Feline obesity is a growing concern among avid cat parents. This health condition not only makes life more unbearable for our beloved pets; it also exposes them to more serious health problems like diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. It is easy to think that withdrawing food from your cat’s meal is the way to go. But before you put your cat on a diet, let us first gain a basic understanding of feline obesity.
Feline Obesity: Getting a Clearer Picture
In 2016, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention published a report showing that 28% of cats are overweight, while 31% of felines are already considered to be clinically obese. When they say a pet is clinically obese, it means its weight is more than 30% higher than the upper limit of its ideal body weight. This also means that three out of 5 cats in American homes are either obese or overweight.
But that’s not what is alarming. What pet parents should be more concerned about is the increasing trend in cat obesity. For instance, in 2009, only 22 percent of cats had body weights greater than 30% of their ideal weight. In 2016, this rate has gone up to 31 percent, a change of 9 percent in a span of 7 years. That’s an average annual increase of about 1.28 percent. What this means is that in the next 12 to 13 years, half of all cats may already be obese.
Risk Factors for Obesity in Cats
It would be safe to assume that changing dietary patterns and reduced physical activities can be the culprits in this alarming trend. There are many obesity in cats risks that pet parents should know about. They are as follows:
Feline obesity is more common among cats that are in their middle age or about 5 to 11 years old. This is often associated with a reduction in the middle-aged cat’s metabolic rate as well as levels of physical activity.
- Sex and Reproductive Status
Neutered cats tend to have a higher risk of feline obesity than intact cats. They also have a higher obesity risk than their male counterparts, whether spayed or intact. The removal of the cat’s sex organs reduces the amount of sex hormones. These hormones can play a role in the regulation of metabolism. In turn, metabolism has an effect on food intake, fat deposition, and energy expenditure.
Since the female neutered cat no longer has estrogen, it may no longer be able to prevent the formation of fat cells. In an intact cat, estrogen slows down the activity of lipase, so that lipogenesis is also slowed down. In effect, neutering can reduce the metabolic rate of kitties. This also reduces their calorie requirements. Together, these two processes can lead to the accumulation of fatty tissue, producing obesity in neutered cats.
There are also studies that show neutering increases a cat’s appetite. This leads to increased food consumption. The resulting weight gain can hamper the cat’s ability to exercise or move about. The result is the perpetuation of a vicious cycle.
- Pet Owner Relationship
Pet parents who “over-humanize” their pet cats are putting their feline friends at risk of obesity. Many prefer watching their cats while they are eating than spending time with them playing. Because of this “closer” relationship between pet parent and cat, there’s a tendency for the owner to give in to the food-begging behavior of pets. It is also observed that pet parents who are very close to their cats have a very different perception of obesity. For them, their kitty’s weight is fine.
One of the most important obesity in cats risks is diet. Kitties that are given high-calorie and high-fat diets also tend to be at an increased risk for overweight and obesity. Cats that receive fresh meat and fish may also be at a higher risk for obesity. This is because of the more palatable nature of this cat food, leading to increased consumption by the cat. Excessive treating can also contribute to feline obesity.
Cats that live indoors are more susceptible to obesity than those that can play outdoors. Indoor cats do not have plenty of opportunities for interaction with other animals. They also don’t get to roam around and explore. The same is true for 1- or 2-cat households. They don’t get enough opportunities to play with as many cats as possible. Cats in households without other pets like dogs are also at an increased risk of obesity.
Dangers of Cat Obesity
In a nutshell, obesity shortens lives. Excessive fat can increase the risks of health conditions that are otherwise preventable. Here is a list of the most common health conditions in cats related to obesity:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Urinary tract or bladder disease
- Liver disease
- Disorders of the gall bladder
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Spinal immobility
In addition to these health conditions, it is also known that obesity can increase the risk of certain cancers. Chronic inflammatory disorders are also positively-correlated with feline obesity. What this means is that the more obese the cat is, the greater is its risk for the development of chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Obesity can have a negative impact on the quality of life of the kitty. A heavier-than-usual body means it will not be able to run and pounce on prey. The cat may also have difficulty jumping or leaping onto a higher platform. It is also more prone to injuries because of the excess weight in its body.
Is Your Cat Obese?
As mentioned, one of the risk factors for feline obesity is a pet owner’s perception of the condition. There are some pet parents who fail to recognize the obesity in cats symptoms. It is also possible that they do. However, since they love their pets so much, they may deny that their cat is already obese. So, how do you know that your cat has a serious weight issue? Here are some ways you can check for obesity in cats symptoms.
- Body Condition Score
This is a system that is very easy to use. There are different resources online that can give you an idea of your cat’s body condition score or BCS. You can follow the directions in these tools to determine whether your kitty is underweight, normal, or overweight. The tool is a rating scale with graphic representations of different cat body types. All you need to do is to look at the pictures and pick the one that resembles the body type of your cat. A BCS of 1 indicates underweight while a score of 9 is obese or overweight.
- Body Shape
If you don’t like using a BCS tool, you can perform a visual examination of your cat. Stand over your cat and check if you can still see a “waist”. This is the area between its hips and rib cage. If there’s no “noticeable” waist, there’s a chance your kitty is obese. To confirm, look at your pet from the side. It should not have a tummy pouch. What lean cats will have is a gentle sloping of the tummy towards the hind legs. If you’re still not sure, you can fill the feline’s torso. You should feel its ribs and spine without putting too much pressure over these areas. If not, then you’ve got an obese cat.
- Actual Body Weight vs. Breed Standard
This can be tricky since you have to make sure you know the standard weight of your cat’s breed. For example, if you have a female Himalayan, know that this can have a normal weight of 7 to 12 pounds. If you weigh your Himalayan and you read 16 pounds, then it is safe to say that your kitty is obese. For this cat, the threshold for obesity is at 15.6 lbs which is 30% above its upper weight limit of 12 pounds.
Putting Your Cat on a Diet
Managing obesity in feline pets requires a careful, often-calculated approach. You might think that withdrawing food is the answer to such a condition. While there is some truth to it, it takes more than giving your pet the best food for weight loss to help your kitty achieve its ideal body weight. Here’s how you can put your cat on a diet.
1. Work with Your Veterinarian
Your veterinarian is your partner when it comes to determining the most appropriate dietary plan for your kitty. One of the things he needs to determine is if there is an underlying medical condition that may produce an obese cat. For instance, hypothyroidism can lead to a reduction in metabolic rate. This means the cat may not be feeding that much, but it’s also not using the calories that well. A thorough physical examination, blood chemistry tests, and thyroid hormone evaluation will help provide a clearer picture of the cat’s metabolic status.
2. Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
The vet will provide a strict dietary recommendation that includes the specific amount of cat food for each meal. Cat owners should adhere to these portion sizes. Most pet owners use cups as units of measure. This is not going to work if you want your cat to lose weight. It’s important to understand the unique computation of its dietary intake. For instance, if the vet says 0.5 ounces for every 10 pounds of body weight, then you should make the necessary measurements. So, if you have a 20-lb cat, then you should not feed it more than 1 ounce. As for the frequency, most vets advise giving twice to four times daily feeding. This is case-dependent, of course.
Invest in Moderate to High Protein Diet
Cats need high-protein diets. Protein gets digested a lot slower, allowing the cat to feel fuller a lot longer. The cat food for weight loss should have at least 35 percent proteins on a dry matter basis. The current recommendation is 35 to 45 percent protein and a small percentage of carbs.
3. Stop Giving Your Cat Treats
In a normal, healthy cat, it is okay to give treats. However, it should not comprise more than 10 percent of its diet. Since one of the possible culprits for feline obesity is excessive treating, it would be wise to skip this altogether. Stop giving your obese cat treats.
4. Give Weight Loss Supplements
If the cat food already contains L-carnitine, there’s no need to supplement its diet with this amino acid. L-carnitine can facilitate the conversion of fats into glucose. These fats can come from fat deposits. Daily supplementation with 250 to 500 mg of L-carnitine can help mobilize fat and aid in the cat’s weight loss.
5. Increase Physical Activity
Spend at least 15 minutes every day to play with your pet. Buying interactive toys can also help, especially if you will be going out of the house to work. Adopting another cat so that your kitty will have someone to play with can also help. There are also toys that mimic the movements of prey animals. They can help your cat burn its fatty stores and aid in its weight loss.
6. Monitor Cat’s Weight
The key to effective weight loss in cats is to do it in a gradual manner. The cat should lose between 0.5 to 2 percent of its body weight every week. What this means is that you need to have a record of your cat’s weight from the initiation of the diet plan. This way, you can monitor if it is losing weight in the correct way or not. For example, if you have a 20-pound kitty, then it should not lose more than 0.4 lbs or 6.4 ounces per week. After 1 month, it should not weigh less than 18.4 lbs. Rapid weight loss can lead to serious liver problems. There’s also a chance that the lost weight can reappear. Re-weigh your cat every 3 to 4 weeks.
Obesity in cats is no laughing matter. It brings more health problems in the long run. When putting your obese kitty on a diet, it’s best to work closely with your vet.