February is Cat Health Month and as the first topic in a series written by registered Veterinary Technician Cate Burnette, we are focusing on cat obesity. What can we do to help?
We want to keep our cats indoors for a number of reasons. Not just to keep us company, which they do in their own inimitable fashion, but for their own health and well-being. It is a fact that cats who spend their lives indoors lead healthier and longer lives than do their outdoor cousins.
Protected from the accidents and disease that often befall cats who spend their lives out in the open, indoor kitties can have their own health issues that put them at risk. One of the major challenges that house cats face is obesity and its subsequent health problems.
Looking at your cat’s body condition is the main way to tell if your kitty is thin, at a normal weight, or obese. The chart below tells you, in explicit detail, how to determine your cat’s ideal weight.
(Note: This Body Conditioning System chart is from the veterinarians at Nestle Purina, a subsidiary of Nestle Foods.)
Because certain illnesses can cause cat obesity, you should see your veterinarian for a complete examination including blood work to determine if there is any underlying problem causing your pet’s obesity. Your vet can also help you with a meal plan that allows for a healthy weight loss of 1- to 2 percent body weight per week.
If you find you have an obese cat in your house, there are some things you can do to help your cat lose weight.
Look at the food she’s eating. A food high in fats and carbohydrates will put the pounds on kitty just like it does on you. Most diet cat foods show lower concentrations of those two nutrients, and higher concentrations of protein. Note: Check with your veterinarian for an appropriate diet food for your cat, both in the wet and dry varieties. Never put your cat on a diet without first seeing your vet.
You don’t want your cat to lose the weight too rapidly; fast weight loss can result in hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, and possible liver failure. Note: An overweight cat should never be placed on a severely calorie-restricted diet.
There are two ways you can reduce your cat’s calorie intake. You can limit your pet’s access to her current food by feeding approximately 20 percent less daily – or you can feed her the usual amount of food of a prescribed weight reduction diet.
Watch how often she eats. A cat that has a bowl full of food free-choice is much more likely to “graze” all day and be overweight than one who eats properly proportioned meals 2 to 3 times a day. You may have to gradually adjust her to a new eating schedule by lowering the amount of free-choice food over a period of a week or two, but your cat will eventually learn to eat at the time you designate.
To keep her hunger under control, try feeding her 3 to 4 small meals during the day instead of 2 to 3 big meals. You may also need to feed her separately from other cats in the household to avoid her stealing their food.
Limit the amount of treats. If your cat is eating off your plate, or you are treating her with other types of human food, she is more likely to be overweight and have intestinal issues. She should never be fed fatty human food because it not only adds unneeded calories, but it can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can prove fatal.
Cow’s milk, cooked pork or beef, or anything fried should never be given to a cat because the fats in those foods are not compatible with a feline’s digestive system. If you must feed human treats, try tiny bites of raw carrot, or one or two canned peas or green beans. You will need to limit the canned vegetables to small amounts because of the salt in the food.
The same is true if you are giving her kitty treats several times a day. One cat treat a day is plenty due to the extra fat and carbohydrates built into the treats to make them palatable for your kitty’s taste buds.
If you must give treats, try cutting small slices of canned diet cat food and baking them in the oven at 350ºF until they’re crisp. Store them covered in the refrigerator, and never give more than 10 percent of your cat’s daily calories in treats.
Help your cat exercise by playing with her on a regular basis. She doesn’t need expensive toys to play with a hank of yarn dangling from your hand. Anything that can get her moving and up and out of the cat bed will help. You can find inexpensive balls and catnip-filled mice online and at the dollar store, but they don’t work if she’s not actively pursuing them. You will need to take the time to play with her regularly to get her to use those flaccid muscles and lose the extra weight.
Just like their humans, overweight cats are prone to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Studies have shown that obese felines are also predisposed to kidney and bladder stones and other urinary tract disorders.
Helping your kitty lose the excess pounds, and ensuring that she maintains her slim and trim figure, can keep her healthy and prolong your time together.
* This article is the first in a series of Cat Health Month topics brought to you by registered Veterinary Technician Cate Burnette and VIP Pet Services. VIP Pet Sitters are always available to assist you in the exercising and proper feeding of your cat. Please contact us to learn more and remember – always check with your vet before implementing any new diets or exercise programs.
** About Cate Burnette
Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs, and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.