percentage of overweight or obese cats in recent decades

Did you know that a staggering 53% of America’s cats are considered overweight or obese? This trend has been on a disturbing increase, and mirrors the equally disturbing increase in human obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 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:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis, joint problems and and torn or strained ligaments
  • Heart and respiratory problems
  • Gastro-interstinal and digestive problems
  • Compromised immune system
  • Increased risk during anesthesia and surgery

There are several factors that contribute to weight gain in cats:

  • Free choice feeding.  This has been the single biggest factor in causing obesity in cats.  Free choice feeding means that food is left out for the cat at all times, which goes completely against the cat’s natural habit of being a hunter who may only eat one, maybe two meals a day.
  • Carbohydrates.  Unlike other mammals, cats don’t have Amylase, the enzyme required to begin the process of digesting carbohydrates, in their saliva.  Nature did not intend our cats to consume carbs.  They metabolize carbs into stored fat.  Unfortunately, most commercially available dry cat food is very high in carbohydrates, contributing to this problem.
  • Lack of exercise.  As we all know, our cats spend most of their day sleeping.
  • Treats.  For most of us, giving treats is one way we show our cats that we love them.

How can we counteract these factors and help our cats maintain a healthy weight?

  • Stop leaving food out for your cat at all times.  Feeding two small meals a day, and feeding “normal” portions can go a long way toward helping your kitty loose and maintain her weight.   A normal size portion for a cat is about equal to the size of a mouse.  Don’t follow manufacturer directions when it comes to portion size – they’re all much higher than what your cat really needs.
  • Feed a meat based diet.  This is consistent with the needs of a carnivore.  There are many quality commercial raw and canned diets available that are high in protein (meat) and free of grains (carbs). 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.
  • Eliminate dry food from your cat’s diet. Dry foods, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, are the equivalent of junk food for cats.
  • Play with your cat.  This is a great way for the two of you to spend quality time together and to get your cat some exercise.
  • Limit or, ideally, eliminate treats.  If you absolutely must feed treats, look for grain-free treats that are high in protein, such as freeze dried chicken, and give only a few.

Don’t let your cat become a statistic. Keep your cat at a healthy weight, and if your cat is overweight, start helping her loose weight now!

Graphic from CATalyst Council


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13 Comments on Feline Obesity: Don’t Let Your Cat Become a Statistic

  1. Holy cow-53 percent-yikes-I measure out their food and as much as they beg I say no-especially with the little one-her lungs struggle as it is they do not need to be breathing harder because of extra weight.

  2. This is an interesting post and worth considering. I certainly know a few people who have very overweight cats. However, I have had cats for most of my life, all have been “self-feeding”, and none of them have been overweight. I have never fed them Friskies-type cheaper brands, but my first cats had Iams back when it was the best commercial food available, and despite the carbs they didn’t balloon up, or overeat. Now I feed my current cats a grain-free dry with some grain-free wet now and then as a supplement/treat. They are very healthy, with thick, soft coats and lots of energy (and perfect bloodwork.)

    I think it’s possible to become too well-meaning in this – if you can make raw food and have the money and time, I say, “go for it!” And yes, there are a lot of great grain-free wet foods out there now. But to say all dry food is bad… my experience leads me to say I can’t agree. It depends on the cat and the circumstance.

    • I’m glad your cats are doing well on what you’re feeding them. If you’re going to feed dry, the grain-free brands are certainly a better choice.

    • It’s like smoking, not ALL smokers will develop lung cancer and not ALL smokers will die early. But the risk is there, so why take the chance? Of course lots of people can’t feed raw or canned for various reasons, but I believe it is important for us, the consumers, to understand the possible consequences of feeding kibble to our cats.

  3. What do you do when your cat will only eat one brand/kind of food? When my cat was still with the rescue organization i adopted her from, they had to buy her her own bag of food, because she would not eat any of the other foods they had, including wet food. Once the vet tried giving her wet food and she practically went insane trying to get away. I would love to feed her what is best for her, but she refuses to eat anything but “her brand”.

    • I respect veterinarians’ experience and education in most areas of animal health. But unless they’ve taken the time to study nutrition in an unbiased forum, they may not be the best source of advice for species-appropriate food for cats. At veterinary schools, they receive very little education on this subject, and what little they do receive is mostly sponsored by the larger pet-food companies. Furthermore, that education is mostly devoted to product pushing and not information.

      The number of veterinarians who do take the time to learn more about feline nutrition from sources other than the very companies who sell the food is increasing, and I admire the ones who do. It’s hard enough to keep on top of medical advances, but the vets that ask questions beyond what they’ve learned in school and from pet food compnaies understand that good health starts with the foundation of good nutrition.

      I’d encourage you to do your own research about feline nutrition. You’ll find lots of resources on this site, and there are others, such as the Feline Nutrition Education Society, that also have fact-based resources.

      Take a look at the label on your Science Diet dry food. And then consider that the cat is an obligate carnivore who needs meat in her diet to thrive. Not by-products, not fillers, not corn, not soy. You can find more detail about why dry food is so bad for cats here: http://consciouscat.net/2010/04/05/the-truth-about-dry-cat-food/

  4. My baby girl Batman has recently put on a lot of weight. When my boyfriend and I first got her, she was sickly, and the runt of the litter. Batman is now much larger in height and length than her sister Two Face, but it’s the weight thing that makes me uneasy. Compared to her sister, who is a very toned and active cat, she is heavy and really lazy.

    My boyfriend suggested that we put her on a diet, or at least get her to be as active as her sister. His solution was to buy a Nerf gun that shoots out lime green balls and shoot them around our living room for her to chase. He’s never shot at her, only over her head and past her. It’s working out as well as he had hoped, and I’m currently feeding both her and her sister two small meals a day. Once in the morning when my mister leaves for work, and once at night before we head to bed.

    I think our major problem is that Batman knows how to open the jar to their snacks. We’ve had to start keeping it in our room because Two Face will climb to wherever we leave it and knock it down to Batman so she can open it.

    • More exercise and smaller meals works for cats just as well as it works for humans when it comes to weight loss, Elizabeth. Two small meals a day is also going to help, especially if those two meals are a grain-free canned or raw diet.

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