Cat Care

Overfeeding and Obesity in Cats

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Overfeeding and obesity in cats

A recent study showed that at least half the pet dogs and cats in the British Isles are overweight and obesity is a common problem. As with people, cats do not become obese overnight; the increase in weight usually takes place gradually and may hardly be noticed at first. If the ribs cannot be felt, the cat is overweight, and if the size of its body makes its head and legs seem too small it is obese. Any animal that takes in more food each day than is needed to satisfy its energy requirements is likely to lay down fat reserves and eventually become obese. At one time, cats were very good at regulating their food intake and did not eat to excess. Several possible explanations for the present increase in obesity have been offered and in each individual case there may be a combination of factors involved.

Firstly, manufactured foods prepared for cats are a great deal more tasty and attractive than they were in the past, and there are now 'gourmet' meals available. Cats are more likely to gorge themselves on this type of food simply because they like the taste. Secondly, it has become increasingly more common to keep cats indoors all the time because of the dangers presented by crowded, busy roads. Such cats are likely to be less active and, in some cases, even bored, and may be inclined to eat more than they need as a result. Thirdly, owners are very inclined to overestimate the needs of their pet and to assume that because the cat is avidly eating all of a tasty type of food, and perhaps asking for more, that this must be what it requires. Finally, many people derive pleasure from giving a pet a tasty titbit of food, often a portion of the family meal, and spoiling it in this way. This is a mistaken act of kindness if the pet then becomes obese. Very fat cats are likely to be lethargic and may find difficulty and discomfort in moving around. Arthritic problems are also likely to be made worse if a cat is overweight.

Overweight cats are usually well cared for and much loved and are likely to be the ones regularly seen at a veterinary clinic (for vaccination boosters, etc). It is therefore often the veterinary surgeon who first alerts the owners to the fact that their cat is overweight and is the one who suggests a slimming routine. Usually the cat is weighed to discover the extent of the problem, and a correct target weight will be established. There is likely to be some discussion about the current eating habits of the cat, and total honesty is needed here on the part of the owners. When the daily amount of food being given is examined critically, many people are astonished to realize how much they are overfeeding their pet. In some cases, cutting out all the extras and titbits along with a small reduction in the normal meal may be all that is needed to bring about the desired weight loss. In other instances, it may be suggested that the cat should be put on a specially formulated 'light' diet that is lower in fat. The aim is to achieve a gradual weight loss by a sensible reduction in the amount of food given rather than to starve the cat.

It may be suggested that the cat is weighed once a week. This can be done at home by the owner weighing himself (or herself) first and then repeating the process while holding the cat. The difference between the two is the weight of the cat and, while it cannot be totally accurate, it is to be hoped it will give some idea of how things are progressing. After a period of weeks, the weight loss should be able to be seen and felt, even in a very furry cat. The veterinary surgeon may wish to see the cat again for a more accurate weighing. Once the target weight has been achieved, the food allowance may be gradually increased to a maintenance level. Weekly weighing at home can then ensure that the problem does not recur.