry food formula on the market," according to product literature.
After a 12-week program, a hefty hound should drop 10 percent of its body weight and switch to Pedigree Weight Maintenance, a kibble with 27 percent protein.
There are no plans yet for a "Catkins," but cats are said to be naturally high-protein consumers. 2. Pet Makeover Consultants: Just like a canine version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, makeover expert Hildi Santo-Tomas of TLC's Trading Spaces is now offering pet owners the same sort of fast, simple and inexpensive tips that made her a legend in home improvement.
Santo-Tomas is now hosting a "pet makeover" contest, worthy of reality TV, sponsored by the Iams pet food company. Just follow the four-week program for diet, exercise and grooming. If your pet shows the most drastic transformation, the two of you could win a spa vacation at the ultra-posh Loews Miami Beach Hotel, a pet-friendly resort, where you and Fido can enjoy side-by-side massages and Jacuzzi baths. 3. Cat-upuncture and Pet Shiatsu: Thanks to a growing breed of pet-friendly hotels, it seems every dog will have its day spa, and so will every cat, but it won't come cheap.
In Fairfax, Va., the Olde Towne Pet Resort, a $7 million state-of-the-art pet spa, offers acupuncture, massage therapy and hydrotherapy, at costs that can easily add up to more than $200 a day.
Deluxe pet hotels have popped up across the country, but few can outdo the Olde Towne, a kennel with cable TV in every room, so pampered pets can vegetate in front of Animal Planet, to keep from obsessing over their less-than-sleek physique. 4. Dog Chefs of America: Don't think your hound doesn't enjoy a home-cooked meal, just because he tends to eat out of garbage cans and drink out of toilets.
In Becoming the Chef Your Dog Thinks You Are, co-author Micki Voisard teaches the benefits of preparing healthy homemade dog food — a practice that was quite common not so long ago.
"Our theory is if we get people to pay attention to what they feed their dogs and cats then they will transfer that to themselves," she says.
5. Gourmet Kibble Spray: After years of feasting on steak and caviar, it's not easy to go back to kibble. That's why OurPet.com offers "Gourmet Spray," a zero-calorie alternative. Just a few squirts adds robust flavor of sirloin to your canine's dinner. Your dog will never have to be reminded that he's still a dog.
Feline Gourmet Spray transforms cat chow into restaurant-quality sushi. Discerning dogs might also want to try eau de bacon and cheddar. A 2-ounce bottle is only $4 at pet stores. 6. Ruff Yoga Workouts: It's no coincidence that one of the most popular yoga poses is "Downward Facing Dog." New York Yoga instructor Bruce Van Horn teaches a class and sells an instructional video that allows you and your pet to exercise, meditate and seek inner peace.
"In some cases, you see the dogs imitating the humans," says Horn, who started his pet yoga program at a New York animal rescue center to relieve puppies and kitties from the trauma of abandonment.
Van Horn's 60-minute Yoga for Better Living workout involves stretches, headstands and back bends. Dogs aren't necessarily going to try these poses, but the routine will allow the animal to soak in the calm meditative vibes, which Van Horn says can soothe any creature, perhaps even a guppy.
7. Mouser-Sizing Robots: Even lazy dogs play fetch. Getting a fat cat to exercise isn't so easy, especially if the cat's owner is out of shape, too. After all, dangling a ball of yarn can get pretty tiring.
Couch potatoes can now turn to a remote-control "virtual mouse that can be steered around the house to taunt sedentary pussies. The Takara "Cat Attack" exerciser, coming to pet stores next month, even has automatic settings to give your cat the momentary thrill of hunting a robotic mouse.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.