Obesity statistics in the U.S. have been climbing for decades. According to the CDC, more than one-third of American adults are obese (35.7%). The causes seem to lie not only with genetics but also changes in the way Americans live. There have been many changes in the pace of life and quality of food that people eat. It appears that the human obesity problem is leading to obesity in cats too.
…And How Does This Apply to Fluffy?
With all of these changes causing such an epidemic of obesity in humans, no one should be surprised that the statistics for obesity in cats (who depend on us for everything) are also rising. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 57.9% of American pet cats are either overweight or obese. Cats are at higher risk for a lot of devastating diseases when they become obese; type 2 Diabetes (obese cats are 3X more likely to get this), Arthritis, heart and respiratory diseases, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and Hepatic Lipidosis. This is not to mention the difficulties that very obese cats can have with grooming their genital areas.
Is My Cat Obese?
If you are concerned about your cat’s weight, please talk to your veterinarian. One check that you can do on your own is to gently rub your hands along your cat’s body while the cat is standing up. If the cat is the ideal weight, you will be able to feel the ribs with a small layer of fat over them. If you have to press to feel the cat’s ribs, the cat is likely overweight. If the cat feels bony, it is likely underweight – there should be some fat.
When looking from the top, the ideal weight cat will have a defined “waist” below its ribs. Looking from the side, a cat of the ideal weight would have a raised abdomen. There should be no jiggling fat when the cat walks. However, some cats have extra skin that hangs down and is not fatty, don’t worry about this extra skin.
Battling the Bulge
Don’t put your cat on a diet until you talk to your veterinarian. It is really important that you rule out thyroid problems and other disorders that could be adding to the weight gain. If it is determined that the cat is healthy other than the obesity, then you and your veterinarian can tailor a diet and exercise plan to suit your cat’s needs. Cats need to lose weight very slowly or they could develop Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver disease). This could be as slow as 1 pound per month, so talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate amount of weight for your cat to be losing.
Simply feeding your cat less of the food it is currently eating may not be the answer to your cat’s weight problem. The cat’s new diet should keep all of the nutrients the cat needs to thrive while discarding the ingredients that have little or no benefit to the cat. Getting the results you want may require switching to a more nutrient rich food (higher protein, lower carbohydrates). You may also have to stop free-feeding and feed scheduled meals throughout the day.
Don’t forget the importance of physical activity. Obese cats are often very lazy. Engaging your cat in vigorous play for 20 minutes per day could help tremendously. Exercise will increase your cat’s metabolic rate, burn calories, reduce appetite, and even help to change the composition of your cat’s body.
Tips & Tricks for Beating Obesity in Cats
It will take real commitment to help an obese cat lose weight. Stay strong and don’t give in to those pitiful “feed me even though it isn’t time yet” faces and you will be doing your cat a world of good. Here are some tips to help you:
- Use affection and attention rather than treats to reward your cat. Treats are often empty calories. Cats love attention and affection too! If you must give treats, use small, nutrient-rich treats.
- Close the cat in another room when people are eating so that it will not get a hold of any human food.
- Consider getting a second cat if you only have one. Giving your cat a playmate will help it to get some much-needed exercise.
- Rather than feeding your cat with the recommended feeding sizes on the cat food packaging, count calories. The recommended feeding portions are often too large.
- Make diet food a little more appetizing by adding a little taste of salmon juice or Omega-3 fatty acids. Warming the food may help as well.
- Move the food dish away from the cat’s favorite sleeping areas. This will require the cat to walk a little further to get to the dish. You may have to play “find the food dish” and move the dish around the house frequently.
- Weigh the cat every month and adjust your plan as necessary with your veterinarian.
- Most importantly, don’t give up and don’t give in! Giving in might please your cat for the moment, but it may cause great pain in the long run.