If your little kitty isn’t so little anymore, they may stand to shed a few pounds to improve their health. Overweight cats could be at risk for several medical conditions. Studies show that obese cats are more likely than cats of normal weight to develop lameness, osteoarthritis, and degenerative joint disease, and diabetes requiring veterinary care.2 In this article we’ll discuss the health risks associated with cats being over-weight and how to help your cat slim down to live a long, healthy life.
Joint Injuries and Diabetes in Over-Weight Cats
Excess weight puts stress on joints, muscles, and ligaments, as well increases the levels of a number of hormones known to cause joint inflammation. Both of which can predispose cats to soft tissue injuries and osteoarthritis. Obese cats are more likely to develop diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and cancer.2
How to Tell if Your Cat is Obese
Unfortunately, overweight cats are closer to the norm than the exception. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 60 percent of cats in the U.S. were classified as overweight or obese in 2018.1 Here’s how to tell if your kitty is carrying extra weight. Run your hands across both sides of her rib cage. Next, look at her from the side and look down on her from overhead. If you’re unable to feel her ribs or see her waistline, your cat is most likely overweight.
Many factors affect cat obesity, including reproductive status, gender, age, level of activity, diet type, and feeding style. For instance, neutered or spayed cats require fewer calories, and indoor cats that are inactive and fed “free choice” (food available at all times) will tend to overeat. The bottom line is this: some cat owners feed their four-legged family members too many calories. Calories not burned off during exercise or used for basic body function will be stored as fat.
High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are ideal to get cats to lose weight. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they need meat in their diet to obtain key amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary for normal body function. Canned foods, especially the grain-free variety, generally meet the requirements of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet better than dry foods. This is because the manufacturing process for dry diets requires higher carbohydrate content. Cats can use carbohydrates in their diets quite efficiently. However, excess carbohydrates in a cat’s diet are not burned as energy but are instead converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. Protein is the key nutrient in a carnivore diet, so canned food is the best option. In addition, cats do better with two to four small, controlled portions daily. Another option is a prescription weight loss diet. These foods are low in calories, high in fiber, and nutritionally complete, even when fed in limited amounts. They must be prescribed by your veterinarian.
Exercise is another important component of the weight loss equation. If your cat is in an environment where she can safely go outside on a regular basis, then go ahead and let her out. This is a great way to keep her active and moving. You might also consider getting a harness and leash for your cat and take her on daily walks. If you do so, be sure to ask your veterinarian about necessary parasite prevention.
Boring environments can contribute to obesity in indoor cats. Environmental enrichment can help a cat become more active and expend energy to obtain its food. Try hiding food throughout the house in multiple dishes so your cat has to “hunt” for it. Other items that can be provided to increase activity include climbing towers, window perches, scratching posts, and cat toys. Try to schedule at least one daily play session with your cat using an interactive toy or a feather toy.
Slow and Consistent Changes
Getting an obese cat to lose weight needs to be done gradually, as crash diets can be dangerous. Consult with your veterinarian to develop the correct weight-loss plan for your cat before making any changes to diet or activities. Rapid weight loss or prolonged periods of anorexia can lead to hepatic lipidosis. Also known as fatty liver syndrome, hepatic lipidosis is the most common liver disease found in cats. Slow, steady weight loss is the best way for your cat to maintain her ideal body weight long-term.
Consult with a Veterinarian and Make Gradual Changes
Stay committed to the weight loss program and avoid getting discouraged if things don’t go smoothly at the start. It takes time for cats and owners alike to adjust to lifestyle changes. Successful weight loss could lead to a longer and much better quality of life. This is a good thing for your kitty and you!
Keeping a cat at their ideal body weight is imperative for optimal health. An important part of keeping them healthy is ensuring access to veterinary care. With a pet insurance policy from Pets Best, you can choose from plan options that cover a wide range of unexpected and routine care veterinary costs. Pets Best also offers access to a 24/7 Pet Helpline to help answer your pet weight loss questions as well as many others.
1Prevention, A. f. (2018). Association for Pet Obesity Prevention Survey. Retrieved from Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: https://petobesityprevention.org/
2Williams, K., & Downing, R. (n.d.). Overweight, Obesity, and Pain in Cats: Overview. Retrieved from VCA Hospitals: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/overweight-obesity-and-pain-in-cats-overview