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Dealing with an Overweight Cat

By: Ed Kane

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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. The cause of pet obesity isn't the food, per se, but the feeding. Pet owners are too eager to please. They don't monitor their pets' weight and they succumb too often to the begging and whimpering for more food and treats.

The solution is to control your pet's insatiable appetite and thereby control his expanding girth. While a balanced diet and treats in proper amounts are fine, overindulgence leads to a "couch pet-tato." At this point, a change in eating habits is in order along with increased exercise and play to help work off excess calories.

More Dogs Than Cats Are Overweight

Historically, dogs have been affected by obesity more than cats have. Studies have shown that 40 percent to 50 percent of dogs are overweight, compared to only about 25 percent of cats. Obesity is an important health issue because it may contribute to shorter lifespan and increased risk of arthritis, cancer, diabetes and a need for surgery.

The causes of obesity are really simple: increased energy intake compared to decreased energy output. Typically, your pet is particularly effective at persuading you to indulge bad habits. Designed to be highly palatable, pet treats are usually high in fat and calories. With multiple pet households, food competition increases the potential for becoming overweight. The overweight cat steals from his rival, exacerbating the problem.

Watch Your Pet's Weight

Monitor your pet's body weight, especially if you own an older cat. 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.

No matter what food you give your pet, don't overfeed and make sure your pet receives sufficient exercise to prevent obesity. Some foods are very high in fat and calories. If your pet's becoming too fat, cut down total intake and don't feed high-fat foods. There are special foods available both by prescription and over-the-counter that are higher in fiber and lower in caloric density.

Proper feeding is important to keep your pet from gaining too much weight. 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.

Put Your Pet on a Diet

If your pet is overweight, work with your veterinarian to decide on and stick to a proper weight-reduction plan. Your veterinarian can help assess your pet's obesity and weight reduction plan and determine whether there are any complicating disease concerns, such as diabetes or Cushing's disease. In some cases, a prescription type of diet may be recommended.

Weight should be lost gradually, about 6 percent for a three-week period for cats. At maximum, weight loss should occur at a rate of ¼ to ½ pound per week for cats. Be cautious of a severe diet for cats, because they're prone to a type of liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), when caloric intake is dramatically restricted. This is especially true of the obese feline. In addition to a restricted diet, you need to provide your pet with gradual increased play and exercise. Make exercise fun, not strict or stressful.

It's important to realize that a healthier body weight for your pet is important, so don't give in to your pet's begging. To reduce food intake, feed his normal diet in reduced amounts or a diet of reduced calories in prescribed amounts. Approximately one pound of fat is lost for every 3,500 calories expended. Feed smaller portions more often so that your pet doesn't feel that he's eating less. Praise and affection are important to offset your pet's feeling of "punishment." Don't feed treats as rewards; use praise instead. Chart your pet's progress on a weekly basis.

Dieting 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 fed ad lib (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% 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.

    By keeping your pet's weight at a normal level, he'll be happier and healthier in a svelte condition. He'll also run, romp and enjoy life more.

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