Obesity is the number one nutritional disorder in cats, and it is approaching epidemic levels. Obesity indicates an excess of body fat that can lead to compromised health and is a significant animal welfare issue. There are many health impacts associated with obesity that include, but are not limited to, diabetes mellitus, hepatic lipidosis, urinary track diseases, arthritis, dermatopathies, and a shortened lifespan. The good news is that obesity can be overcome through making a few changes in how you care for your cat.
Fluff or Fat?
It can sometimes be difficult to tell if your cat is overweight – and many with obese cats are unaware that their cat may have this condition. Body condition scoring charts (available on our website) can help you to determine the body condition of your cat by assessing them visually and getting hands on to feel what is underneath their fur. The best way to ensure your cat is at a healthy weight is by consulting your veterinarian.
Killing with Kindness
Cats are very convincing that they need food and treats and have us trained to respond to their desperate cries for snacks. Instead of using food or treats to placate them, try offering petting or playtime to distract them. Socializing and play also helps to develop the bond you have with your cat and may reduce any guilt associated with not feeding them unnecessarily. Playing with your cat will also help them to get some much needed exercise and provides enrichment through opportunities to express normal behaviours.
Obesity treatment is mainly focused on calorie restriction to promote weight loss, and encouraging more activity through play. Your veterinarian can help determine a target weight range and set you up with a plan to reduce your cat’s weight. The amount of food that is necessary for a cat depends on the calorie content of the food, and your veterinary team will help you figure out the appropriate amount by doing a formula calculation.
Instead of allowing cats to free feed by providing food ad libitum, restrict food to certain feeding times to assert control of the quantity of food being provided. Try using feeding devices or food puzzles that encourage cats to “work” for their food, which makes meal time more enriching. If you have a number of cats, feed them separately to help control the amount of food they are consuming. As cats are solitary hunters, separate feeding also reduces food competition. The provision of treats should also be considered as part of a diet plan as treat giving can be very satisfying for many owners; however, calories from treats should be minimal.
Successful weight loss needs to be slow and gradual and can take months to achieve. If food intake is reduced significantly and or if cats do not eat a new “diet food” for a few days they could develop a serious liver condition called hepatic lipidosis caused by food restriction.
Maintaining Ideal Weight
Once target weight is achieved, maintaining that weight loss is equally, if not more challenging in cats. This means it’s important to stay engaged in monitoring your cat’s body condition after the desired weight loss is achieved.
Consultation with your veterinary team to determine the body condition of your cat, address overweight and obesity issues, guide a weight loss program and provide continual monitoring to maintain weight loss. For tips on how cats like to play or adding food puzzles to engage your cat at meal time, visit our website: albertaspca.org/catcare