A survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity in 2012 found that a staggering 58% of America’s cats are overweight or obese. These statistics mirror the equally disturbing increase in human obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one third of adults in the United States are obese.
The serious health problems in cats which result from obesity are the same as in humans:
- Arthritis, joint problems and and torn or strained ligaments
- Heart and respiratory problems
- Gastro-intestinal and digestive problems
- Compromised immune system
- Increased risk during anesthesia and surgery
Because food is so often associated with love, we are, quite literally, killing our cats with kindness. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, a feline veterinarian and owner of two cat practices, has found that “the closer the relationship a guardian has with his or her cats, the more likely a cat is to be obese.”
How cats prefer to eat
Cats are, by nature, solitary hunters who prefer to eat alone. “We think of eating as hospitality,” says Colleran. “Cats don’t.” Cats in the wild will eat multiple small meals a day, and of course, they will hunt down their prey. This is one of the reasons why free choice feeding (leaving food out at all times) is such a bad idea, and a major contributor to the obesity epidemic we’re seeing in cats. If food is available all the time, most cats will eat it.
“Feed as many small meals a day as you can,” says Colleran. “The more (small) meals you feed, the more active cats will be.”
What to feed for weight loss
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need meat not only to survive, but to thrive. The optimal diet for a cat is a properly formulated raw, home-cooked or premium grain-free canned diet. Cats should never eat dry food, even the grain-free dry varieties are too high in carbohydrates. I do not recommend diets marketed as weight-loss diets, especially not the veterinary prescription diets. Most are too high in carbohydrates, and contain by-products and fillers. Eating carbs does not create a feeling of being satiated, only protein can do that.
How much to feed for weight loss
Cats need to lose weight slowly and gradually. “Healthy weight loss is about two ounces a week,” says Dr. Colleran. This is especially important for seriously overweight cats. When food intake is cut too quickly in obese cats, they can develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease,) a potentially life threatening condition.
Dr. Colleran advises to feed 40-50 Kcal per kilogram (1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, 1 pound equals 0.45 kilograms) times the cat’s target weight times 60-70%. This means that if your cat should weigh 10 pounds, she should eat between 108 and 157 Kcal per day.
This is quite a bit less than what the recommendations on a can or bag of food will tell you to feed. As a result, Dr. Colleran spends a lot of time helping her clients separate pet food marketing from medical issues. “Unfortunately, cat food manufacturers give a lot of false information to pet owners,” says Dr. Colleran. Additionally, she says, “many of the prescription diets for weight loss are actually inadequate at maintaining lean body mass.”
Environmental enrichment needs to be part of a weight loss program
Environmental enrichment is critical to ensure successful weight loss. Play offers cats a way to exercise and to keep them burn off energy. Toys that mimic predatory behavior, such as interactive wand toys, are a great way to not only encourage play, but for cat and human to bond. Puzzle toys keep cats mentally challenged.
Supplements to aid with weight loss
Never give supplements for human weight loss to cats. I don’t even consider many of the human weight loss supplements safe for humans, and they certainly won’t be safe for cats.
L-Carnitine has been shown to have positive metabolic effects in cats. L-Lysine may help diminish the loss of lean body mass. Omega-3 supplements have been shown to promote weight loss in humans, and are a good daily supplement for all cats, even healthy cats.
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