Obesity In Cats
Obesity is a common problem in pets. A 2015 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimate that 58% of cats are overweight. Of those cats that were overweight, 15% of the owners believed their pet to be of normal weight. As a guideline, if body weight is 30% or greater than the ideal weight, a cat is considered to be obese. For example, if an 8 lb cat gains 2.4 lbs (weighing 10.4 lbs) the cat now weighs 30% more than its desired body weight and is considered obese. The cause of obesity is fairly straight forward—we are feeding our cats more calories than they expend. Feeding high calorie foods, overfeeding treats, and not practicing portion control are major factors that cause weight gain. Lack of exercise also plays a role as mostly indoor cats are much more sedentary than those that spend time outdoors hunting and exploring. Spayed or neutered animals also require fewer calories per day. Lastly, changing our perception of what is a ‘normal’ weight in cats is essential for a successful weight loss program.
Because they are hunters, the natural diet of cats is primarily meat based. Cats are considered to be obligate carnivores, meaning that they require high levels of dietary protein to obtain all necessary amino acids for normal body functioning. Cats have adapted to high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate diets. When fed a diet high in carbohydrates, the excess carbohydrates are converted to triglycerides and stored in the body as fat.
Why should we be so concerned about obesity in cats? Obese cats are at a higher risk for many serious illnesses: Insulin resistant (Type II) diabetes mellitus commonly occurs in cats with excess body fat. Extra weight stresses tendons, ligaments, and joints, increasing the likelihood of injury or lameness, which may eventually develop into arthritis. Cats store excess fat in their liver which predisposes them to a liver disease known as hepatic lipidosis. Obese cats often also have shorter life spans than healthy weight cats. Overweight cats may suffer from skin conditions like dry skin, or scale, which is partially due to impaired ability to groom. This excess weight also prevents adequate grooming of the hind area. A common complaint from owners of overweight cats is urine or fecal soiling due to their inability to groom appropriately. Some cats may even have difficulty using litter boxes appropriately when overweight.
How do I get my cat to lose weight?
We recommend cat diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates, like canned foods, as they are closest to the natural diet of the cat. We can help you transition from a dry to canned diet. Although, much less ideal, dry diets can be used AS LONG AS calories are restricted. Portion control is critical. Often, owners will use various receptacles as a food scoop with the idea that it represents a ‘cup’ of kibble. It is very easy to underestimate the amount of calories that are being fed this way. Also, manufacturer feeding guidelines are just that—guidelines. If your cat is gaining weight on the recommended portion, then there are excess calories being consumed. Treats can also pose a problem in weight control because of their high caloric content. Feeding just 10 treats a day could contribute about 10% of your cat's daily calorie requirements. We will help determine your cat’s goal weight and the appropriate number of calories and portions of food to feed daily to achieve weight loss. Finally, don't kill them with kindness. We all love our cats. Even though it pleases us (and them) to give them more food and treats these calories add up. If your cat begs for food, we can discuss ways to help eliminate this behavior.
NOTE: DO NOT STARVE YOUR CAT. Severe calorie restriction increases the likelihood for hepatic lipidosis to develop. Also called fatty liver disease, this is a serious, sometimes fatal liver disease of cats.
Increasing your cat’s activity will also help with weight loss. Cats are becoming increasingly indoor animals and their activity levels have declined substantially. Adding a few 10 minute play sessions a day will increase your cat’s metabolism. Fat is converted back into utilizable energy if more calories are being used than being consumed. Another factor to consider is the lack of environmental enrichment with mostly indoor cats. Because they are no longer hunting or investigating the environment, many cats will develop abnormal/obsessive eating habits because there is nothing more interesting for them to do. Hiding food or using puzzle balls that contain low calorie treats may increase your cat’s exploration of its environment. Addition of climbing trees or exercise gyms will also increase activity.
Schedule follow-up weight checks with your veterinarian to monitor progress and make any necessary dietary adjustments. Most weight loss programs recommend slow, gradual weight reduction over several month's time. Therefore, very obese cats will take longer to achieve the desired amount of weight loss.
Obesity in cats is a serious medical issue given the potential associated health risks. Obesity may not only compromise a cat’s quality of life, in some cases, it may cause death. We will outline a long-term plan that we think will best allow you to address your cat’s weight issue. We are here to work with you as a team to give your cat a better, healthier, longer life.