"We have a problem -- almost all of American pets are overweight or obese," explained veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of the Associated for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Latest statistics show that about 54% of dogs and 59% of cats are overweight, according to Ward.

How can you tell if your pet is overweight?

For house pets, like cats and dogs, take a look and their belly fat. If their belly hangs down or drays on the floor there is a problem that needs to be addressed. According to Ward, you should be able to feel your pet's ribs -- they should feel like the knuckles on your hand when you make a fist.

However, for more exotic pets, like birds, rabbits, and ferrets -- it may be a little harder to tell. You need to take your pet to the vet, said veterinarian Dr. Laurie Hess, she's an bird and exotic animal specialist.

Hess says that to determine if an exotic pet is overweight or obese, vets use the Body Condition Score, or BCS. The score takes a look at lean muscle mass, the size of the pet and where they carry their weight and excess abdominal fat.

Some pet owners may think their pet is cute overweight or obese; however, it's a hazard to the pet's health, shortens their life span and puts pressure on the finances.

Diabetes treatments for cats are a minimum of $1,000-$2,000 per year and osteoarthritis costs are least $500 to treat.

"The saddest obese animal I've ever seen was a pet possum that was so grossly obese it couldn't stand up," Hess recalled.

Similar to humans, proper diet and exercise are the answer to reducing excess pounds and maintaining a healthy diet. Follow instructions from veterinarians about how much food to feed pets, and replace process treats with fresh snacks such as baby carrots, green beans, lettuce or other vegetables, depending on the breed.

Information for this story originally appeared on Medline Plus.

â–ºMake it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this.Download the WZZM 13 app now.

April Stevens is a multi-platform producer at WZZM 13. Have a news tip? Email news@wzzm13.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.