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
We are killing our cats by overfeeding them. The following factors contribute to creating this obesity epidemic:
Free choice feeding
This is 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 two or three small meals a day.
Dry food, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, is the equivalent of junk food for cats. Feeding dry food to cats is akin to feeding sugared cereals to kids.
Cats are obligate carnivores who need meat (protein) in their diet not only to thrive, but to survive. Nature did not intend our cats to consume carbs. Unlike other mammals, cats don’t have amylase, the enzyme required to begin the process of digesting carbohydrates, in their saliva. Instead, they metabolize carbs into stored fat. Dry cat food, even the grain-free varieties, is very high in carbohydrates
Lack of exercise
Even though cats have a reputation for sleeping all day, they need opportunities to exercise, which, for our house cats, means they need an enriched environment that allows them to run and play.
How to get your cat to lose weight
If your cat is at a healthy weight, the tips below will help her stay healthy. If your cat is overweight or obese, they will help her slim down in a healthy way.
A word of caution: if your cat is seriously obese, make sure that you allow her to loose weight slowly. When food intake is cut too quickly in obese cats, they can develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease,) a potentially life threatening condition.
Stop leaving food out 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 an average size cat is about equal to the size of a mouse. Manufacturer directions regarding portion size are usually higher than what your cat really needs.
Eliminate dry food from your cat’s diet
Do not feed any dry food, not even as a treat. Some cat guardians are concerned that dry food is necessary to keep cat’s teeth clean, which is a myth that unfortunately is perpetuated by many veterinarians. The theory behind this myth is that by chewing on hard kibble, tartar is scraped off the teeth. If this were true, wouldn’t dentists tell us to chew on hard pretzels? Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.
Feed a meat based raw or canned 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.
Play with your cat
Playtime is not only a great way to keep your cat trim and fit, it’s also a wonderful way to spend quality time together.
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 lose weight now!