Cats lead the way in pet obesity. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 57.6 % of the cats in Joplin are obese (Wow!). An obese cat means that it will have a shorter life. The life expectancy of an obese cat is reduced by twenty percent. Over all, for each five years that an obese cat lives, their life is shortened by one year. This does not take into account the reduced quality of life that obese patients experience. Obese cats are at significant risk for:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- respiratory disease
- kidney disease
- urinary disease
- hepatic lipidosis
- non-allergic skin disease
- many forms of cancer
As a veternarian at Cornerstone, these are diseases that are treated in cats every day. Many of these diseases are treatable, so the cat has an improved quality of life for a reasonable period of time. To do so involves time and considerable expense to the caretakers to provide the appropriate level of care. Other cats suffer silently because the caretaker is unaware of their obesity related diseases, or they simply are unable to afford the care the cat needs.
Obesity in cats has increased from 12% in 1970 to the staggering 57.6% seen today with that number increasing yearly. Obesity is the number one nutritional disorder in cats. What is driving this obesity epidemic?
- Improper feeding methods : The practice of leaving a bowl of dry food out for the cat to eat all day and often supplementing it once or twice a day with canned food is a recipe for a fat cat. Cat food is produced to be highly palatable (tasty) by the cat food manufacturing companies so that our cats will readily eat their product and we will buy more. Cats should only be fed meals to meet their calorie needs.
- Lack of stimulation: We do not provide or encourage an environment that stimulates our cat. Therefore, they eat and become obese (comfort eating). We laugh at Garfield cartoons and joke about the large cat, but Garfield never suffered from joint disease, diabetes, kidney disease or other obesity related situations. Every cat should have an environmemtly rich area to challenge and stimulate the cat to exercise and move.
- Passing the buck: Myth:The cat is altered (neutered or spay) which causes obesity. Fact: Altered cats require less calories because they aren’t needed for reproduction. Fact: The caretakers are overfeeding their cats.
All cats, with the exception of a couple of breeds, should weigh between eight to ten pounds. The average cat requires 30 to 40 calories per pound per day (an eight pound cat requires 240 to 340 calories daily). If they have been altered, the requirement drops to 20-25 calories per pound per day (an eight pound altered cat requires 160 to 200 calories). How many calories are in the food? The average cup of dry food is between 350 and 550 calories. Wow! These 5.5 oz cans which are often used as a supplement have on the average of 120 to 550 calories. No wonder our cats are fat.
Obesity will not be resolved by buying a bag of weight loss food. Caretakers and veterinarians must work as a team to prevent and treat obesity.
- Prevention is the best answer. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat. Have them assist you in calculating your cats’ caloric need. Use Google to find the calories in every food item being fed to determine how much to feed. Use measuring cups to feed the calculated volume. Do not estimate the volume of food needed with coffee cups or other non-measuring devices. If you feed 10 extra kibbles once a day to a 9 pound cat for one year, your cat will have a 12% weight gain( this is nearly one pound for an eight pound cat).
- Environment enrich activities are important. This is difficult sometimes with cats as compared to dogs that go outside to play fetch or even leash walking. However, the use of feather toys, laser lights, flashlights, and even paper wads will help engage your cat in activity. Other cats may respond to squeakers and moving toys. The use of cat tunnels to explore and cat wheels to play on will help stimulate some cats. Vary the toys to keep the cat interested and fresh. Remember cats are hunters by nature, so make them find their food. Do not feed them in the same area everyday but in a different location which allows the cat to search to find the food, encourages exploration and movement around the house.
It is always harder to reduce weight than to prevent weight gain. It is recommended that you work with a veterinarian to create a weight loss plan. First, a body fat score needs to be determined to create reasonable goals for weight loss. While calorie reduction is important, the type of calories are also important. If the protein calorie intake is inadequate, the cat will lose muscle mass instead of body fat. Problems such as diabetes or hepatic lipidosis can occur if dietary intake is inadequate. Abnormally slow metabolic rates are common in obese cats which interfere with weight loss. A weight loss reduction plan must take all of these factors into consideration. However, as any Joplin veterinarian will attest, the reward for the you and the cat is well worth the trouble. Let Garfield be a cartoon, not a reality in our household.