Feline obesity has continued to increase over the past years. Statistics by the Association for Pet Obesity in 2017 show that a staggering 60% of America’s cats are considered obese. Pet insurance company Nationwide reports that nearly 20 percent of its members’ claims in 2017 were for conditions and diseases related to pet obesity, marking a 24 percent increase over the last eight years.

Definition of “obese”

Obesity is generally viewed as body weight that is 20 percent or more above normal weight. Obesity is more common in middle-aged cats. Neutered and indoor cats are at the highest risk of becoming obese, since they often lack physical activity.

Overweight and obese cats will almost always become sick cats

Overweight cats are prone to the same diseases as overweight humans.

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis, joint problems and strained or torn ligaments
  • Heart and respiratory problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Gastro-intestinal and digestive problems
  • Urinary tract disease
  • Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease)
  • Compromised immune system
  • Increased risk during anesthesia and surgery

It is up to cat parents to prevent cats from becoming overweight or obese

Cats rely on us to provide food, which means they rely on us to make appropriate nutritional choices for them and feed them appropriately sized portions.

Food is not love!

We are doing cats a disservice by overfeeding them, or feeding them the wrong diet. The term “enable” is an overused term in human psychology, but when it comes to overweight or obese cats, it is an appropriate analogy. Cats can’t open the fridge and grab that midnight snack by themselves. Humans enable cats to become overweight and obese.

Help your cat reach and maintain a healthy weight

Stop free choice feeding

Don’t leave food out for your cat at all times. Feeding two or three small meals a day, and feeding normal portions can go a long way toward helping your kitty loose and maintain her weight. Don’t follow manufacturer directions when it comes to portion size – they’re generally 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).

Eliminate all dry food

Dry foods, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, are the equivalent of junk food for cats.

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 meat-based treats, and give only a few.

Help your cat exercise

Playing with your cat is a great way for the two of you to spend quality time together and to help kitty lose and maintain her weight. Use interactive wand toys to get your cat to run up and down cat trees. Toss toys for her. You can even teach her to fetch.

Safe weight loss for cats

Cats need to lose weight slowly and gradually. “Healthy weight loss is about two ounces a week,” says Dr. Colleran, a feline veterinarian and owner of two cat hospitals. This is especially important for seriously overweight and obese 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.”

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!

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4 Comments on Feline Obesity Continues to Rise in the U.S.

  1. About three weeks ago I switched from free feeding to scheduled meals because one of my cats needs to lose about three pounds. They are currently being fed 4 times each day and I am hoping to get down to three times per day. I am still adjusting the amount of food, as recommended by their vet, to determine the amount that will help the normal cat maintain and help the overweight cat slowly lose. So far they are both exactly where they started, so I am definitely not starving them. My overweight cat, who used to eat all day, sits where the food bowl should be meowing or comes up to me meowing and pawing at me. She does this all day long. I’m assuming that at some point she will learn that although the food is not there all day it will appear at regular times. How long does it typically take for them to adjust to a new routine? Since she is not losing at all I know that I need to cut the amount down a bit, but I am trying to not cause her any more anxiety than I have to. Thank you in advance for any advice.

    • Good for you for helping your kitties lose weight. Yes, your big girl will learn eventually that there will always be food forthcoming and that she doesn’t have to sit by her bowl and cry! Hold the course, I know it can be challenging when you have a persistent complainer like yours.

  2. Feline weight issues and prescription foods
    Most of my research on cat food stemmed from the pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton’s website. All five of my cats ate highly rated canned or dehydrated food such as Ziwi Peak, Life’s Abundance and Honest Kitchen. The food was generally high protein, mostly grain free and they were feed portion-controlled amounts. Now, four of the five cats at age ten are in early Renal Failure. The veterinary solution is a low protein, high carb prescription diet which they have been on for almost a year. The result has been weight gain.
    I read your column daily and appreciate the educational information on raw and/or other species appropriate diets. I suspect that many of your readers have felines with specific dietary needs. The option to feed a raw or premium canned food diet may not possible. For my cats, research points to protein restriction. How can they eat a grain-based diet and not gain weight? Although their portions are at the recommended rate, the high carb diet just leaves them hungry and begging for more. So the problem becomes how do you feed your cats a healthy diet? Do you reduce protein intake, for instance, to help the kidneys but end up with added carbs which just makes them become overweight? Really a catch-22 situtation.
    I think there are probably quite a few of your readers who would welcome an article addressing the difficulties of making wise food choices for their feline companions when health problems are an issue. I would like to think there are alternatives to the mainstream prescription diet foods.

  3. A treat my cats seem to like that contains no carbs is freeze-dried minnows from Big Cat Rescue. I got one of mine to lose about 2# by changing to the minnows. And the money goes to a good cause.

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