Feline Obesity and Management
Or: The Fat Cat
Do you have a sneaking suspicion (or perhaps a guilty confidence) that your cat is overweight? If so, you are not alone. Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder we see in veterinary medicine. Though it is extremely common, it is not always easy to combat. However, by working together, there are concrete steps that you and your veterinarian can take to get your furry family member back on track to a healthier life.
“But,” you may think to yourself, “my cat does not seem to mind that he/she is overweight! What’s the big deal?” Unfortunately, carrying that extra weight is more than just a cosmetic issue for your favorite feline. It is associated with serious medical concerns, such as decreased lifespan, diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory disorders, and skin disease. For these reasons, it is important to identify whether your cat is at a healthy weight (and if not, to work towards achieving that healthy weight).
It can sometimes be difficult to accurately assess whether your cat’s weight (or “body condition”) is appropriate for his or her size. Therefore, the first step is evaluation by your veterinarian. After a physical exam, your vet will be able to advise you regarding whether or not your cat is within the proper weight range. In order to make good recommendations, your vet will need to ask questions regarding what your pet is currently eating. Come prepared to partner with your vet in advocating for your cat’s health: know what type of food(s) your cat receives, how much you give at each meal, and how frequently food is offered. Also be prepared to honestly discuss any treats or table scraps he is fed. It will also be important to relay to your veterinarian any medications or supplements your cat takes, and (for indoor/outdoor cats) whether he may hunt. If multiple household members are involved in feeding or giving treats, try your best to get a realistic idea of how much your cat is getting prior to your veterinary visit. This way, you and your vet will be able to most accurately discuss your cat’s intake, and what kind of changes to make. Do not be afraid to share information regarding your cat’s preferences (for example, does he generally prefer dry food and refuse wet food? Or does he go crazy for canned food but turn his nose up at kibble?). Your vet will likely also ask questions regarding your cat’s environment, activity level, and other pets in the household.
In addition to a physical exam, your veterinarian may recommend testing to better evaluate your cat’s overall health, and to help determine which diet would be best suited to him. These tests may include things like blood work (a CBC, chemistry profile, and thyroid panel), a urinalysis, or imaging such as x-rays or an ultrasound. The more information we have about your pet, the better we can tailor a nutritional plan for him. Your vet will also track the trends of your cat’s weight measurements in order to help assess his health (for example, has he been steadily gaining weight? Is he overweight, but dropping suddenly for no obvious reason? Is he heavy, but steadily losing weight? ).
After this assessment, your veterinarian can set a target weight for your pet, and give you actions steps to help you and your cat work towards this goal. Obviously, a main area of focus will be the type of food you are to feed your cat. Depending on the situation, your vet may advise you to continue with the current food, but to carefully measure and decrease portions. In many cases, a prescription weight-loss diet is necessary and helpful in achieving a healthy body weight at an acceptable rate. Oftentimes, these diets contain increased levels of fiber to help make your pet feel fuller (more satiated). In most cases, a canned diet is preferred to achieve and maintain a good body weight for your cat. Whatever the case, a gradual transition to the new diet plan will help things go smoothly for all involved. Your cat does not need to be miserable with his new diet…there are many tasty options available, and his weight loss plan can even include particular treats in moderation. Your vet can work with you to develop very specific feeding guidelines, so you do not need to wonder what type of food would be best for your kitty, or how much or how often you should be feeding him.
Just like with people, exercise is vital in achieving and maintaining a healthy body. Though your fur baby is unlikely to join you on the treadmill or to swim laps at the pool, don’t fret! There are many fun and enriching options for introducing more activity into your cat’s day. You can hide kibble around the house to encourage him to “hunt” for it, or you can make playtime or mealtime active by gently tossing kibble or treats for him to pursue. There are several food-dispensing toys on the market which encourage your kitty to work for his meal, and which also provide mental stimulation. Laser pointers and toys can be used in playtime with your cat, to encourage him to move around. Motorized mice or other toys can be another fun way for your cat to play in an active manner.
If your cat’s begging is testing your resolve, consider transitioning to an autofeeder. You can also talk to your veterinarian about whether a higher fiber diet might be right for your pet, and could make him feel fuller without adding extra calories. Often, it is helpful or even necessary to feed pets separately in order to ensure that each pet is taking in the proper type and amount of food. Finally, dietary and lifestyle changes can be a great opportunity to show your pet love in ways other than feeding him (such as by walking, grooming, or engaging in interactive play).
Once you have begun the weight loss journey with your cat, do not be discouraged if progress seems slow. Making healthy changes for your kitty will bear good fruit in time. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s suggestions regarding follow-up visits and/or weight checks, so that you can monitor progress and celebrate successes. Just like with people, there are no quick and easy “shortcuts” for weight loss. It’s not just a matter of adding in a diet supplement or weight-loss pill to help your kitty magically shed those extra pounds. However, with a little love and dedication on your part, you and your cat can enjoy a happier, healthier life together!
- Brooks D, Churhill J, Fein K, et al. 2014 AAHA weight management guidelines for dogs and cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2014;50(1):1-11.
- Linder D. Obesity in cats. Clinician’s Brief. 2017;15(9):29-31.