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Tips to help pudgy pets shed pounds

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ATHENS, Ga. -

About half of pet dogs in this country are overweight. So how can you help a pudgy pet?

Wilson, a half lab, half basset hound, is a bit of a low rider. The 3.5-year-old rescue has not problems getting around, but at 44 pounds, he's a little on the hefty.  A lot of other pets have the same problems.

"I guess people do think fat dogs and cats are cute, but they're not cute," said Dr. Cynthia Ward. "They have really significant health problems.  Obesity is a huge problem in humans as well as our companion animals, and all that stuff you see when a human gains extra weight, you see with pets."

Ward is a veterinarian at the University of Georgia's Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Athens see dogs and cats with weight-related problems every day in her clinic. The pets struggle with diabetes, joint problems and heart disease because they are too heavy. But there's a way to turn it around.

"The first thing I usually tell owners to do is stop any table scraps," Ward said. "They're incredibly fattening for dogs.  They don't need the fat from your steak."

If your dog begs, ignore it.

"It's tough love and, honestly, if they get used to you not feeding them, and if you do that for a week or two, and you stop feeding them when they beg, they'll stop begging because they won't get what they want.  It's kind of like training a toddler," Ward said.

Ward said that dogs don't need a lot of food. She recommends feeding twice a day using a measuring cup so that you don't overdo it. If you're not sure how much food your dog needs, ask your vet.

Also: watch the treats.

"A lot of people feel like they need to give their pets treats because it's expressing their love because pets always like to eat," Ward said. "So find something low-cal."

If you suspect your dog is overweight, Ward says cut back on calories gradually or switch to a lighter dog food.

Ward said that all dogs need daily exercise just like their owners. Go for a brisk walk a couple of times a day.

"So take your dog for a walk.  It's good for everybody, you'll feel better, the dog will feel better," Ward said.

For Wilson, the walk is the highlight of his day. It's beautiful outside.  He's got his lady on the other end of the leash and just when things can't get any better, he sees a squirrel.

If you're not sure if your dog is overweight, put your hands on both side of your pet, and try to feel the dog's ribcage. If you're digging around in there and having trouble finding the ribs, your dog may need to lose some weight.

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