Feline obesity is out of control. Here’s how to get your cat back on track to a healthy figure
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When we at Pet Connection say “fat cats,” we’re not talking Wall Street bankers. The percentage of cats considered to be overweight (10 to 19 percent greater than ideal weight) or obese (20 percent or greater than ideal body weight) has reached a whopping 58 percent, according to a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
That makes excess weight the No. 1 nutritional disorder in cats. Carrying too many pounds is linked to a number of feline health problems. Obese cats are more likely to suffer a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis; feline urinary tract disease; diabetes; lameness; complications from anesthesia; and non-allergenic skin conditions.
What’s the skinny on the increase in tubby tabbies? It may be as simple as a lack of recognition of what a healthy cat looks and feels like. A study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery in 2010 found that nearly 34 percent of owners underestimated their cats’ body condition score.
Body condition scores rank cats on a 5-point scale, with 1 being emaciated, 2 thin, 3 ideal, 4 heavy and 5 grossly obese. In a hands-on test, it should be easy to feel a cat’s ribs and other prominent bones using light pressure. If your cat falls into category 4 or 5, it’s time to institute a kitty weight loss plan to help him regain a slim, trim figure.
Start with a veterinary exam to rule out medical problems that might be causing the weight gain. A weigh-in establishes current weight so a goal weight can be determined.
Your first thought might be to cut back on the amount of food you give, but that just leads to a cat who is hungry and unhappy. A different food may be a better option.
Feeding a diet that swaps out carbohydrates for proteins appears to be useful for weight loss, says Margie Scherk, DVM, speaking on feline weight management at the World Feline Veterinary Conference in San Diego, California, last October. And be aware that even 10 extra pieces a day of kibble formulated for normal weight maintenance can cause a cat to gain a pound in a year. Measure food and give it at regular mealtimes instead of free feeding.
Diet is a big part of helping cats lose weight, but getting them moving is important, too. You might not be able to take your cat jogging or get him to walk on a treadmill, but there are plenty of creative ways to add exercise to your pet’s life and at the same time provide a more stimulating environment.
An easy way to keep him moving while you’re gone during the day is to divide the amount of food he receives daily into six or seven portions. Place each portion in a small container, and hide them throughout the house. Mix up your hiding places so he has to work to find his food each day.
Interactive play is also important. Use toys to encourage him to walk and run around the house. Your cat is a predator, so focus on his love of stalking and chasing. Cats have short attention spans, so playtime of two to five minutes a few times a day is plenty. Since cats are nocturnal, you may find that he is more interested in being active after the sun goes down.
Introduce exercise gently and gradually. Cats who are overweight or obese can injure their joints if they do too much too quickly.
Most important, remember that prevention is best when it comes to obesity. Weight gain is more likely after cats turn 2 years old, so don’t let them become sedentary as they mature. That’s a heck of a lot easier than trying to change their eating habits or food after they have put on too many pounds.