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Dogs could stand to shed a few

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Fetch, Fido -- then go get on the scale like a good boy.

Dog obesity is upon us. Concerns about corpulent curs and portly pooches have seized popular imagination, not to mention the marketplace. At $2 a daily dose, Slentrol, manufactured by Pfizer and the world's first prescription weight-control drug for dogs, now has the Food and Drug Administration's blessing for use by the nation's 17 million fat dogs, or nearly 30 percent of the canine population.

A second medication -- R-salbutamol -- is under development in Australia. Dogs down under are losing weight, though having some flushing of the ears, said lead researcher Calvin London, a veterinarian. The potential canine weight loss market in the U.S. alone is $200 million a year, he said.

But why stop with dog diet pills?

Pfizer announced yesterday that it had developed something called BARC, or body assessment rating for canines, -- a lifestyle survey for dog and master to take, presumably together. The nine-question analysis is meant to help owners determine whether their dogs are overweight, obese or "heading in that direction," the company notes.

Own a Labrador or golden retriever, beagle, basset hound, cocker spaniel, dachshund, sheltie or terrier? They are prone to pudge, according to the survey. Owners who are a pushover for soulful dog eyes under the dinner table may put Rover at risk with extra tasty scraps. Like humans, obesity in dogs leads to diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other medical conditions.

"In our culture, we often equate food with love," said Claudia Kirk, a University of Tennessee veterinarian who also notes that life has become so complicated that many of us can't manage to take the dog for a walk.

"Why are 40 percent of dogs in the U.S. overweight or obese? Too much food and too little exercise," she said.

The campus offers a weight-loss camp for dogs featuring an underwater treadmill, a nutritionist and Karen House, a personal trainer who requires fat Fidos and big Bowsers to walk on the device at least 30 minutes daily.

The Humane Society for Seattle/King County, meanwhile, offers 40-minute classes of "doggie yoga."

Dogs and owners, however, are guilty co-dependents, according to the California-based Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., which provides health insurance to a variety of pets. The overweight owner is three times more likely to have an overweight pet, according to statistics from the company's actuarial tables.

To be a svelte as a saluki won't hurt either. Slim dogs live two years longer than weightier peers, according to "Fitness Unleashed," a 2006 dog obesity guide by Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University, and Idaho veterinarian Marty Becker. The pair suggest human and dog lose weight together.

But things are tubby all over. One-third of American cats are overweight, according to the April issue of American Journal of Veterinary Research. Pet-industry sources say aquarium fish, gerbils, guinea pigs and rabbits are also too chubby -- victims of well-meaning owners with a generous hand. Both the National Cockatiel Society and Bird Times, an industry publication, report that "avian obesity" is on the rise.

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