Keep cats healthy by preventing and reducing obesity

Shelley Skopit, DVM
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Park Animal Hospital, Norwalk and Darien, Connecticut

There is an ongoing trend that we are seeing in veterinary medicine. Cats are getting heavier and heavier. Recent studies have shown that upwards of 50% of the feline population is overweight. As with people, overweight cats have an increased risk of such conditions as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, hepatic lipidosis, breathing problems, among others. These health problems can all contribute to a shorter life expectancy. There are many factors that contribute to obesity including diet, exercise and owner awareness.

Do

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feed your cat a good quality food
feed your cat an appropriate portion size
feed a mix of wet and dry foods
increase the amount of calories burned
Don't

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over feed your cat
let your indoor cat become a couch potato
cheap out on cat food
be in denial that your pet has a weight problem
Do

Do feed your cat a good quality food

Veterinary nutrition has a come a long way. We now have a large variety of good quality cat foods available to us. Many of these products are designed for certain life stages, such as kitten, adult and senior. As with most things in this world, you get what you pay for. Higher quality foods will contain higher quality ingredients and nutrients, thus providing better nutrition for your pet.

Do feed your cat an appropriate portion size

Most people don’t realize how much smaller their cats are than themselves. As a result we often feed them way too much food. When you add treats on top of their normal (typically hefty) portions, a huge percentage of cats are consuming way too many calories. It is difficult if not impossible to establish a universally accepted amount of food per day that should be consumed. Size, age and physical activity play an important role in how many calories your kitty will require. For example, an outdoor cat is going to burn a lot more calories than his similar-sized indoor counterpart who goes from the couch to the “all you can eat buffet” in the kitchen, then back to the couch.

Do feed a mix of wet and dry foods

Many people feed their cats dry food exclusively because it’s easier, and they just top off the bowl as needed. However, this is not recommended. Cats are carnivores by nature and their bodies, accordingly, are designed to eat a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet. Dry foods tend to be higher in carbohydrates, while wet or canned foods are typically higher in protein. Lowering carbohydrates and increasing protein levels may be beneficial for both weight loss and maintenance in many of our feline friends. Ask your veterinarian about an acceptable diet for your pet during your next visit.

Do increase the amount of calories burned

Just as with humans, cats must have their daily caloric intake restricted in order to lose or maintain a good healthy weight. In the wild, cats are burning calories looking for, hunting and capturing their next meal, and don’t have the “all you can eat” option that their indoor counterparts enjoy. Because of this difference in lifestyle, many indoor (and some outdoor) cats put on weight from a combination of lack of exercise and overeating.

Don't

Do not over feed your cat

You may be feeding Leo the most expensive premium cat food in the world, but if you’re giving him too much, the result will be an overweight cat. Adding treats to his already overfilled food dish compounds the problem. Talk to your veterinarian about portion control. They can help you choose the right type of food and determine the proper amount to ensure a trim and healthy kitty.

Do not let your indoor cat become a couch potato

Not only is exercise important for your cat, but mental stimulation is equally important for them, too. Among the simple things you can do to help your indoor cat lose weight and stay fit, is feeding them in different locations or hiding their food. This helps mimic hunting and searching for food, which is instinctively a part of their behavior. In addition, encourage them to play with cat toys or engage in laser pointer chases that will not only increase their physical activity, but also serves as an ideal bonding experience with your pet.

Do not cheap out on cat food

Just like with us, lower quality “junk food” is a major contributor to a growing feline obesity problem. Shop for food with high quality ingredients, and feed a healthy balance of both canned and dry foods. If you are unsure on what you should be feeding, consult your veterinarian for help.

Do not be in denial that your pet has a weight problem

Make it a point to determine how heavy your cat is and what an ideal weight should be for him or her. The longer Fluffy is carrying extra weight, the harder it will be to get off those extra pounds. Your veterinarian can go over the ideal weight range for your kitty and how to achieve and maintain it. Most cats can be easily weighed at home by weighing yourself on a standard household scale, then again with you holding your cat -- then subtracting the difference. If you cat refuses to be held long enough for this, measuring weight can also be accomplished by using a cat carrier and a luggage scale.

Summary

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Many chronic diseases veterinarians see in adult and mature cats can be prevented by addressing weight management, diet and activity early in life. By keeping feline obesity under control, your four-legged friend will live a happier, healthier life. Consult your veterinarian at your annual or semi-annual visits, both on nutrition and what a healthy body weight should be for your cat. They can also screen for early signs of chronic weight-related problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. Because every cat is different, weight loss and management programs should be tailored to the individual. Your veterinarian can help you by providing important insight and tips for preventing obesity, while monitoring the overall health of your furry loved one.

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