One of the most preventable yet most common health problems in cats is obesity. According to a Cornell University study, overweight cats are more likely to suffer from serious diseases like diabetes. Plus, obese cats are more likely to die at a younger age. Published in the Journal of Nutrition (December 1998), the study noted that of 2092 cats, 20% were heavy and an additional 5% were obese. (Many veterinary health experts estimate that about 40% of U.S. cats are obese.
Causes of Obesity in Cats
One study found that the overweight cats were most likely middle-aged neutered males living in apartments and eating diets of dry cat food, having no outdoor access and little exercise. Even more serious was that researchers found that nearly 15% of obese cats were overweight by one year of age!
Additionally, another study called the American Animal Hospital Association Compliance Study found that veterinarians underdiagnose feline obesity and that cat owners are typically unaware at how fat their cats are and don’t understand the consequences of obesity in their furry little friends.
How does one prevent obesity in their feline companions? First, consider what is making him fat in the first place. Is he sedentary and sleeping all day? Like dogs, your cat needs exercise, especially if he’s living a solitary feline life with no cat friends. A laser pointer gets most cats on the move as they chase the ‘red bug’ across the floor.
Because apartment-living cats are most at risk for growing obese, think of ways to give your cat exercise in your smaller environment—cat trees, track ball, balls and even another cat can engage him in play to help keep him healthy.
Additionally, make sure you read the label directions for feeding on your cat food. Some foods are meant to be fed less than others. Like people food, some food is higher in calories or fat. Also, like people, some cats may fare better on other diets. Talk to your veterinarian about how much food your cat should eat, what his or her diet should be made up of, and, if he’s obese, look at what you might need to do to change his diet. Some veterinarians suggest a high-protein, low-carbohydrate formula like Hill’s Prescription Diet m/d that is designed to manage feline weight. Ask you veterinarian how to determine a healthy weight for your cat and learn how to weigh him.
So now you’ve acknowledged that Portly needs to lose a few pounds. How will you do this? Experts recommend a full physical exam with lab tests to determine that Portly’s fat is indeed a result of overeating and lack of exercise, rather than an underlying medical condition. Other changes you can make include:
Feed smaller portions once or twice a day instead of free choice.
Feed foods high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Know how much you feed each day and adjust if there is weight gain or no reduction.
Additionally, James Richards, DVM, in Cornell’s Science News, suggests particular tips when fighting feline fat:
Like Weight Watchers for cats, schedule regular weigh-ins with your veterinarian.
Ask your veterinarian if your cat should eating a particular weight-reduction meal plan.
Develop the weight reduction program for your corpulent cat under the guidance of your veterinarian.
Get that feline couch potato off the couch! Mice, feathers, laser pointers and teasers will engage him in some exercise each day.
For lone kitties, experts suggest adopting a second cat. Having a friend will give him someone to interact and play with while you’re not home.
When you change the kitty’s meal plan, make sure you are consistent and maintain course until you see a change for the better. It could take up to a year to see significant weight loss, but don’t lose heart if it seems to be taking a long time. Any change you’ve made in your kitty’s exercise and diet regimens will be doing your feline friend a healthy favor.