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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Is your puppy getting pudgy? Does your terrier need to drop a few excess pounds?
Like many adults in the United States, an increasing number of pets are overweight or obese.
Alison Sweeney, the host of the popular television weight-loss reality show "The Biggest Loser," is using her experience in humans to focus on the problem in dogs with a new diet plan for canines.
And judging from a recent study, which showed 35 million canines in the U.S. are overweight, there should be no lack of canine clients.
Sweeney decided to take on the problem in dogs when her veterinarian told her that her Boston Terrier needed to slim down.
"I realized that I had totally not been paying attention to my dog's health," she explained in an interview.
Sweeney is not alone. More than half the dogs in the United States are overweight, according the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, which was founded to combat the problem.
"It's enormously serious. The percentage of obese pets isn't known precisely, but it is surely very high and for the same reasons as obesity is high in humans: they eat more food that they can work off," said Professor Marion Nestle, of New York University, and the co-author of a book on pet nutrition.
"Obesity in pets causes the same problems as it does in humans. It increases the risk of heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and joint problems."
Sweeney said one of the primary reasons for overweight canines is that people feed their dogs leftovers, which is particularly fattening.
"Feeding a dog an ounce-sized (28.3 gram) piece of cheese, it's like me eating one and a half hamburgers," she explained. "That's a lot."
Five extra pounds on a medium-sized dog is the equivalent of nearly 20 pounds on an average size woman, according to Hill's Pet Nutrition, which produces the Science Diet Weight Loss System that combines pre-portioned meals with biscuits.
Two extra pounds (0.9) on a smaller breed, such as a Chihuahua, is the equivalent of nearly 60 pounds.
Nestle stressed the importance of portion control and exercise for pets.
"Everyone wants to fix the problem without having to change habits. Owners are responsible for feeding pets and need to feed them less, which isn't fun, or get them out moving more, which isn't always convenient," she said.
Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., editing by Patricia Reaney