Obesity in Cats: What You Need to Know if Your Favorite Feline is Overweight
Obesity is a real concern in humans and pets alike. Being overweight increases the risk of joint pain, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, bladder stones, and bladder inflammation, just to name a few! It also reduces the overall life span of our furry family members. We often show love with food, but if you want to spend as much healthy, quality time with your cat as possible, we need to show this love in other ways!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What is Obesity?
Obesity is defined as excess fatty cell (adipocyte) accumulation. Cats are considered obese when they weigh more than 20% above normal. Cats that weigh 10-19% above their normal weight are considered overweight.
Muscle mass weighs more than fat, so you need to look and feel your cat’s body to assess their body condition score and not just look at the weight scale. Body condition scores are on a 1-5 or 1-9 scale and look at your cat’s body shape from the side, looking down over your cat, and feeling their ribs and back bones. Please see this great handout with descriptions and pictures on how to assess your cat’s body condition score:
Negative Effects of Obesity in Cats
Did you know fat tissue is considered an organ? This organ/fat can secrete pro-inflammatory mediators, lead to chronic inflammation, heart disease, joint pain, reduced insulin release, reduced life span, and reduced serotonin levels. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone and reduced levels will cause an increase in appetite.
How to Prevent Obesity in Your Cat
Feeding a high-quality diet in proper proportions and keeping your cat active is key to prevent them from becoming overweight or obese. All cat foods have different levels of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and caloric content. Following the guidelines on the bag is a good way to start if your cat isn’t already spayed/neutered. If your cat is spayed/neutered, they require fewer calories and will typically need to be fed less than the recommendation on the bag of food. Many vet clinics have a staff member trained to help guide you on the best diets and correct volumes to feed your kitty!
Keeping your cat active is very important! Your pet needs to burn off more calories than they take in to lose weight. If your cat is a couch potato, be sure to start an exercise routine slowly and work your way up. If your cat will walk on a leash, you can certainly walk her outside! Supervised time in the yard for your cat to explore and possibly hunt lizards or other small prey will help them burn calories and provide mental stimulation. If your cat is indoors only, getting them to play with a laser pointer, feather toys, and provide indoor enrichment can help them lose weight.
For more ideas to keep your indoor feline active, check out the Indoor Pet Initiative website!
Helping Your Pet Lose Weight
If your pet is older and obese, a thorough physical exam and blood work is recommended before starting an exercise routine. Your pet may have underlying issues like joint pain, heart disease, and high blood pressure that should be addressed before beginning an exercise routine or diet plan.
Other than exercise, reducing caloric intake is the other key to help your cat lose weight. There are a variety of prescription diets that can help pets lose weight. Some are high in fiber; others are high in protein and low in carbs similar to Adkins style diets. Cats tend to lose weight better on the higher protein, low carb diets. However, if your cat has an underlying disease like Chronic Kidney Failure, this may not be the best type of diet for your cat.
Be sure everyone in the household is aware of the diet plan, and have one designated person be responsible for feeding all the meals. This reduces the risk of your cat being fed multiple times by different family members. Don’t forget cat treats, table scraps, and access to other pet’s food all contain calories and need to be eliminated or worked into the daily caloric amount your pet is allowed.
A Word of Caution…
Cats can also develop a condition called Hepatic Lipidosis. This occurs when the food intake is restricted too much at once and the body starts to deposit fat in the liver. This can lead to liver failure. Hepatic lipidosis can occur in as few as 3 days! If your cat isn’t eating well or doesn’t like the new weight loss diet, be sure to let your vet know immediately.
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