The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) recently reported that 56 percent of pet dogs and 60 percent of pet cats are now overweight or obese!

While it is easy to hone in on overfeeding as the too-obvious culprit, the truth is there is a lot more to the story than just too many tasty treats.

The role of pets in our lives today is changing and evolving. For example, today, a full 95 percent of pet owners call their pets "family members." This can create understandable confusion when choosing rewards, handling family mealtimes and even understanding the difference between a normal-weight pet and an overweight pet.

But we do share one thing in common with our precious feline or canine family members: obesity is dangerous for all of us. In this article, learn about some of the most concerning health problems associated with pet obesity.

Pet Obesity Can Trigger Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes in pets is on the rise, and veterinarians believe there is a link between overfeeding and an increase in insulin-resistant diabetes in non-humans.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that diabetes mellitus occurs when your pet's body can no longer absorb and use sugar energy (glucose) the way it should.

Two warning signs that your pet may be developing diabetes mellitus include increased thirst and needing to urinate more frequently (these two are also connected). The AVMA says the highest-risk period for dogs is from age four through 10. In cats, the most common age for diagnosis is around age six. However, diabetes can occur in pets of any age.

Pet Obesity Can Lead to Osteoarthritis and Lameness

VCA Animal Hospital shares little-known information about the link between overweight pets and lameness. As it turns out, while the extra pressure extra weight places on the joints and muscles is partly to blame, it is the fat itself that is the biggest problem.

Fat cells produce a protein called leptin which is now linked to inflammation in the body's joints. The more fat cells appear, the more leptin is released into the joints and the more inflammation is created.

To date, an estimated 20 percent of all pet dogs are in some stage of developing osteoarthritis, a life-limiting condition that is not curable.

Pet Obesity Can Lead to Depression

Use of the word "depression" to describe a pet animal's mood or outlook is still somewhat contentious in that pets can't describe in words exactly how they are feeling.

So researchers at the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) are turning to behavioral changes instead to describe what can occur when an overweight or obese pet's weight begins to affect their quality of life.

One example is when an obese cat can no longer self-groom all areas of the body easily or without pain, an instinct pet cats all possess and need to fulfill. Inability to fit inside the litter box is another issue overweight pet cats face that can create distress in a cat.

An overweight or obese pet dog may not be able to run or play without pain the way they did before, or even to go for a simple daily walk to do their business as nature intended.

These consequences of unmonitored weight gain can create behavior changes that are unwanted and unwelcome for overweight animals.

Pet Obesity Can Trigger Back Problems

Many pet dogs in particular begin to suffer from back problems, including mobility issues, disc issues and aggravation of already painful genetic (heritable) conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia (improper alignment of the elbow or hip joint in its socket).

Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine cites back problems as one of the five top most concerning health problems that overweight and obese pets can face.

While any pet of any species who becomes overweight or obese risks increased back pain and limited mobility, breeds such as the Dachshund or the German Shepherd who already have a known genetic risk for joint and back problems may be particularly vulnerable.

Pet Obesity Can Lead to Fatty Liver Disease

"Fatty liver disease" is a known issue for people, but we are less used to hearing the term when describing health issues in our pets. Cats can be particularly susceptible to fatty liver disease, but it can also impact dogs who become overweight or obese.

Cats that consume a diet overly high in specific types of fats are known to be at a higher risk for developing feline fatty liver disease, according to Manhattan Cat Specialists Veterinary Clinic.

One research study published by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showed elevated risk for fatty liver disease in obese dogs.

Pet Obesity Can Literally Kill Your Pet

No pet owner wants to even think about the possibility of pet death. And yet permitting your pet to become overweight or obese is a known cause for early death.

According to a research study reported in Science Daily, pet dogs that develop issues of overweight or obesity may die up to two and a half years earlier than normal-weight pet dogs.

This study included 50,000 pet dogs across 12 dog breeds, all of whom displayed the link between higher-than-normal weight and shorter-than-average lifespans for their breed.

Truthfully, while many pet owners are still insufficiently well-informed about the risks (and signs) of pet obesity, there is no time to lose in becoming more knowledgeable about the risks and learning how to combat pet obesity.

If you are concerned that your pet may be overweight or obese, the best next step is to schedule a veterinary exam and talk with your vet about your concerns. Your veterinarian can help you adjust meal and treat portions, add appropriate exercise that won't make existing joint or back problems worse and monitor your pet during weight loss.

Trimming your pet's waistline can potentially add up to two and a half years back to their life that you can share together!