An obese cat is not a pretty sight. Cumbersome and clumsy, unable to reach all the places on his body that need grooming, he suffers a marked deterioration in athletic ability and appearance, and is subject to skin problems. Obese cats also face increased risk of contracting diabetes and are poor candidates for surgery and anesthesia.
Obesity results when an animal consistently takes in more calories than needed. Some contributing factors include overfeeding, inactivity, reproductive status, environment, body type, age, and genetic predisposition.
Assessing Body Condition
Assessing body condition is an important step in the overall evaluation of your cat’s nutritional well-being and can especially help in determining feline obesity. Your veterinarian is the first step in determining if your cat is obese. If you suspect that your cat is either overweight or obese, a complete evaluation by a veterinarian is always recommended. A few medical conditions may contribute to obesity. You want to rule these out before you proceed with any weight loss or weight management program.
Reversing The Trend
Obesity is easier to prevent than to cure. However, it is never too late to reverse obesity, though it requires long-term patience and commitment. Increased activity, behavior modification – for both you and your cat – and calorie restriction are your weapons against feline obesity.
Increase your cat’s activity level. Provide cat “trees” for climbing. Throw things she likes to chase. One ingenious owner throws her cat’s dry food ration, a piece at a time! Many cats learn to enjoy walking on a leash.
Use your imagination, but be cautious. Don’t let a fat cat become exhausted, overheated or out of breath. Also keep in mind that an old cat may not be able to exercise vigorously.
Substitute play, grooming, stroking, or conversation for food treats as expressions of love. If you cannot resist the fat cat who begs for food at the dinner table, put her in another room.
If yours is a multi-cat household, the consistent winner of the food competition sweepstakes is often obese. If this is the case, separate the cats at mealtimes if at all possible.
Cats use fat as their primary energy source. A cat that consumes more energy (calories) than its body uses, stores that excess energy in the form of fat. An overweight or obese cat will store fat more easily if the calories consumed are in the form of fat rather than in the form of carbohydrates.
A diet based on replacement of some fat with highly digestible carbohydrates is a good low-calorie alternative. Digestible carbohydrates contain less than one-half the calories of equal quantities of fat and do not have the disadvantages of indigestible fiber. Portion control is still necessary, but need not be as stringent as if you were feeding the regular diet.
It is important to feed your cat a diet with a normal fiber level. Avoid high fiber diets that are often promoted for feline weight loss. High fiber foods may reduce the digestibility and absorption of many nutrients. In addition to providing what would be considered poor quality nutrition, high fiber diets may also result in large frequent stools, and decreased skin and coat condition.
A good way to begin a weight loss program for your cat is to reduce caloric intake by 25% of his maintenance intake, then decrease the intake by 10% increments every 2-3 weeks until a 1% weight loss per week is achieved. This means that if your cat weighs 15 pounds, a 1% loss would be about 2-1/2 ounces.
If you feed one large meal a day, or keep food available at all times, try dividing the daily ration into several small meals (at least two meals a day) and pick up what has not been eaten 30 minutes after each meal.
Take Things SlowlyProceed slowly when changing diets, mixing the new with the old in ever-increasing proportions over a period of one week. This method increases the likelihood of acceptance of the new diet and decreases the occurrence of gastrointestinal upsets.
Be patient. Weight reduction in cats is necessarily a slow process. If food intake is too severely restricted, the cat risks developing a serious liver disorder called hepatic lipidosis.
Expect a few setbacks and plateaus. It will take at least four months for an obese cat to realize a 15% weight loss. At this point, work with your veterinarian who will reassess your cat’s body condition and proceed from there.
Tips For Starting Weight Management Program
- Check with a veterinarian before starting your cat on a weight management program.
- Obtain a baby scale and weigh your cat every two weeks.
- Feed a low-fat, high-carbohydrate food to restrict the calories available from fat.
- Eliminate all food treats.
- Increase your cat’s activity level.
- Try combining feeding time with play time by tossing your cat dry food kibbles one piece at a time.
- Divide the daily food allotment into several smaller meals.
- Cats should not lose more than 1 to 1.5% of initial weight per week.