Believe it or not obesity in cats is very common. Cats – the ultimate lazy pet in many people’s eyes. Known to sleep for up to a whopping 20 hours a day, our domestic fury friends have it easy. For this reason many cats are prone to obesity. Indeed, one study conducted in 2011 discovered that over 50% of pet cats were classed as obese making it a major problem in our pets.
In the wild our cats ancestors would hunt when they needed to; spending the majority of their day resting to conserve energy. As opportunistic feeders this is essential so that they can make the most of any prey they come across.
Of course, all our pet cats have to do for their food is walk up to their bowl, which hardly requires any energy expenditure. Additionally, many cats are now kept indoors due to the dangers of outside living which further reduces the exercise they take. With weight gain in cats appearing to be more acceptable than weight gain in dogs, presumably because they are seen as independent and prone to doing their own thing anyway, it is a never ending problem yet it brings with it dangerous health concerns.
So how do you tell if your cat is overweight, and what can you do about it?
The Problem with Obesity in Cats and other animals
Obesity in cats causes many of the same problems seen in people. The excess weight can place additional strain on the joints, leaving them more susceptible to arthritis, and place strain on major organs such as the heart. It can also leave your cat prone to weight related illnesses such as diabetes. On a more cosmetic level, an overweight cat will struggle to groom itself and can have a lackluster coat. However, the most serious problem is that ultimately an overweight cat will have a shortened lifespan.
How to tell if your cat is overweight?
To determine whether or not your cat is overweight you will need to look at their body condition. You shouldn’t be able to see their ribs, but with slight pressure you should be able to push down and feel them. If you can’t, and they are covered in a layer of fat, then your cat is overweight!
The same technique can be applied to the spine. When you cat moves, see if there is any fat hanging down from the abdomen. In very obese cats this can touch the floor when they are standing! Looking at them from above, there should also be a ‘nipped in’ area just behind the ribs which is their waist. A cat without a waist is also a fat cat!
Help my cat is overweight! What should I do?
Unlike dogs, you can’t simply take your cat out for a walk and burn off the pounds; yet there are other things you can do to encourage them to lose weight.
The aim is for them to burn off more calories than they take in and this will result in the weight loss. Despite being unable to take them for walks, you can encourage your cat to play. Most cats will love chasing a piece of string, although if they are very overweight they may only bat it with a paw to start with! Use catnip filled toys, toys mice, scratching posts and anything else you can think of to encourage them to move. Treat balls filled with some of their dinner can encourage them to work for their food, as they have to move the ball around for the food to fall out.
After exercise, the next step is to look at their food intake. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they can only eat meat. Sadly you cannot put your cat on a fruit and vegetables based diet to lose weight! What you can do it look at how often you feed them and portion control.
Free feeding, where food is left down all day, encourages weight gain. While it can work well for senior cats who need to eat little and often, if your cat is overweight it is better that they receive two or three individual portions instead. Look at the food you are using and check you are feeding the correct amount for your cats size; cut it down if you need to. Reduce the number of treats you give your cat too, especially foods high in fat such as cream or cheese. Use normal cat treats only and feed sparingly.
If after cutting the food down your cat still doesn’t lose any weight, there are several weight control diets manufactured that you can try. The key thing is that although you want your cat to lose weight, it should be a steady and controlled weight loss. Do not starve them!
Ultimately, as your cat loses weight you are likely to see their energy levels increase; although this is age and health dependent too. Remember too that kittens should rarely be, or need to be, on a diet as they need adequate nutrition to grow. If you are worried about your kittens weight speak to a vet before changing their diet.
Obesity is cats is becoming an increasing problem, and the same can be said of people and our other pets. However, they cannot raid the fridge and it is our responsibility to feed them the correct diet!