Man and Dog Workout Team

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many people are planning fabulous feasts and festivities. Everyone knows a turkey dinner is a holiday tradition, complete with mashed potatoes and stuffing, topped off by a warm slice of pie a la mode. And who can resist the leftovers? Pumpkin pie for breakfast might seem like a good idea at the time, but trying to squeeze into pants that were once baggy is not a fun way to start the new year.

At least half of the adults in America are overweight or obese. We hear about it every day on television and radio and we're inundated with suggestions about how to undo the damage.

What many people do not take into account, though, is that our pets are getting fat right alongside us. The percentage of dogs and cats who are overweight or obese is also just about half, and rising every year.

"Obesity is the most common nutritional problem that we see in our canine and feline companions today," said Dr. Andrea Fascetti, associate professor of nutrition in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

"The road to obesity is a complex one and a multitude of factors often contribute to its development. It is one of the easiest problems to diagnose and one of the most difficult to treat," she said.

The implications of weight-related health problems in animals -- the same increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, joint ailments and other complications that face humans -- are even more immediate and dire. Dogs don't have the cushion of a 70-plus-year life expectancy to ease the impact of their weight gain. With an average 12-year life span, they need every health advantage they can get.

Small dogs begin to suffer health problems with just a couple extra pounds. One extra pound on the frame of a 10-pound dog is the equivalent of more than 20 pounds on an average adult human. Research shows that trim pets live about 15 percent longer, or an average of two additional years. For pets, the fountain of youth may just be putting less food in their mouths and more miles on their feet.

Not coincidentally, research suggests that overweight people and overweight pets often live in the same homes.

To help my clients understand how extra weight can affect their dog's vitality, in my veterinary practice I used to keep cans of pet food on the exam room counter. On the table in front of me would be an overweight 22-pound dog, 10 percent over its target weight of 20 pounds (20 percent over is considered obese). I'd give the hound's owners two cans of pet food to hold in each hand, then tell the owner, 'realize this extra bulk is on your dog 24/7/365.'

We understand the problem, but what can we to do about it?

Anyone who's ever tried to launch an exercise program on their own knows that the entire process can be a drag, especially when your initial enthusiasm wears off or when the weight won't seem to come off. Research has long shown that folks trying to lose pounds have a better chance if they have the support of a workout and diet partner.

If your weight-loss program is going to the dogs, you'll love this: the results of the first-ever, yearlong people and pet weight management study were announced Monday at the National Association for the Study of Obesity meeting in Las Vegas.

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