The statistics are staggering: 58% of America’s cats are either overweight or obese. This trend has mirrored an equally disturbing increase in obesity among people. Overweight cats are facing the same health risks as humans, and what is almost as disturbing as the statistics themselves is that this problem is created entirely by humans. There are no obese cats in the wild. Obesity is the direct result of poor dietary choices for cats, free choice feeding, an overabundance of treats, and a lack of exercise.
Overweight and obese cats will almost always become sick cats
Overweight cats are prone to the same diseases as overweight humans:
- Arthritis, joint problems and and torn or strained ligaments
- Heart and respiratory problems
- High blood pressure
- Gastro-interstinal and digestive problems
- Urinary tract disease
- Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease)
- Compromised immune system
- Increased risk during anesthesia and surgery
It is up to you to prevent your cat 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 accurate word: cats don’t have the ability to open the fridge and grab that midnight snack. Humans enable cats to become overweight.
Help your cat reach and maintain a healthy weight
Eliminate all dry food. Dry foods, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, are the equivalent of junk food for cats.
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. 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).
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.
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 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!
Photo by Chica Watanabe, Flickr Creative Commons
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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