Obesity and your cat
Integrative Pet Vet
It has been estimated that 36 percent of American adults are obese. Ironically, more than 50 percent of cats are overweight and 25 percent are considered obese. This is a trend that has increased over the last 30 years in a similar to the increase in diabetes. Obesity in cats has increased health risks similar to those experienced by humans, including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory compromise, certain liver diseases, urinary tract disease, ligament injury and osteoarthritis. More common in older, less active cats, obesity is also often seen in cats fed free choice, and spayed or neutered cats that do not have their food intake managed. Interestingly, a neutered male cat requires 28 percent fewer calories.
The simplest explanation for obesity is that it is the result of excess energy intake and insufficient energy use. Unfortunately, the development of obesity is often complex with multiple contributors. In addition to excess energy intake, other contributors include genetic factors, food preferences developed as kittens, excess carbohydrate-containing foods and some metabolic issues. A further complication is that white adipose functions as an endocrine (hormone) gland by secreting a wide range of hormones called adipokines and obesity is associated with chronic, low-grade inflammation.
These factors mean that obesity prevention and management is not always simple. Health issues such as heart disease or osteoarthritis may prevent adequate exercise. Cats may refuse to eat the diet food selected by the owner. Managing effective volume control for feeding can be especially difficult if there are multiple cats in a household.
Since there are numerous body types and cats come in many sizes, it is important to be able to recognize when a cat is becoming obese. The first step for assessing obesity is to feel both sides of the chest with your fingers. With ideal weight you should be able to feel the ribs with a thin layer of fat under the skin. In a severely obese cat, it may not be possible to feel the ribs through the fat layer. The second step is to view the cat from the side. An obese cat may have a layer of fat hanging below the abdomen. The third step is to view the cat from above. Cats that are obese will not have a waistline because it is hidden below a layer of fat. Body condition charts are also available for comparison. Ask your veterinarian for assistance if you have questions.
As with many diseases, prevention of obesity is easier than the treatment. Avoiding obesity includes increasing activity. It is estimated that the typical cat needs 15-30 minutes of activity each day. Access to a variety of toys can help. In addition, managing energy (calories) intake is critical. This can involve both the amount of food given and the type of food offered. The growing consensus is that cats should not be fed free choice. In addition, they should be fed a high-quality canned food. Canned foods generally have higher protein, lower carbohydrates and are high in water content. Keep in mind that carbohydrates that are not being used are being stored as fat. There should be distinct feeding times and no treats or snacks in between. Making changes gradually can be important for many cats because some cats are stressed by change and may not tolerate or accept rapid diet changes.
For cats that are already obese, increasing activity, if not limited by a health problem, is important. Check the food manufacturer’s recommendation for the amount of food daily. Carefully measure the food when feeding. If the amount fed is consistent with the manufacturer’s recommendation, some veterinarians recommend reducing the amount of food by 25 percent and then another 10 percent every two-three weeks until 1 percent of the starting body weight has been lost. This will give you an amount to feed until the desired weight is lost. Consult with your veterinarian before starting a weight-loss program. There may be health issues that contribute to obesity or require close monitoring. Also, too drastic food or weight reductions can create problems.
In addition to exercise and diet management, some cats benefit from support for organs and glands that are stressed in the obese cat. These include the adrenal glands and liver. Any existing health problems should also be supported. For example, cats with osteoarthritis should have appropriate pain management, such as acupuncture, for improved quality of life and to encourage more activity.
If you have questions about obesity in cats and need assistance for developing a weight management plan, consult your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates. He has a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology, and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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