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.