Cats are adorable so their random act of cuteness may force you into pampering them with treats. However, now it's been proven that fat cats are not actually healthy cats. Pampering your cats with treats is a positive reinforcement method to improve their behavior but overdoing it poses real health dangers.
You might be seeing it as a kindness to overfeed your cat but you are killing her with kindness. An article by Kathryn Michel and Margie Scherk, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, discusses the serious health concerns caused by obesity in cats: an obese cat is almost four times as likely to get diabetes as a normal-weight cat, and more likely to suffer from other problems such as urinary tract disease and lameness.
They point out that just ten extra pieces of kibble a day, over and above what the cat needs, will cause a 12% increase in weight over the course of a year. Many owners are not very good at recognizing that their cats are overweight.
A typical cat should weigh about 4.5kg. Michel and Scherk adapt figures from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention that scale up cat weight gain to human dimensions. For example, a cat that weighs 6.8kg – about 50% more than it should – is equivalent to a weight of 98.9kg (218lbs) for a 5’4” woman, or 115.2kg (254lbs) for a 5’9”man.
Apart from using accurate scales, you should also look at the shape of your cat. The waistline should be visible, as should a tummy-tuck, and you should be able to feel the cat’s ribs.
So what should you do if your cat is overweight and obese?
Portion control is obviously part of the solution.
A cat that is a little overweight should have a fixed amount of regular food, while very overweight and obese cats should be fed a special weight-loss diet to ensure they still get enough nutrients. Ask your vet for advice.
Many people use approximate measures for food, and an accurate cup measure, or weighing the food, would be better.
Keeping a food diary of everything the cat eats will help you stick to your plan. Remember to include products designed for dental health, as they also have calories.
Michel and Scherk say you can continue to give your cat treats, since it makes the cat happy, but should reduce the amount of kibble to take account of calories from treats.
To lose weight, a cat needs around 60-70% of the calories that it would need to maintain its weight. A substantial weight loss that does not reach normal weight will still have health benefits, so owners of very obese cats should not feel disheartened – they can still make a difference.
The frequency of feeding is not the only factor for obesity in cats but the quality of food is equally important. Nowadays, even the most highly-touted commercial cat foods have poor nutritional value.
Another contributing factor is not enough activity, especially in cats that are not free-roaming (i.e. indoors-only or with access to an enclosed balcony/garden).
To know how to prevent or fix cat obesity, you must first know the causes of feline obesity.
Causes of Obesity in Cats
Feline obesity can be caused by a number of reasons and often it is a combination of more than one reason.
The single most common reason that adversely affects feline health is high-carbohydrate dry food that is high in rich calories but is short in meat protein. Cats need muscle meat proteins for healthy muscle growth such as fish, turkey, chicken, rabbit, etc. Experts agree that cats are quintessential Atkins species that implies high-carbonate diet is not only irrational and unhealthy for them but also deadly.
You also need to keep a check on these factors:
1. Not to Free-Feed Dry Food
Free-feeding is a common practice in households with dual income parents. As they are often not home to feed the cats, they choose free-fall dry food feeders. Ideally, your cat needs to be fed 3-4 times a day with high quality canned food or freeze-dried food.
Fortunately, for such pet owners, there are portion-controlled feeders made available. If you have breeds like Persian kittens, then you must get such feeders as Persians need to have a strict portioned diet.
2. Insufficient Exercise or Playtime
Cat caregivers agree to the fact that obesity among cats who have free access to outdoors is minimal. Climbing on trees, chasing around and jumping over the fence provide plenty of exercises. It might not be safer for city cats to be allowed run aloof as a solution for their weight problems.
Instead, supplies like climbing towers, interactive toys and scratching posts can be helpful in keeping their weight in check. There are other safer outdoor alternatives too like walking your cat on a leash or building an outdoor enclosure.
3. Hypothyroidism in Cats
Rare but still a cause, hypothyroidism can cause cats to become overweight. Fortunately, with thyroxine supplementation, such obesity can be turned around quickly.
What Diseases Develop in Obese Cats?
Just as in humans, obesity in cats in itself is less of a concern but the serious diseases that it predisposes felines is the actual threat.
Overweight cats are at high risks of developing Arthritis, diabetes and Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Disease). These diseases not only reduce the quality of life for felines but also reduce their life expectancy. Other than these there are several other health conditions that are linked to morbid obesity in a cat.
As a cat parent, it is your responsibility to deeply consider what we have shared with you and take the necessary steps to turn your cat into a slim, active feline.
If you have any concerns about your cat's weight or diet, or simply want to know if your cat is a healthy weight, speak to your veterinarian.