by Dr. Jessica Kowaleski
“Your cat is overweight” or “Your cat is obese” are phrases I feel like I utter at least once a day! The fact is, about 50% of cats ages 5-10 years are obese. Unfortunately, this is not so much a cosmetic concern as a medical one.
“Overweight” cats are up to 20% over their ideal weight. “Obese” cats are more than 20% over their ideal weight. Obesity is a chronic inflammatory disease which causes significant metabolic derangements and causes impaired lung function, diabetes, arthritis, kidney damage, pancreatitis, urinary disorders, and increased anesthetic risks. Obesity is associated with lower lifespans.
So your cat is fat – what do you do now? The 2 general principles of weight loss are fewer calories and increased exercise. However, the forms those calories take and how the cat consumes them, as well as how to effectively exercise a cat, make effective weight loss in the obese cat a little more complicated. It’s also important to note that feline weight loss should be gradual, at 1-2% of body weight loss per week. Faster weight loss if very hard on the cat, even putting them at risk for hepatic lipidosis (a rather nasty liver disease).
First, where on the 9-scale BCS (body condition score) chart is your cat? Be honest! www.aspcapro.org/resource/body-condition-scale Second, use this calculator to enter info about your cat and your current cat food, to get recommendations on how much you SHOULD be feeding. And yes, it is strongly recommended to feed cats measured portions and not just fill the bowl. www.petnutritionalliance.org/cat.php
Do you need to change your food? If less than 20% overweight, maybe not – you may be able to just decrease what you feed. If more than 20% overweight – possibly; if you restrict calories in a standard cat food to the point necessary for some obese cats to lose weight, you may also be over-restricting protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals to the point of deficiency. For very obese cats, prescription weight control foods are often used (Purina DM, Hill’s Metabolic Diet, Hill’s R/D).
Weight-loss diets in cats are either high fiber/low fat or high protein/low carb. Primarily canned diets have been shown to be more effective for most cats. Some cats respond better to one style of diet than another. Regular weigh-ins (every 1-2 weeks) are important to track success and guide adjustments.
If you’re sticking with dry kibble at least in part, make your cat eat slower and not consume so much at one sitting, either by using a puzzle feeder (www.foodpuzzlesforcats.com) or at least plop a golf ball into the food dish (the cat will walk away when it’s not really hungry anymore, due to the minor inconvenience of the ball).
Most cats aren’t willing to leash up and go for a walk. If yours is one of the few that will – great! Outdoor time, whether leash-walks or in a safe outdoor enclosure (www.catiospaces.com) is an excellent part of the weight management plan. For indoor exercise, short bursts of play a few times a day, especially around dawn and dusk, is most effective in cats. Offering a variety of toys that are rotated regularly (during a play session or after a 5-minute break) helps maintain interest. Some of the best toys to get a cat running or rolling are ones that encourage their natural chasing and hunting behaviors (such as laser lights or feathers on a stick). Include a box or paper bag in the game for some extra fun! Vertical space is highly recommended as well for both physical and mental well-being in cats (www.whycatwhy.com/cat-vertical-space-101-the-ultimate-guide)
You can even make eating a form of exercise! Using a portion of the measured meal for the day, some cats think it’s great fun to chase rolled or tossed kibbles of cat food down the hall or stairs to pounce and catch them.
More ideas on diet and exercise in cats:
www.onefastcat.com (This is worth looking at!)