Cats are meant to be lean, sleek predators, rippling with muscle. Here are some tips on how to help them manage their weight.
The Risks of Obesity
Diabetes is becoming more common in cats, due to the increase in obesity in cats. Fat actually produces a hormone that causes insulin resistance, making overweight cats much more prone to Type 2 diabetes. For cats diagnosed with early diabetes, just as in people, weight loss can prevent or slow progression to full-blown diabetes.
Cats often develop arthritis. This can limit their ability to feel good and be active (also, inactivity promotes weight gain). They may have difficulty using their litter box comfortably. They may have difficulty grooming. Arthritis is uncomfortable! Pain control in cats is challenging – it’s much better to eliminate the obesity risk factor for arthritis.
Many overweight cats cannot groom their rear ends easily due to their inability to reach these areas. They can develop skin rashes, skin infections, urinary tract infections, and odor. Their owners have to clean their bottoms every day! They also have oilier coats, and many develop painful mats on their backs where they cannot groom.
Hypertension can develop placing stress on heart, liver and kidneys, often necessitating the inconvenience and cost of additional medications.
Why Carbohydrates Are the Enemy
In the wild, cats hunt for their meals, which provides a high protein diet along with many other essential nutrients. Their grain consumption is minimal. Unlike dogs, cats are “obligate carnivores,” meaning their bodies require meat protein to make glucose to fuel their cells.
While they can make glucose with carbohydrates, most of the carbs go toward making fat. Unfortunately, almost all commercial dry foods and many canned foods are high in carbohydrates and plant protein. Cats like these foods, but it’s not what nature intended them to eat. For years, we have assumed that dry food is appropriate for cats. It’s easier and they like it, but it’s not the best choice.
Benefits of a Canned Diet
In addition to being the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, canned foods benefit cats in other ways. Cats on dry food often do not drink enough to prevent urinary tract disease.
The increased moisture in canned food helps reduce the risk of cystitis, bladder crystals, and bladder stones. Cats on low carb canned food are less hungry. Although many people think that dry cat food prevents dental disease in cats, most dry cat foods crumble so they do not offer any cleaning action.
There is a prescription dry diet (T/D) that does help keep the teeth clean due a unique matrix that prevents crumbling, but if your cat has a tendency to be overweight, the fact that T/D is not low carbohydrate makes it poor choice for your cat.
Why Are So Many Cats Overweight?
Today many cats spend all their time indoors with little to stimulate them to be active. Cats on high carbohydrate diets are actually much hungrier which causes them to overeat. Bored, inactive cats tend to eat more. Overeating even a small amount every day will result in weight gain.
Feeding for Weight Loss
If your overweight cat is eating dry food, slowly transition to a low carbohydrate canned diet. Fancy Feast CLASSIC canned diets are very low in carbohydrates and easy to purchase. They come in many flavors but the can must be labeled Classic.
The Classic diets are pate’ style with no gravy or sauce added. Do not assume that all “grain-free” diets are low carb diets, since most of them have added starches and carbohydrate sources. If your cat insists upon eating dry food, Innova EVO is the lowest carb dry food available.
Aim for a weight loss of 1-2% of the current body weight per week. For example, if your cat weighs 15 lb, he should lose about 3 ounces each week which is a little more than half a pound in first month.
Your cat must consume food within 48 hours or there is a risk of serious health consequences, so do not just give your cat a new food without being sure that they are eating it.
It is better to transition a hesitant cat to canned food by very gradually mixing (over weeks) the new food with the old, rather than to try starving them into it - which is dangerous and does not work anyway. Allowing any cat, especially an overweight cat, to go without food for much more than 36 hours can be dangerous and may result in an often fatal liver disorder called hepatic lipidosis.
The average cat should eat 4-6 ounces of canned food per day split between 2-3 meals but this is just a general guideline. One can of Fancy Feast is 3.5 ounces. When determining how much you should be feeding your cat once transitioned to canned food, keep it simple. Too fat-feed a little less. Too thin-feed more.
Cats are natural athletes but may become sedentary as adults, so take steps to increase their activity. Place food at the top of the cat tree, promote playing, pouncing, stalking and jumping with the aid of “cat dancer” toys or laser pointers, and visit the website of Ohio State University’s Indoor Cat Initiative for more ideas.
Switch from free-feeding to meal feeding. Put each cat’s food down three times a day, allow them to eat individually, and then pick up uneaten food. Cats on specific diets or amounts can be fed in a room with the door closed or in a cat carrier. Underweight cats can be fed additional times this way.
Monitoring Weight Loss
The best way to monitor your cat’s weight loss is by weighing your cat regularly on a small digital scale. Purchase a baby scale or bring your pet in weekly to weigh at no charge. An accurate digital scale is a must – slow but steady weight loss is the goal. Write your cat’s weight down weekly.
Do not exceed 2 percent weight loss per week which for a 15 pound cat means less than four ounces per week. Hepatic lipidosis (very serious) can occur if your cat loses weight rapidly so you must be careful in monitoring your cat’s weight loss.
When Have You Reached Your Goal?
You should be able to see a waistline when you look down at your cat from above. You should be able to feel the ribs slightly when you run your flat palms across the sides. If you are uncertain, contact us. Once you and your pet’s doctor agree that a healthy weight has been achieved, you can increase daily food about 10% BUT continue to weigh weekly to be certain that weight gain is not occurring.
Fact: Risk of death for middle-aged obese cats is nearly three times greater than for cats at an ideal weight.