Cat Obesity: A Growing Epidemic

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Recent studies have shown a dramatic rise in cat obesity.  This troubling trend presents serious health issues for our feline friends. Luckily for the cats, with the right education and commitment cat owners can help curb obesity and provide healthier lives for their pets.

The primary causes of obesity for cats are diet and exercise. Specifically, obese cats are failing to burn enough calories to account for the amount of calories they’re eating. Some cats are eating too much, others are simply not exercising enough. When regular caloric intake exceeds the calories burned, the excess calories are stored as fat. As little as an extra 1 percent caloric intake can result in 25 percent increase over ideal body weight by middle age. Obesity takes its toll, as cats that are overweight may experience difficulty breathing or walking or they may be unable to tolerate heat or exercise.

The rise in cat obesity is not a subtle one. Research shows that one in three American cats are overweight, and that the number of overweight cats has risen by 170 percent. These alarming statistics have driven experts to classify the cat obesity issue as an epidemic.

Diagnosing Obesity in Cats

Identifying an obese cat isn’t as easy as you think. Gradual changes in weight will be difficult for cat owners notice as they see their cats regularly. In fact, most owners don’t recognize that their cats are overweight until they take them to the veterinarian for another reason.

Your cat’s veterinarian is best equipped to detect obesity in your cat. They do so by conducting a variety of diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • A thorough veterinary examination, including an accurate measure of your cat’s body weight and an assessment of body condition score.
  • A historical review of changes in your cat’s body weight is often helpful in establishing a pattern of weight gain and may help identify a particular event or change in environment that relates to the increase in body weight.
  • Routine blood work including a complete blood cell count, serum profile and urinalysis are necessary to determine if there is an underlying disease. If the results of these tests indicate a problem, additional tests are warranted to specifically identify the condition before starting a weight loss program
  • Assessment of your cat’s current daily intake of all food, treats, snacks, table foods and exercise schedule is important in the development of a successful weight loss program. Naturally, if the calculated caloric intake exceeds the calculated daily energy requirement of the cat at an ideal body weight, then excessive caloric intake is the cause of the obesity.

Treating Cat Obesity

If your veterinarian diagnoses that your cat is overweight, or trending towards becoming overweight, you’ll want to take immediate action to help improve the health of your cat. Your veterinarian will provide you with the treatment information and answers to any questions you have. Among some of the treatments your vet may suggest includes:

  • Decrease your cat’s caloric intake. This can be done by changing the type of food your cat eats and how much food your cat eats. Sometimes, doing both is the suggested treatment.
  • Increasing fiber or water intake may sometimes be necessary to satiate your cat. This can be achieved through giving your cat healthier snacks or mixing in wet cat food to improve your cat’s hydration.
  • Increase exercise activity. Cats can exercise on their own, but if your cat is failing to get enough exercise you’ll have to help them out. Owners can boost their cat’s exercise through playing. There are plenty of fun toys, strings and leashes that can use to get your cat exercising.

Home Care

Weight loss should be a family effort for those owners who have a family cat. All members of the family must come to terms the animal is overweight and commit to a weight loss program. If only a portion of the family is committed, and the other half is slipping your cat extra servings and fatty treats, much of the weight loss efforts will be for nothing. It may be helpful to maintain a log of the amount and frequency of food and treats and weekly weight measurements to monitor progress. It might be most effective if one person takes charge of feeding your cat, but all members can help exercise her. If multiple members of the household are taking turn feeding the cat, make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the amount and frequency that your cat is fed.

To achieve significant weight loss, the diet must be changed to a therapeutic veterinary diet specifically designed for weight loss. Simply feeding less of your cat’s regular food is rarely, if ever, successful. Owners must be willing to measure exactly the amount of food offered and minimize treats. If treats are necessary, offer low calorie snacks such as popcorn or a small vegetable.

If your cat has primarily sustained a diet of dry food, check the ingredients. Some dry foods are made up with high-calorie filler in order to keep the price point lower. This type of food is fine for some cats. Like humans, all cats have different levels of activity and metabolism. We all have that friend that seemingly only eats yummy, not-so-healthy foods and rarely works out yet still looks amazing. For cats with high levels of activity and strong metabolisms, dry food offers all the energy they need. However, if you cat has a slow metabolism or if they are not very active, dry food could present the cause of their obesity.

If that’s the case, discuss healthier options for your cat with your veterinarian. Many cats will lose weight by switching to a more natural, wet food diet. Wet food has contains more water and a higher percentage of natural food than dry food. If your cat struggles to stay active or to stay hydrated, then switching to a wet-food diet might be a good idea.

Learn More About Cat Wellness at PetPlace

When it comes to treating your cat’s obesity, you’re going to need to take a patient approach. Weight loss programs can range from 3-6 months to as long as 8-12 months. It’s important for cat owners to stay patient both with the work they have to do in helping their cat lose weight, and with their overweight cat. More than likely in addition to changing your cat’s diet, your vet will instruct you to spend more time playing with your cat to get her heart rate up to burn calories. Learn more about exercising your cat.

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