Is Your Cat Overweight?
For some reason, companion cats are prone to becoming fat. In fact, statistics show that about 40% of domestic cats are obese. Feline obesity is almost always caused by overfeeding. Healthy cats should have a layer of fat covering their ribs, which provides padding and insulation. This fat layer should not be too thick, but the ribs should not be prominent. An owner should be able to feel her cat’s ribs when rubbing her hands down the cat’s side. Viewed from above, cats should have a defined waist at their flank area, just in front of their hips and just behind their rib cage. Once a cat becomes overweight, it is an uphill battle to help it take the pounds off. Fortunately, well-balanced commercial weight-loss diets are increasingly available at pet supply stores. Cats have very particular nutritional requirements, and it is difficult to create a home-cooked diet which supports all of a cat’s unique nutritional needs.
Potential Health Implications
The obesity epidemic in North America has spread to domestic pets – especially to cats. Obesity is almost always caused by overfeeding. Like obese people, overweight cats have an increased risk of developing serious health problems, including arthritis, heart problems, hormonal abnormalities, bone and joint disorders and type 2 diabetes, among many others. They also are predisposed to hepatic lipidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects their liver. Owners of fat cats have several options to help them lose weight. The most effective solution is a combination of increasing the cat’s activity level and modifying its diet.
Cat owners who live in the city, and those who don’t let their cats go outside regularly, should consider taking their feline friends for brief walks several times a day. Like anything new, it will take a cat a bit of time to get used to being walked on a harness and leash, but with a little patience and tender loving care most cats become well-adjusted to this new routine. Other ways to get a cat to exercise are to engage it in playing with toys, treats and other tempting things, such as peacock feathers, paper bags, catnip-stuffed items, yarn or string, balls and bells or whatever else the cat seems to fancy. Most cats enjoy chasing the beam from a pen light, which the owner can wiggle across the floor and on the lower part of the walls in a slightly darkened room. The point is to get your cat moving. You will get moving in the process as well, making it a win-win situation all the way around. Fit not fat: that is the goal.
Dietary modification is the other essential aspect of helping a cat go from obesity to fitness. While it can be a good idea to put a fat cat on a calorie-restricted diet, it is equally important to not deprive it of the essential nutrients that it needs for good health. Cats have very unique nutritional requirements. A crash diet is not an effective choice for cats, and can actually be extremely unhealthy. Owners should not drastically reduce their cat’s dietary intake all at once; this should be done very gradually. One approach is to start by first decreasing the cat’s daily diet about one-fourth per day, and watch over the course of a few weeks to see if it begins to lose weight. Fat cats should not be free-fed (don’t leave kibble out all the time for the cat to graze on), because they tend to over-eat. Most experts recommend feeding cats 2 or 3 small, measured meals per day. Cats should never be fed dog food! Cats need much more protein and different vitamin ratios than dogs. Feeding dog food to a cat for a prolonged period of time can lead to retinal degeneration, taurine and niacin deficiencies and night blindness.
Another useful dietary modification is to change the type of food that the cat eats. A cat’s metabolism is designed to turn carbohydrates into fat, and to convert protein into muscle. Accordingly, a weight-loss diet should be high in protein and low in carbohydrates. A rule of thumb is for a cat to lose about 1 percent of its body weight per week when put on a sound weight-loss diet. If the cat doesn’t start losing weight after these suggestions have been implemented, the owner probably should consult with a veterinarian to come up with an appropriate alternative dietary plan.
Choosineg a Diet
Unfortunately, obesity is a common and potentially dangerous condition in companion cats. Thankfully, high quality, well-balanced, calorie-restricted cat foods are becoming increasingly available, both from veterinarians and from large and small retail pet supply stores. Premium weight-loss diets have been rigorously studied by nutritionists and other researchers and have been specifically formulated to help cats lose weight actively yet gradually, while still maintaining a proper nutritional balance. Special weight-loss cat foods tend to be more expensive than ordinary cat foods, but they are certainly well worth the cost in the long run for overweight animals. Owners that decide to switch their overweight cats to a calorie-restricted diet should pay special attention to the label instructions and feed the recommended amount according to their cat’s current and desired weight.
Changing a Cat's Diet
Some cats are notoriously picky eaters and will turn their noses up at low-calorie kibble. Owners should switch their diet gradually over the course of a week, by adding the weight-loss kibble to the cat’s regular kibble in an increasingly greater ratio. Most authorities recommend feeding measured amounts several times a day. The food dish should be well away from the litter box, in a quiet location. Fresh water should always be available. If the cat still seems hungry or isn’t eating its meals reliably, its owner can add small amounts of tempting toppings to the low-calorie kibble. These supplements can stimulate the cat’s appetite and help it to feel full, without adding a significant extra calorie load. Some things that many cats find palatable include: water lightly flavored with chicken broth, small amounts of cooked fish or meat, cooked vegetables, cottage cheese, yogurt or the left-over water from canned fish such as tuna. Feeding crunchy dry kibble promotes good teeth and oral health. However, many cats prefer to eat canned food, at room temperature. Canned weight-loss diets are also available. They tend to be more palatable to cats, whose appetite is stimulated by strong-smelling foods. Of course, it is best to check with a veterinarian before putting a pet on a strict weight loss regimen.
Cats are natural carnivores, and it is difficult to prepare a homemade weight loss diet that satisfies their unique nutritional requirements. While some cats may eat vegetables in order to feel full, these foods should not be considered as part of their regular diet. A top-quality calorie-restricted food should be nutritionally complete and should not require additional vitamin or mineral supplementation. In fact, over-supplementing with vitamins A and D, or calcium and phosphorus can cause serious health problems in cats, such as sterility, kidney disease, metabolic bone disease and hair loss. Cats should not be fed dog food, nor should they be fed raw meats or fish. Many cats are lactose intolerant and shouldn’t be fed dairy products.