What is feline obesity, how can we prevent the condition, and what can we do to help our fat cats to slim down?
by Lori Horwedel, client educator at The Cat Doctor, Philadelphia, PA.
Feline obesity is a growing epidemic among our indoor cat population. Many people believe that “a fat cat is a happy cat” or that fat cats are cute, but the health problems associated with overweight cats are anything but cute. Obese and overweight cats are at a greater risk of diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, liver disease, skin disease, and an increased chance of having issues with litterpan habits. According to a recent study, nearly 50% of our pet cats are obese, and nearly 70% are overweight!
Cats’ metabolic rates drop by about 50% after they’ve been spayed or neutered, so it is important to begin monitoring your cat’s food intake and keeping an eye on her waistline around this time. In the wild, cats would be eating small meals several times daily, and in-between meals, they would be expending energy in small bursts throughout the day hunting and stalking. (Only one in about every fifteen hunting expeditions would result in a meal.). Housecats often eat out of boredom, so leaving food out all day is not ideal for some cats. We recommend small meals several times daily, using toys the dispense food so that your cat can “hunt” their meals, and most importantly, remembering that food and affection are not the same thing.
Feeding multiple cats
Feeding multiple cats can be tricky. Cats in the wild are solitary hunters and eaters. Eating near each other can be a source of stress for felines. We recommend separate feeding stations for multiple cats. Cats enjoy eating on vertical surfaces as well–height means a good vantage point for “protecting” their meal. Cat trees make excellent feeding stations for young, active cats. We also recommend using tools to allow normal-weight cats to access food where overweight cats cannot: cutting a narrow entrance in a cardboard box to create a slim cat feeding station, using bungee cords to allow a door to open only wide enough for slender cats, or feeding up on a cat tree that an obese cat can’t climb are some creative ways to regulate who has access to food. (It must be noted that cats are creative as well, and that some monitoring of the overweight cat will be required to make sure he isn’t sneaking food from these areas we think he cannot access.)
My cat is overweight, what do I do?
Before starting your cat on a diet, consult your veterinarian. The most recent studies suggest that a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet, especially one involving canned food, is best for dieting cats. Often nicknamed “The Catkins Diet,” it can help cats lose body fat while maintaining their muscle mass. Your veterinarian should help you figure out how much to feed, aiming for a goal of about 1% weight loss per week. You will also need to make sure your cat is getting short bursts of exercise throughout the day to burn off calories and mimic their natural need to hunt. Regular weigh-ins are important to make sure your cat is losing weight safely; rapid weight loss can lead to liver disease in obese kitties. Your cat should be weighed at least monthly, if not weekly, during the weight loss process.
The Cat Doctor is a full service medical and surgical facility exclusively for cats. Established in 1983, in the Art Museum area of Philadelphia, the hospital has served the Philadelphia community well for over twenty years, providing excellent comprehensive and compassionate care.
The Cat Doctor works with local rescues and animal welfare organizations, and is well known to readers who followed the case of Clark Kent. In cooperation with rescue group City Kitties, The Cat Doctor cared for Clark after he was found, cold, wet, abandoned and near death, and provided photos and updates for his thousands of supporters and well-wishers.
The practice also maintains an active Facebook page, where visiting cats and staff mascot and blood donor kitty Diamond get their pictures and updates posted regularly.