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ANOTHER DOGGONE DIET? PETS BECOMING OVERWEIGHT LIKE THEIR MASTERS, VETS SAY.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

She's tried low-cal dinners, high-carrot diets and rigorous exercise - anything to regain her youthful bounce, slender figure and beauty-spot shine.

Pepper, a Dalmatian, like a lot of Americans - human or pets - is struggling with a ballooning waistline.

``In human terms, she's 5-foot-5, 250 pounds. She's a big girl,'' joked Nicole Rodriguez, 20, of Granada Hills, of her family's portly pooch.

The National Academy of Sciences announced last week that one out of four dogs and cats are obese. Some surveys and veterinarians suggest the number of fat fidos and corpulent kitties may actually be even greater.

A 500-page set of guidelines published by the academy's National Research Council - the first in nearly 20 years - outlines how dogs and cats can eat right and shed those pesky pounds.

The basic prescription is the same as it is for humans: Eat less, exercise more.

``It's a problem of overfeeding and too little activity,'' said Donald C. Beitz, a distinguished professor of agriculture at Iowa State University and chairman of the NRC subcommittee that penned the ``The Nutrition Requirements for Dogs and Cats.''

``It's a significant problem today because obesity shortens longevity.''

Fat dogs and cats, like people, experience a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems, Beitz said.

Asked to rate the rotundness of their pets in a 1997 survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, 42 pet owners said their dogs and cats were overweight. Respondents to a 2000 survey, the association's latest, said 17 percent were overweight.

Tina Chang, a veterinarian at the Animal Clinic of Encino, said the number of fat cats and dogs she sees is much greater than 25 percent.

``A lot of them are overweight,'' she said. ``Owners can't assess obesity because of the fur.''

If you can't feel your dog's ribs, or she's got cellulose on her back or the base of her tail, according to the NRC report, she's fat.

In cats, a fat face, paws or stomach are clear signs of obesity. ``If a cat looks overweight, it is,'' the academy said.

If any feline qualifies for the fat farm, it's Gidgett, say her owners. When she isn't eating or stirring her cat box, the 22-pound zeppelin of the guest room spends all her time sleeping on or under the bed.

``She's very fat, because she does absolutely nothing,'' said Greg Finley, 56, of Santa Clarita, chuckling over his 5-year-old tabby. ``She literally has to be hoisted anywhere. ... She just evolved into this big ball.''

Princess, the Finleys' Jack Russell terrier, is also tubby. Most terriers can jump, but Princess can't scale an 18-inch-high couch, Finley said.

``This is a family that's always on a diet,'' Finley joked.

Dogs and cats - not to mention people - are now fatter than they were 40 years ago, when many animals were required to stay outdoors, Beitz said.

``As animals became more couch potatoes, like their owners, they got more overweight,'' he said. ``By and large, if food is in front of them all the time, they'll overeat, just like humans will.''

The NRC said the easiest way to trim pounds off the dog is to feed it less food - and no table scraps. Low-calorie ``diet'' food and high-fiber blends also help.

For cats, put less food in the bowl. As some cats eat as many as 20 times a day, up to 40 percent become overweight if allowed to eat their fill.

While Beitz recommended a high-protein Atkin's-like diet for dogs and cats, some pet nutritionists blame recent weight gains in pets on the high levels of corn and other grain carbohydrates found in many commercial pet foods.

``Dogs and cats do not have opposable thumbs, said B. Dawson of Noah's Apothecary, a holistic pet supply company in Ojai that sells 300 pounds a week of raw meat and organs especially tailored for pets. ``They don't naturally shuck corn and eat it for dinner.''

That means little to the Rodriquez family, who treat Pepper with unconditional affection - despite, or even because of - her heft.

``She's our treasure,'' said Fran Rodriguez. ``She's been our companion. She's a family member. She's a fat ol' girl. She's our love.''

--For information on healthy pet care, contact national-academies.org/petdoor, or www.healthypet.com.

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

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2 photos

Photo:

(1) The Rodriguez family's Dalmation, Pepper, makes her way through the back yard of their Granada Hills home.

(2) In cats, a fat face, paws or stomach are clear signs of obesity. ``If a cat looks overweight, it is,'' the National Academy of Sciences said.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Sep 17, 2003
Words:775
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