PhotoTrying to stay fit can be a fulltime job that often requires a lot of discipline. But while a lot of people are mindful of what they eat and try their best to get enough exercise, they're not always mindful of keeping their pet physically fit.

According to, 88.4 million pets in the United States are overweight. Other statistics show that 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are obese.

And why are so many pets overweight? Experts say it's fairly simple --their owners are feeding them too much.

Statistics show that 95% of pet owners give their pets several treats per day. In addition, 22% of dog owners think their overweight dog isn't overweight. And 15% of cat owners who have obese cats think the same thing.

Setting an example

Richard French, DVM, M.S., Ph.D., Dean of Animal Studies and Allerton Chair of Animal Health Sciences at Becker College, says if a pet owner's household isn't into physical fitness, the pet won't be either.

"When we see dogs that are overweight, we essentially should see a child that's at risk for excess weight," he says. "Think about the lifestyles of many of our young people, and then we can readily see how their pets are emulating those lifestyles.

"If a child is playing video games all day, the dog isn't outside playing," says French. "Rather, the pet is sitting at her feet or on the sofa. If the child is lying around snacking on high-calorie treats, chances are the dog is sharing in those same excess calories -- and is also likely to get something from the dinner table." 

Watch those pet snacks

PhotoOther experts say pet owners have to be more aware of the treats they're giving their pets. A typical dog treat given to a 20-pound dog is the same thing as a human eating two double-stuffed fudge cookies. And one pig's ear given to a 40-pound dog is equivalent to one person drinking a six pack of soda.

Dr. Michael Hutchinson of the veterinarian hospital Animal General says a lot of pet owners just aren't focused on their pets' weight.

"It's a silent epidemic that's killing our pets," Hutchinson said in an interview with CBS News. "Obesity is increasing every year. And that's the sad thing. We would think with education it should be decreasing. The disconnect is that owners don't see them as overweight; even after they're told, they still think they're normal."

Weight creeps higher

Pet owner Kim Stevens said it happened to her. She didn't even notice that her mixed breed dog, Dodger, was packing on the pounds.

"I didn't notice the weight creeping on, it was like all of a sudden he was just this fat dog," she said in an interview with CNN. "His weight is about 82 pounds right now, and he should be 62 pounds. Too much food and not enough exercise [was the reason]."

Dr. Barry Goldberg of EZ VET says that many pet owners don't even know if their pet is obese or not.

"You'd be amazed how many pet parents have no idea that their pet is overweight," he said. "They may guess their nine-pound Chihuahua is two to three pounds overweight and not think it's a big deal. But those three little extra pounds is approximately 33% of their body weight. Can you imagine carrying around 33% extra weight?

"Many pet parents simply don't know what the healthy weight range is for their pet's breed, gender and age or understand why it is so important," Goldberg added.

What to do

PhotoMany of the reasons that people become obese are the same reasons why their pets become obese, so it all starts with diet and exercise, experts say.

For dogs it's best to set-up a workout routine. At first the routine should be for a short period of time and then get longer and more challenging as time passes.

In addition, food shouldn't be left out for your dog to eat whenever he or she wants. Dogs should be fed between two and four times a day.

And when it comes to giving your dog treats, find healthy ones. Baby carrots, sweet potatos and apples make great healthy, non-fattening treats.

Cats should be fed no more than two or three times a day, experts say. And owners shouldn't be feeding them table scraps or extra snacks.

In addition, keep a close eye on your cat and make sure he or she isn't getting food elsewhere, like from that sweet older lady living next door.

And since there isn't one perfect kind of diet for cats or dogs, it's important to take your pet to the veterinarian regularly to see what type of diet is best.

French says if pet owners increase their own level of physical fitness, their pet's physical fitness will often increase too.

"Get outside with your dog," he says. "Go for a walk or play fetch. Run around the house with a feather on the end of a lead with your cat. Take an unflinching look at your lives together.

"Rather than sit together, play together. Exercise together. Eat right together. Picture a healthier you looking fit and trim, and do the same with your dog, cat or other favorite pet," French concludes.

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