(NaturalNews) You have no doubt heard about the obesity epidemic among humans, but believe it or not, the animal kingdom is also battling the bulge, and what's more, veterinarians and researchers see lots of similarities between the species that could lead to better outcomes for both man and beast.
For some time now, vets have increasingly encountered overweight animals in their practices, from dogs and cats to horses, turtles and even fish.
Many vets "treat increasingly portly ponies. They instruct owners not to overfeed chubby fish. They describe tortoises so fat they can no longer pop in and out of their shells. They've seen so many overweight birds they have a new nickname for them: perch potatoes," Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers write in a new book, "Zoobiquity."
Vets have prescribed diet drugs to the family dog to curb appetites. Believe it or not, some owners are even choosing liposuction as a treatment of choice for chubby canines. Felines, the paper said, are being placed on so-called "Catkins" diet, which is described as a veterinary version of the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet humans use.
Abundance of food doesn't help
The authors note that pets are just like humans in terms of problems related to obesity: higher incidents of diabetes, heart and cardiovascular problems, musculoskeletal difficulties, some types of cancers, glucose intolerance and possibly higher blood pressure.
A king's ransom has been spent on how best to fight the battle of the bulging waistline among humans, so turning to a vet for people answers to the problem doesn't seem rational. Yet vets are successfully treating animal obesity every day, the authors note, and as such have a lot to offer in terms of scaling back the overweight epidemic in the developed world.
"Startlingly, wildlife biologists have begun tracking what seem to be wild-animal obesity trends, too. Over the past 40 years, yellow-bellied marmots in the Colorado Rockies, country rats in the north-eastern United States and blue whales off the coast of California have become chubbier and chubbier," Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers write in an excerpt published in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper.
"We imagine that in the wild, animals will eat until they are full and then stop. But given the chance, many wild fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals overindulge. Abundance plus access - the twin downfalls of many a human dieter - can challenge wild animals, too."
The authors quoted Mark Edwards, an animal nutritionist in California, who said, "We are all hardwired to consume resources in excess of daily requirements. I can't think of a species that doesn't."
If they are in an environment where food is abundant and unlimited, a wide array of domesticated species - "dogs, cats, sheep, horses, pigs and cattle" - could eat anywhere from nine to 12 times per day (know anyone like that?).
Human dieticians and physicians tend to treat obesity by mandating lifestyle changes - diet, exercise, eat less, increase willpower to resist.
Change your environment
Vets, however, are taking a different approach, since they can't prescribe an exercise regimen for, say, an overweight orangutan. When they notice the animals they see are getting fatter, they don't say the animal has no willpower, according to the authors.
"They ask: 'What's going on in that animal's surroundings?' Vets don't see obesity as a disease of an individual; they see it as a disease of the environment," they wrote.
There are a number of environmental factors that affect an animal's weight, beyond just simple abundance of food. They include exposure to light (artificial or natural), more of which leads to weight gain; the blend of bacteria in their environment can lead to obtaining more or less energy from their food, which could pack on the weight.
Physicians don't generally consider such environmental factors when dealing with human obesity, say the authors.
"For many animals, weight goes on, but it also comes off. It's a dynamic process. If you want to lose weight the wild-animal way, decrease the abundance of food around you and interrupt your access to it. In other words: change your environment," they write.