Obesity In Cats

When we agreed to adopt Scully, I can honestly say that we did not know what to expect. We knew that he was ‘on the large side’ physically, but we had not seen him for ourselves. Nothing prepared us for the day we went to collect him. We were shocked to find that he weighed around 33 lbs and could barely fit into our large pet carrier!

Forward two years - Scully is still not down to a ‘healthy’ weight according to the recommendations for cats, but he has lost over 10 lbs now and is much healthier. We are pleased that his diet plan is going well and continue to make progress with him.

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There is plenty of information on the causes and possible effects of obesity in cats. As discussed in other articles, the commercial diets that many of us feed our cats do not mimic their natural diet. Evidence shows that this in itself is one of the leading causes of the increasing obesity issue in cats. The popular trend to keep cats indoors well ensures their safety, but it has also resulted in a decrease in their activity levels. When paired with over-feeding or a high carbohydrate diet, this can and most often does lead to dangerous weight gain.

Obesity can be a major factor in many feline diseases and ailments, some of which can be fatal. Arthritis, respiratory problems, and increased risk when using anesthesia are all linked to obesity in cats. It is best to deal with any weight problems before these potential effects have the chance to arise.

Consult Your Trusted Veterinarian Before Starting Any Weight-Loss Program

This is especially true for cats that are very overweight. There is nothing to be ashamed of when considering the health of your pets, but you must be ready to take an honest look at the reasons your cat has become overweight and you must be ready to make some serious changes to both the lifestyle and diet of your cat. The vet can also help you decide on whether your cat is overweight if you are not sure.

Some cats are just naturally bigger than others are and a healthy weight cat does not need any extensive diet changes.

When considering changes to your cat’s diet, it is important to remember that feeding too little can cause as many problems as feeding too much and the frequently fatal liver disease, Hepatic Lipidosis, can be a major issue when cats do not get enough to eat.

Feline diets are not as simple as just eating less food and therefore, your vet should always approve any changes to the amount or type of food in your cat’s diet. Along with your input, your vet knows what is best for your cat based on her individual needs. You should also discuss the topic of which kind of food is best for your cat with your vet although there is a lot of good advice in the referenced articles which may help you make an informed decision.

Determine the Cause of Your Cat's Weight Gain

Before consulting your vet about potential diet changes, you might want to compile a little information about your cat’s normal habits. Start by writing down the times of day you offer food to your cat, the amount given as well as ingested, the types of food you put down, and the times and amount of any special treats, or “people-food”. This information is invaluable when looking at potential causes of weight gain.

When determining the cause in your cat, you will discuss whether the weight gain is the result of an underlying medical problem, overfeeding or environmental circumstances. Once that is determined, you can discuss the many options available regarding food choice. As usual, there will need to be a change over the period to ensure a smooth transition to the new food.

Our vet runs a ‘fat cat clinic’ every 2 weeks. The cats have short appointments where the vet weighs and examines them. Many vets run these clinics free of charge or cheaper than a normal visit for their regular patients.

A scale designed for home use can not show the more subtle changes in body fat and weight that a cat makes, and it can be a little disheartening not to have the more accurate vet-type weigh-ins. Not only do you get the more accurate weight, but you are also getting the added bonus of tips and information made by your vet at these sessions.

It may also be helpful to establish a friendly dialogue with other people who care for an obese cat. They may have ideas and suggestions to offer. Ask if your vet offers these types of ‘clinics’ and if not, suggest that he consider it.

Work with your Veterinarian

Our vet provided us with a weigh-in chart and journal that she updated at each visit. The journal served as a sort of confessional on which we had to confess when we overfed him or didn’t have time to play with him, and we used it to journal when he was just being lazy and wouldn’t play or ripped open a bag of something and fed himself. This along with the instructions below helped us see the weight gain triggers to know where to target his diet and exercise.

  • Feed multiple cats in separate rooms. If you have one cat that does not take well to changes in foods, feed that cat in a separate room from the others until you find food suitable for all of them.
  • Establish a new routine by feeding your cats when you eat. Because, as we all know, a starving cat can be very persuasive in getting some food or, in some cases just take it from your plate or the kitchen counter when you are not looking. Feeding your cats while you are eating will also help to regulate mealtimes.

Feeding several smaller meals throughout the day will keep your cats more satisfied and less likely to beg. It will also help to monitor the amount of food they get and are actually eating.

Offering a smaller amount of food more frequently may allow your cat to finish the meal all at once rather than grazing all day. Raising the food dish may also help to stop cats from gorging on food. It can aid in helping your cat to know when she is full and over time, may help her to stop eating so much food at one time.

Scheduling feeding times can be a challenge, but with a little careful planning, you can find the right routine for you, your family and most importantly, your cat. Since my family was home at differing times during the day, we found that putting his treats into a daily pill dispenser helped us to know when he had been given all his treats for the day. We measured his daily food allowance into containers so we could make sure he did not overeat.

  • Set aside two separate 20-30 minute sessions each day for play/exercise and reward your cat for participating. You can work the calories and fat intake of a few treats into your cat’s daily allowance of food and use treats in play or as an incentive to play.
  • Make sure to discuss Exercise/Playtime with your vet, particularly if your cat is very obese, as the over-exertion caused by extensive play can harm your cat. Calorie intake will need to be adjusted depending on the activity level of your cat.

Types of exercise to strengthen different muscles of your cat:

  • Invest in a good laser toy. Laser games may help your cat to run around and play as well as stretch up the wall to tone the abdomen, and wand or fishing pole-type toys can hold interest long enough to allow her to stretch, jump, run and pounce.
  • Try placing a few pieces of his dry food on separate steps on the staircase or on different levels of the cat tree. This can help to slow down eating and force your cat to work off a few calories.
  • Tie a trailing piece of string or another interesting toy that drags along behind you to your clothing. As you move around the house, this may interest your cat enough to follow you around – and help to keep her moving.v
  • Catnip and honeysuckle toys can give your cat something to play with alone. You may find that after a few months of diet and exercise, the weight loss brings on an increased level of energy in your cat and may make her feel as playful as a kitten!
  • Ensure that all of your cats get playtime together as a group. One of the best forms of exercise is when cats chase each other around the house. As an added benefit, it is good for the other cats too.
  • Simple things can make great cat toys; a cheap bottle of bubbles can keep a cat amused for ages, and we all know how they like to play with normal household items – use that to your advantage before buying expensive toys they may not like. It also helps to regularly change the toys they play with, so they do not get bored with them.

Written by Eithne Whaley

Eithne Whaley is a long-standing team member in TheCatSite.com's forums. She was assisted by TCS former moderator Gaye Flagg in the writing of this article.

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