Many owners love to lavish goodies on their pooches: bacon and cheese snacks, pig ears, and an endless stream of table scraps. But all that affection comes at a hefty price. Before Fido turns fat, it may be time to consider healthy dog treats.

In other words, skip the cheesy chews and bring on the baby carrots.

Baby carrots? Yes. “Dogs like the crunch,” says Ernie Ward, DVM, a veterinarian in Calabash, N.C. Ward is also president of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. He founded the group in 2005 to highlight the growing problem of heavy, out-of-shape pets. He has treated many overweight dogs that come to his practice with osteoarthritis. “That is the number one thing that we see: obese pets that are literally crippled by pain,” Ward says.

Heavy dogs also face heightened heart disease and cancer risks, Ward says. About 44% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to statistics from his group’s web site. But he tells WebMD that owners can take action. “When you look at obesity-related disorders,” Ward says, “they are typically chronic, incurable, expensive, but generally preventable.”

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