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Can Dieting Be Harmful to Your Cat?

By: Virginia Wells

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In the United States, both pet and owner have overindulgence in common - too much food and too little exercise. Today, pet food is abundant, available, nutritious and palatable. And obesity in pets is common, affecting between 24 and 40 percent of all dogs and 6 to 40 percent of cats.

A healthy pet's body is proportional - his ribs can be felt and folds of fat aren't easily seen. An overweight pet has a noticeable paunch, a broader conformation and ribs cannot be seen or felt easily. Fat cats don't have the "tuck" normally seen in front of the hindquarters.

By itself, obesity carries with it its own set of physical problems that can contribute to a pet's early demise. Fat cats have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, liver disease, diabetes, orthopedic problems and even neurological problems. As our cats' protectors, we should take obesity seriously and feed and exercise them sensibly.

The causes of obesity are really simple: increased energy intake compared to decreased energy output. So the obvious solution is to decrease intake and increase output. In other words, restrict your pet's caloric intake and get him moving.

Unfortunately, unlike dogs, you cannot always safely put overweight cats on a hardcore diet, and it should never be done without the close supervision of a veterinarian. Fat cats that suddenly have restricted diets are at great risk to develop hepatic lipidosis. In fact, some veterinarians do not recommend dieting for cats unless they weigh more than 14 pounds.

Hepatic lipidosis is commonly called fatty liver syndrome because the cat's liver actually becomes filled with fat. It is a severe liver disease that can be fatal and typically occurs when an obese cat suddenly stops eating. This causes a mobilization of his own fat stores and results in excessive fat accumulation in the cells of the liver. This excessive fat accumulation impairs the normal function of the liver cells, resulting in liver failure.

The cause of hepatic lipidosis in most cats is the not eating – it doesn't matter what made the cat not eat, just not eating for a sufficient period of time can lead to hepatic lipidosis. In some cats, this condition can develop in as little as three days of not eating. In others, starvation for extended periods won't lead to hepatic lipidosis.

Your Cat Must Eat

You must make certain that your cat ingests sufficient calories to make it unnecessary for him to metabolize fat. A good program for cats limits weight loss to no more than 4 percent per week to prevent problems associated with overly rapid loss of weight. The essence of weight-loss diets is to provide a proper balance of nutrients while meeting the special dietary needs. Weight reduction diets tend to be low fat and high fiber, and this makes the food restriction less psychologically stressful by helping the cat to feel full.

Feed your adult cat one ounce of canned cat food or 1/3 ounce of dry food per pound of body weight daily or 30 to 40 calories per pound, per day. There are no hard and fast rules; your pet may need less food if he's less active or more if he's very active. In addition, here are a few diet tips:

  • A drastic reduction isn't necessary; only a moderate reduction plan is recommended by most veterinarians, except in special cases.

  • Make sure that all family members stick to the plan. One person can spoil the results.

  • If excessive food intake was the source of your pet's obesity, plan on feeding the proper maintenance amount.

  • Feed his daily portion in three or more meals, so he doesn't feel slighted.

  • Eliminate all treats, especially from the table. These are typically high in fat and calories.

  • If dry food had previously been left out free-choice, leave food out in portions instead of in unlimited quantities.

  • Feed some canned food to replace some of the dry food. It will be more palatable and is lower in caloric density since it's over 75 percent moisture.

  • There are many foods lower in calories. These are especially good since you can feed your pet the same bulk amount, while cutting back calories.

  • Fun, play and games help reduce weight while keeping your pet happy. They will keep his mind off the loss of food and provide needed exercise.

    During your cat's weight loss program, monitor his food intake closely, and be aware of the signs of hepatic lipidosis. He may be vomiting, depressed, and listless. Other symptoms include weight loss, decreased muscle mass, and a yellow color in the eyes, ears or mouth. Finally, your cat may stop eating entirely and show no interest in food. If he stops eating for more than a day or two, consult your veterinarian immediately.

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