Over the last 20 years there has been an increasing trend toward obesity in cats. The biggest live style change during that time is that many more cats are now indoors exclusively.
A very recent investigation of the body condition of cats presented to veterinary clinics in the US found that 27.5% of 14,270 cats were classified as overweight (Lund et al., J Appl Res Vet Med 2005; 3:88). The percent approached 40% in middle-aged cats.
In Veterinary Medicine we too often quote human research and extrapolate the perceived medical consequences for pets. With obesity, we have a published report (Scarlett and Donoghue Vet Clin Nutr 1996,128) that validates specifically our concerns for obese cats:
- 3.8 times more likely to be diabetic
- 2.7 times more likely to have arthritis
- 1.4 times more likely to have non-allergic skin disease
At the Westgate Pet Clinic we have also observed an increased prevalence of urinary crystal disease, fatty liver disease, and anesthesia complications.
It should be possible for cats to maintain an ideal body weight but almost all cat owners will express some frustration. Here is a list of suggestions that may help:
- Cats eat more by volume then by caloric density. Switch to a prescription diet high in fiber and water. Add water to the dry food or switch to canned food.
- High protein prescription foods and foods with increased L-carnitine help preserve lean body mass. The goal is to lose fat not muscle.
- Cats typically graze at the food bowl. Instead of offering food throughout the day, limit the time food is offered to 4 hours daily. A study suggested that this can even be effective in multi-cat households where one cat has a normal body condition.
- Use food as motivation for physical activity. Two play sessions of 10 minutes daily. Although participation in all play activities should be voluntary, you may eventually be able to offer about half the food in standard feeding dish over 2 meals a day. The remaining food could be offered in the enriched setting.
- Enrich the environment to encourage physical activity. Rotate toys every day to decrease boredom. Cat Dancers, tunnels, large paper bags, boxes, play towers, and careful use of a laser light.
- Our staff would like to accurately monitor your progress. There is never a fee associated with charting your pet’s weight. Typically an initial goal should be to lose 10% of the cat’s current weight over 2-3 months. Keeping up-to-date on annual physical examinations and wellness blood testing are always important in keeping your pet healthy.