Feline Obesity - Nutritional Guidelines for Obese Cats
An obese cat is not a pretty sight. Cumbersome and clumsy, he suffers a marked loss in athletic ability and appearance. His decreased flexibility keeps him from being able to thoroughly groom himself, which can cause skin problems. Obese cats are also at increased risk for diabetes and are poor candidates for surgery and anesthesia.
Obesity results when an animal consistently eats more calories than he needs. This can come from overfeeding, inactivity, reproductive status, environment, body type, age, and genetics.
Assessing body condition is important in the overall evaluation of your cat’s nutritional well-being and can especially help in determining feline obesity. Take a few moments to follow the easy directions for assessing your cat’s body condition with the Cat Body Condition Chart.
Weight problems are a leading issue veterinarians deal with daily. If you suspect your cat is overweight or obese, a complete evaluation by a veterinarian is not only recommended, but a good idea.
Your veterinarian will probably ask you some questions about your cat, such as how much he is eating and how much physical activity he gets. Answering these questions honestly will help your veterinarian recommend some simple changes to help improve your cat's weight. Your veterinarian may also perform some tests. A few medical conditions may contribute to obesity. You want to rule these out before you start your cat on any weight loss or weight management program.
Your veterinarian may suggest that you reduce the amount you feed your cat first. If so, begin by reducing the daily portion by 25%. Continue decreasing intake by 10% increments every 2-3 weeks until your cat loses 1% of his starting weight. This means that if your cat weighs 4kg, a 1% loss would be 40 grams.
If you feed one large meal a day, or keep food available at all times, try dividing the daily ration into several small meals (at least two meals a day) and pick up what has not been eaten 30 minutes after each meal.
Your veterinarian may suggest you change your cat's diet to one specifically designed for weight loss. You will still need to control your cat’s portions. However, your cat might be able to eat more than she does on her regular diet.
A diet that replaces some fat with highly digestible carbohydrates is a good low-calorie alternative. Digestible carbohydrates contain less than half the calories of the same amount of fat and do not have the disadvantages of indigestible fiber. High fiber foods may reduce the digestibility and absorption of many nutrients. High fiber diets may also result in large, frequent stools and decreased skin and coat condition. A diet that contains carbohydrates, corn and sorghum can result in lower blood sugar and insulin levels than a diet that contains rice as the primary carbohydrate source. Lower blood sugar and insulin levels can also help with maintaining a proper weight.
In addition, a diet that contains L-carnitine will help to induce weight loss. L-carnitine is a vitamin-like compound that helps with fat metabolism. Vitamin A is another nutrient that can help with the "battle of the bulge." Boosting dietary intake of Vitamin A has been shown to decrease the likelihood of weight gain in cats.
Changing diets can be stressful for pets. So, if your veterinarian recommends changing diets, proceed slowly.
Begin with a daily portion that includes 25% new food with 75% of the old. The next day, increase the amount of new food by 50% and decrease the amount of the old to 50%. Continue increasing the proportions during the next few days until it consists entirely of the new diet. This method increases the likelihood of acceptance of the new diet and decreases the occurrence of stomach upsets.
Another way to help your cat lose weight is to increase her activity. Provide cat "trees" for climbing. Teach your cat to play fetch. Buy or create your own toys that encourage exercise. Many cats enjoy chasing lights from pointers or flashlights. One ingenious owner throws her cat’s dry food ration a piece at a time! Many enjoy learning to walk on a leash. You can also use your cat's natural hunting instinct to help her lose weight. Hide several small portions of her daily food ration around the house. If you have a multi-level home, make your cat use the stairs. Use your imagination, but be cautious. Don’t let a fat cat get exhausted, overheated or out of breath. Also, keep in mind that an old cat may not be able to exercise vigorously.
Use playtime, grooming, stroking, or conversation as rewards instead of food treats. If you cannot resist the fat cat who begs for food at the dinner table, remove the cat during dinner time. If yours is a multi-cat household, the consistent winner of the food competition sweepstakes is often obese. If this is the case, separate the cats at mealtimes if at all possible.
Obesity is easier to prevent than to cure. However, it is never too late to reverse it, though it requires long-term patience and commitment. Helping cats lose weight is a slow process. If the amount they eat is severely restricted, the cat risks other health problems.
Increased activity, behaviour modification—for both you and your cat—and calorie restriction are your weapons against feline obesity. However, with all these things, it is important to expect a few setbacks and plateaus. It will take at least four months for an obese cat to lose 15% of its starting weight.
At that point, have another look at your cat's body condition and go on from there.
Tips for Starting a Weight Management Program
- Always check with your veterinarian first.
- Eliminate all food treats.
- Divide the daily portion into several smaller meals.
- Feed a diet formulated specifically for weight loss.
- Weigh your cat every two weeks.
- Cats should not lose more than 1% to 1.5% of initial weight per week.
- Be patient and consistent!