Feline obesity is a common yet often under-recognized problem despite the serious secondary consequences it can have on health. Some of these secondary concerns include respiratory, musculoskeletal and urinary disease, as well as decreased activity, poor hair coat and diabetes mellitus.
Common name: Feline obesity
Scientific name: Feline obesity
Cats are more likely to be obese if they are of mixed breed, spayed or neutered, and between 2 and 8 years of age.
Between 25 percent and 30 percent of cats brought to veterinarians are overweight or obese.
There is no known geographic predilection for feline obesity.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Difficult to palpate, or feel, the cat's ribs, No waist visible, Round abdominal (belly) area with prominent fat pad, Fat deposits over middle to lower back, May have fat deposits on face and limbs.
Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Decreased activity, Poor hair coat condition (matted, greasy, flaky), Change in gait, Heat intolerance, Diabetes mellitus (signs include increased thirst and urination, decrease in muscle mass, vomiting and lethargy), Dyspnea (difficulty breathing), Hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome (signs include jaundice ‚Äî yellow skin color ‚Äî decreased appetite and lethargy), Urinary tract disease (signs include inappropriate urination, hematuria ‚Äî blood in urine ‚Äî increased frequency of urination, straining to urinate and inability to urinate).
Causes (scientific, common term)
Excessive calorie intake, Too few calories expended with physical activity and exercise, Decreased energy requirement after spay or neuter, Cultural acceptance of overweight and obese cats.
Organ systems affected (most to least affected)
Musculoskeletal, Hair coat, Pancreas (digestive), Cardiorespiratory, Urinary, Liver.
A veterinarian can diagnose feline obesity by assigning a body condition score, which is a tool used to estimate how thin or overweight an animal is by taking into account the size of its frame, not its weight. Blood analyses, including a complete blood count and blood chemistry, should be done to rule out other primary and secondary diseases. A urinalysis should also be performed to rule out the presence of other diseases.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease).
Feline obesity is an under-recognized problem by many cat owners. It is estimated that one out of every three to four cats seen by a veterinarian is overweight to obese. An obese cat has ribs that are difficult to palpate, or feel. Its abdomen is rounded with a prominent fat pad. There is also fat covering the middle to lower back. Obese cats may also have fat present over the face and limbs.
Obesity is caused by too many calories and too little exercise to expend those calories. Cats often gain weight after being spayed or neutered, as they are fed the same amount but their energy requirements decrease.
Feline obesity can result in or worsen many secondary problems and diseases such as arthritis, trouble grooming that leads to a poor hair coat, diabetes mellitus, respiratory disease, urinary tract disease and an increased risk of hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome. Most of these problems can be reversed with a proper weight loss protocol.
Since much of the cause of feline obesity is too little exercise, weight loss will require owner commitment and participation for the cat to use more calories than it is consuming. Toys, cat trees, food puzzles and window perches can provide environmental enrichment. Also, cats are more likely to play with the toys and exercise if the owner gets involved.
The cat should be strictly fed in measured meals, and in multi-cat households, the cats should be fed separately. It is important that everyone in the household understand and abide by the plan.
A veterinarian can assign the cat a body condition score, which is a way to estimate how much fat a certain size body frame has, independent of the weight. Blood and urine analyses may be used to screen for underlying diseases. The veterinarian can calculate the caloric needs of the cat and recommend a diet for weight loss.
For most cats, diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates can aid in weight loss as well as weight maintenance once obesity is no longer a problem. Canned food may be recommended over dry food because it may provide higher protein and lower carbohydrate content than dry food.
It is important to visit the veterinarian frequently to monitor the cat's weight and overall health and for reassessment of the cat's calories as the cat becomes more active and begins to lose weight. The owner should be prepared that significant weight loss can and should take a long time.
A veterinarian should be seen initially to screen for underlying diseases and to recommend an appropriate diet and caloric intake for the cat. Frequent follow-up visits should be made so the veterinarian can monitor the cat's progress. Environmental enrichment is an important component of the cat's weight loss and will involve owner participation to increase the cat's activity level.
With guidance from a veterinarian regarding calories and diet, feline obesity can be treated successfully, with the understanding that it often requires a long time. Fortunately, most of the secondary problems caused by feline obesity can be reversed with weight loss.
Burkholder, W.J., and Toll, P.S. Obesity. In: Hand, M.S., Thatcher, C.D., Remillard, R.L., and Roudebush, P., eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Ed. Topeka: Mark Morris Institute, 2000: 401-424.
Hoenig, M., and Rand, J.S. Pathogenesis and Management of Obesity. In: August, J.R. Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine, Vol. 5. St. Louis: Elsevier, Inc., 2006: 175-180.
Remillard, R.L. Obesity: A Disease to Be Recognized and Managed. In: Ettinger, S.J., and Feldman, E.C. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 6th Ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, Inc., 2005: 76-78.
Understanding Your Cat's Body Condition. Nestl√© Purina PetCare Company. September 20, 2007: http://www.purina.com/cats/health/BodyCondition.aspx.
Rachel DeBender, DVM
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA
© 2007. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)