I am always amazed, and a little disheartened, when clients are surprised I tell them their cat is obese. Unfortunately fat cats are becoming more and more common in our society. The lazy indoor lifestyle and free access to large amounts of food sadly really packs on the love handles for our lovely feline companions. Since fat cats are common, people tend to think it is the norm. Please, help me get the word out that it is NOT normal, it is NOT cute, to have a fat cat. Words like “unhealthy” and “sad” should replace “normal” and “cute.”
“A fat cat is a happy cat” is simply not true, and that is a phrase that really gets my goat. Obesity, in fact and to the contrary, predisposes cats to many medical issues and contributes to a decreased quality of life. It is the same for obesity in humans. Life spans are shortened. Liver disease is more likely to occur. Diabetes mellitus is more likely to occur. Obesity is hard on the heart, especially if a hidden underlying heart condition exists (which is common). As cats age, arthritis is often a problem (many times under-diagnosed, which is a whole other discussion). Extra pounds to carry on sore joints makes life that much more miserable for a cat. Asthmatic cats are more difficult to manage when they are obese. Obesity decreases flexibility, which in turn decreases self-grooming and the hair coat and sometimes anal glands can suffer. Obesity tends to make cats feel less like playing and exercising, so even more calories are stored as fat and the obesity worsens in a sad downward spiral.
So! How to prevent/treat obesity in our sweet kitties? In the human world, ever popular nouveau/fancy/trendy diet ideas have sprung about in attempt mold our human population into leaner and healthier beings. The mantra underlying all that hoopla always remains the same however…simply EAT LESS AND EXERCISE MORE. So it is the same for our feline friends. So if you’re feeding free choice, stop. Limit and measure out that food every day. And if your cat sleeps all day, get him/her moving (farther than just the walk to the food bowl). Yes it really is that simple! But if you dare to read further, I have a few additional, specific recommendations that may help.
1. Canned food. Cats are obligate carnivores; they must eat meat to survive. High protein foods help build and maintain all that lithe-y muscle mass we so love to watch in action and stroke under that soft fur. Canned foods have higher amounts of protein and fewer carbohydrates than dry foods. Dry foods are high in carbohydrates which cats really don’t need, and this causes weight gain over time. Also, the increase in moisture consumption with canned food is good for your cat’s urinary tract (win/win!). Cats tend to have a low thirst drive and don’t drink as much water as they should, so they will stay better hydrated by having water with every meal in a canned food form. Dry food has its place (I’m a big fan of the Royal Canin dry Dental Diet, for example), but it should be limited, and the ratio of canned to dry food should be increased to obtain a lean body condition in your cat. Check out catinfo.org for more information on the importance of moisture in your cat’s diet, and tips on getting “dry food addicted” cats to start eating canned.
2. Exercise tip. Starting with as little as 5 minutes a day can make a big difference over time. Get them to do a sprint or two up and down the hall or up and down the stairs. Sometimes it is hard to get the older, lazier, fatter cat to get moving again. Go slow and try to use really enticing toys. Laser pointers can be fun to watch, but some will grow tired of them if they realize they really can’t ever get it. One of my most favorite cat toy inventions is the Neko Fly. It has a longer than typical wand and several different interchangeable toys on a string to attach to it which vary from the typical furry mouse to a dragon-fly type looking insect. CATS LOVE THEM! We now carry them on our shelves, come on in and get one and get your fat cat running around, he or she will thank you down the road.
3. Be patient. An obese cat should lose weight very slowly, over years. I don’t want anybody making their cat lose weight drastically- this can be detrimental. Think gradual. Bring your kitty in for an exam soon, and after we weigh him/her, we will give you a specific goal for next time. We may recommend bringing your cat in every couple months if we are really trying for a weight loss program so that we can monitor progress carefully and adjust our dietary and exercise recommendations as needed.
Good luck and happy weight loss!
Xenia Zawadzkas DVM