Why Are There so Many Overweight Cats?
Recently, a story out of Nashville (where I live) has gotten national media attention. It concerns Buddha, an extremely overweight cat who was rescued from Metro Animal Control by Penny Adams, a volunteer at the Cat Shoppe. Buddha had been relinquished by his cat parents due to family issues. His weight? 31.4 pounds, which is more than twice the weight of an average cat. Penny rescued him while visiting Metro Animal Control to take pictures of cats available for adoption. She brought Buddha back to the Cat Shoppe, a store owned by Chris Achord who has spent many years rescuing countless numbers of cats. Buddha was seen by the veterinarians at Animalia Wellness clinic in Franklin and put on a regime of the appropriate amount of cat food and exercise. Part of Buddha’s exercise plan includes regular sessions on the water treadmill.
Here’s Buddha’s story
Here’s Buddha on the water treadmill
Even though Buddha’s story is making national news because being a 31.4 pound cat is rather unusual, so many cats are overweight and it’s putting them at risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and more. Many people have simply gotten used to the image of an overweight cat and perhaps no longer recognize what their cats should look like in terms of a healthy body. And, it goes deeper than that — just as is the case with people, being the right weight doesn’t mean you’re healthy. Buddha, even if he wasn’t so overweight, was apparently being fed tablescraps and that’s not a healthy, well-balanced diet. Are we over-feeding out of love? Lack of knowledge? Convenience? It has to stop. An outdoor cat who depends on her ability to hunt in order to eat, is getting the perfect meal… a mouse, while our beloved indoor cats are getting stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with carbohydrates. Am I suggesting you turn your indoor cat into an outdoor cat? Not at all. I’m suggesting you take a good look at what you’re feeding your cat, how you’re feeding her and how much activity there is in her life.
Are You Feeding The Wrong Food?
Cats are obligate carnivores and they must get protein from animal sources. Cats who are eating only dry food are getting too many carbohydrates in their diet. Dry food is typically sprayed or coated with animal digest to increase its taste appeal. A hungry cat doesn’t stand a chance. So a cat who is eating just dry food has to eat more of it in order to get adequate amounts of protein (and with some lower quality dry food much of the protein may come from plant sources and not animal). The high carb amounts in the dry food can alter the cat’s blood sugar which then can lead to obesity. The “lighter” versions of dry food are the worst culprits of all because they contain higher fiber and more carbs. The protein and fat in food, not the carbohydrates, are the things that send the signal to the cat’s body that it has received adequate amounts of what it needs.
The other problem with dry food is that it has a very low water content. A cat on an exclusively dry food diet may not be getting adequate amounts of water which could lead to urinary problems. Wet food (canned, raw or homemade) has a much higher water content and the cat has a much better chance of getting enough water in the diet. In an outdoor setting, a cat who hunts would typically rely on the moisture content within the prey she catches, to satisfy her body’s moisture requirements.
Are You Feeding Too Much Food?
And, as if the above isn’t bad enough, dry food may lead to obesity because it’s convenient for free-feeding. Many cat parents load up the food bowl with a heaping mound of dry food for their cats to nibble on throughout the day. Perhaps some cat parents do it because they’ve been led to believe that cats self regulate their food intake. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case or else we wouldn’t be seeing so many overweight cats. Many cat parents also rely on the convenience of how dry food can be left out all day. For a busy cat parent this makes life easier so a family member doesn’t have to rush home in time to supply kitty with her dinner.
Many indoor cats aren’t receiving adequate environmental enrichment so they don’t have to do much mental or physical work to earn their meals. Cats are predators and they’re born to work for food. They’re hardwired for mental and physical activity and yet the only activity too many cats are getting is the limited number of steps they have to take in order to reach the food bowl… a bowl that’s brimming with a mountain of carbohydrate-rich dry food.
Putting Your Cat on a Weight Control Program
Before you even begin to start a weight management program for your cat, be sure she gets a thorough examination, including a full blood work-up, from the veterinarian. You need to know exactly what potential health concerns your cat has so you can address that as part of the nutritional program. In some cases, there could be an underlying medical program actually causing the weight gain. Your veterinarian can also tell you how much you should be feeding your cat in order to have safe weight loss. It’s crucial that you not put your cat on a drastic diet where she loses too rapidly. A drastic reduction in calories can result in a condition known as hepatic lipidosis. This is a life-threatening condition that affects the liver. Cats who don’t eat for 48 hours or who are put on a highly restricted calorie intake are at risk. That’s why it’s very important to do a gradual weight reduction program and do it with your veterinarian’s guidance. Your cat’s case is very individual and your veterinarian can tell you how much your cat should safely lose each month in order to stay healthy. A gradual weight reduction program is also better from a behavioral standpoint because your cat won’t become frustrated and confused by a sudden drastic reduction in food.
You may be reading this and thinking to yourself that you disagree with what your veterinarian tells you in terms of the type of food to feed. Perhaps you want to feed raw or homemade food. Whatever you decide, please work with a veterinarian on the nutritional plan to ensure that you’re feeding the right amount and the right combination.
Any kind of weight reduction plan should also be partnered with an increase in activity. If your cat is extremely obese then that activity may be very limited at first but ANY type of movement is beneficial. Playtime with an interactive toy is a great way to help your cat begin an exercise program. The great thing about an interactive play session is that you can control the level of activity. For a very overweight cat you can limit the movements of the toy so it’s not to taxing on the cat. As the cat gets healthier you can increase the challenge level. There are also cat exercise wheels that are commercial available. Keep in mind though that for an extremely overweight cat you don’t want to put too much stress on her joints. Ease into an exercise program. In the case of Buddha, he’s working out on a water treadmill to limit the stress put on his joints. Some veterinary clinics have water treadmills so if you have a very overweight cat, your veterinarian may include that as part of the weight reduction program.
Make Sure All Family Members Cooperate
Nothing undermines a weight reduction plan worse than having one family member sneaking food to the cat. Before you begin the program make sure everyone in the family, including your children, understand the importance of what is being done for the cat’s health and how it’s imperative that everyone is on the same page. Some family members can feel really guilty when they see the family cat begging for food or sitting in front of the empty food bowl as if she hasn’t had a meal in a week. Nip that guilt in the bud or else the cat will be the one who ultimately suffers.
Don’t Forget the Fun Factor
Having been on more than my share of diets in my life, I understand that it’s not something anyone looks forward to but you can make it more fun. The fact that playtime can be a source of exercise automatically increases the fun factor right there. Your cat may need her predatory skill dusted off a bit because it hasn’t been used since she was eight pounds lighter, but you can make it a sessions she thoroughly enjoys. Also, incorporate puzzle feeders as a fun way to feed your cat so she doesn’t just gobble down a bowl of food in 15 seconds. Let her have fun “working” for food by way of a puzzle feeder. There are puzzle feeders designed for both wet and dry food. Google “puzzle feeders for cats” and you’ll see the ever-increasing types of products available.
Additional Tips For Overweight Cats:
Check out the article Ten Tips for Tubby Tabbies
Check out the article How to Transition Your Cat From Dry Food to Wet Food
Check out the article Pet Food Ingredients
Need More Information on Cat Behavior?
Due to Pam’s scheduling demands, we’re sorry but she is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.