Feline Obesity: Is My Cat Overweight?
Most of us have heard about the obesity epidemic in America, but did you know it’s not just people who are gaining an alarming amount of weight? Recent studies show that between 40 – 50% of pet cats are overweight. Just looking around at your cat and at your neighbor’s cats, you might come to believe the percentage is much higher than that. Think of this, if your cat is “only” 3 pounds overweight, that would be like if you were 30 pounds overweight! Notice, there is no “only” before the 30 pounds, and the same is true of a cat that is three pounds overweight. They need to get that weight off!
I’ll admit, my own beloved cat, Kona, is overweight at 15 pounds, she is probably on the light side of obese. Yes, I have her on a high protein diet. Yes, I measure her food. Apparently I don’t measure it into small enough portions! Plus, who can really turn down that cute kitty face when she so badly wants a treat, and there you are, in the kitchen making a tuna sandwich? This is especially bad, considering I once had a job in which I met with veterinarian’s to discuss the prevalence of pet obesity, and all of the other medical conditions it can lead to or exacerbate.
According to Dr. Annette LePere, Medical Director at Rolling Hills Animal Hospital in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, “Excess weight and obesity can lead to a variety of health problems, ranging from arthritis to cardiac disease.” These include liver disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, skin conditions, and more. Getting your kitty to slim down is important to help avoid future medical issues (and vet bills). Thankfully, since your kitty doesn’t have opposable thumbs, you can control her diet, no matter how sneaky or devious she might be.
In a perfect world, everyone with an obese cat would go to their veterinarian’s office prior to putting their cat on a diet. However, just like people who should see a doctor before starting a new weight loss program, very few do. There are many important reasons to visit your cat’s vet regularly, and I would counsel that this is one of them. Your vet can run tests to ensure other medical issues aren’t causing or being caused by your pet’s weight. The staff can recommend foods that work, and give you a “diet plan” and other tools. They can give your pet a body condition score, and educate you on what the ideal body condition looks like for your cat. It’s probably more slender than what you imagine.
If you choose not to visit your veterinary professional first, then at least follow a few steps that have proven to work. First, weigh your cat. This is easily done by weighing yourself on your bathroom scale. Next, pick up kitty and weigh again. Subtract your weight from the second weight, and you have kitty’s weight. Write down and record your kitty’s weight. Ideally, you have a scale that measures to the 10th of a pound (most digital scales do), because feline weight loss is better measured that way. Next, take a look at the analysis of the food you currently feed your cat. I feed Kona a diet with 50% minimum crude protein.
That is important because cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must have protein in their diets. They process carbs differently, so the higher the protein level, the better. Also, increased levels of protein will keep your cat full longer, so she won’t be as hungry even if she’s eating less. If your cat’s diet is less than 40% protein, you might want to consider making a change to increase your chance of weight loss success. There are many great, high protein diets out there that are highly palatable. Some vets recommend switching to canned food only, and some say that’s not necessary, so you might want to check with your vet to get their opinion on it.
There are many commercially available weight control pet foods on the market, but it’s not necessary to change your cat’s food if you don’t feel comfortable with that. You WILL have to feed her less, though. Measuring is very important. You do not want to starve your cat, just make slow progress toward an ideal weight. For many household cats, that is around 8 – 9 pounds, but that varies greatly based on breed and body style. Again, this is one more reason why a trip to the vet when starting a weight loss program is important. They have all the tools to help you accomplish your goal with as little angst as possible. And believe me, if you have a hungry cat in the house, there will be angst!
Your goal should be for your kitty to lose between .5 to 2% of her body weight each week. Any less, and you aren’t really affecting a change. Any more, and it’s too drastic a change and unhealthy for your cat. The first couple of weeks are when you will find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s perfectly fine to tweak what you are doing to move toward success.
Try to cut back 10% to 15% of what you have been feeding. Measure the food, and write down how much you are feeding on the same piece of paper where you wrote down her weight. This will evolve into your cat’s weight loss record. Also, be sure to date it, so you know to weigh again in a week. On the second weigh day, make note of any weight loss (or gain!), and revise your kitty’s portions accordingly. Also, write down any changes on the weight loss record, and so on.
Be sure everyone in the house knows kitty is on a diet and shouldn’t be fed every time she indicates she is hungry. It is a good idea to put the weight loss plan on the refrigerator, so you have a daily reminder of how much you are feeding.
It is very hard to say no to treating kitty when she is purring up against your leg, so just be sure, when you are devising a slim down plan, to include a few calories for treats in the plan. I already give Kona treats, very likely too many, so I’ve purchased some low calorie treats (1.5 calories per treat), and plan to give her fewer of them.
Don’t worry if it is slow going, as long as you are moving in the right direction. If, after one month, your cat hasn’t lost a single pound (or worse, if she has gained weight), it would be a good idea to visit the vet. Remember, a cat is small. She shouldn’t be losing a pound a week. That is too much, too fast. Losing a pound every 3 to 4 weeks is a good goal. Every time you revise your cat’s diet, she may indicate some displeasure and vocalize a bit more, but she’ll get used to the reduced diet within a few days.
Another tip, given to me years ago by Dr. Tom Elston, of T.H.E. Cat Hospital in Tustin, CA, is to vary where your cat is fed, or feed her in different places around the house. Cats naturally hunt their food, and while your pet might not get out into the “wild” very often, they will enjoy using their skill to “hunt” down where you hid the bowl today. And by all means, be sure to increase kitty play time. Isn’t that what we know works? Diet and Exercise? Soon, you will have a happy, healthy, slender kitty.
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