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Pet obesity: Big dogs, fat cats increasingly common

Jeanette Potter, left, a veterinary technician, and Eric Pihl hold Bonnie, Pihl's shepherd mix, during a free swim before beginning her exercise on the underwater treadmill at TheraPET in Buffalo Grove. (Andrew A. Nelles/For the Chicago Tribune)

Jeanette Potter, left, a veterinary technician, and Eric Pihl hold Bonnie, Pihl's shepherd mix, during a free swim before beginning her exercise on the underwater treadmill at TheraPET in Buffalo Grove. (Andrew A. Nelles/For the Chicago Tribune)

Even before Eric Pihl pulls into TheraPET Wellness Center parking lot, his dog, Bonnie, climbs up from her lounging position in the back seat and eagerly looks out the window.

If only we all could get that excited about climbing on the treadmill to lose weight.

Bonnie, a 5-year-old shepherd mix, needs to shed some pounds — and she’s one in a growing number of big dogs and fat cats, experts say.

She already has dropped a few pounds since weighing in at 63, but Pihl and her veterinarian would like her to get down to 45 or 50. So after work on Thursdays, Pihl drives her to TheraPET in Buffalo Grove to get on the treadmill. The rest of the week, they take walks together through their Arlington Heights neighborhood.

Just like humans, pets are getting fatter. Fifty-four percent of dogs and cats are overweight or obese, reports the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. The most common side effects are osteoarthritis; insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, primarily in cats; high blood pressure; heart and respiratory diseases; and joint problems.

Bonnie had surgery on one knee and might have to have another operated on, Pihl said.

But he hopes her weekly run on the underwater treadmill will help her shed weight and lessen some of the pressure on her joints. He also put her on a diet, cutting her commercial dog food intake in half and replacing it with filling, high-fiber green beans. She also gets dry Rice Chex as an occasional treat, and her dinner includes a 20-calorie chicken strip.

Vets suggest that dog owners replace treats with healthier selections such as carrots, celery sticks, low-sodium green beans and frozen yogurt. Bonnie doesn’t mind the beans, “but only if they’re cooked,” said Pihl. “I tell her that if she ever runs away, she will have to learn how to build a fire.”

Read more at Chicagotribune.com.

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