Pet obesity is a major health issue. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats in the US are obese or overweight. Along with this, 22% of dog owners and 15% of cat owners thought their pet’s weight was normal when it was actually overweight or obese. Obesity increases the chances of other costly diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and kidney disease. Many cats that are overweight are also prone to skin problems, as they can’t groom properly.
However, there is good news: obesity is a reversible condition. As with weight loss in any species, the goal is to burn more calories in a day than are consumed through food. The nice thing about cats is that if they are on an appropriate diet, they will eventually limit food themselves.
As cats are true carnivores, it is animal-based protein that makes them feel full. They are also meant to eat multiple small meals throughout the day (such as birds, rodents, insects), and they will expend energy to obtain these food items. Almost all overweight/obese cats that I have seen are on a dry food diet or a mixed canned plus dry food diet. One of the problems with dry food diets is that they don’t contain enough animal-based protein for cats to feel full. This means that they will continuously graze more calories than they actually need throughout the day.
For most dry foods, 10-15 kibbles equal a meal. This means most cats only need 1/8 – 1/3 cup of food for the entire day, depending on the size and activity level of the cat. Whereas most dry food labels recommend 1/3 – 1 cup or more of food per day. Coupled with the facts that the food just sits in a bowl all day (there is no energy expended to obtain the food) and tastes good to them, it is easy to see why obesity is such a problem!
So, what should we do? The easiest thing to do is to change the cat’s diet to a high-meat protein food: canned pate food. Luckily, most cats already like canned food and will easily convert to this diet. If your cat is a “dry food addict”, there is a web page with lots of great advice to help transition them: http://catinfo.org/docs/TipsForTransitioning1-14-11.pdf. The biggest thing for these cats is time and patience. Don’t cave in to your cat when they demand more dry food! It may be rough for a while, but once they are on a better diet, both of you will be much happier for it!
The other wonderful thing with cats is that once they start to lose weight, they also start to become more active on their own, which further accelerates their weight loss. For the very obese cats, it is very rewarding when they can finally groom themselves properly again! To encourage “hunting” behavior, food puzzles can be used around the house instead of bowls. In fact, there are now food puzzles available for canned foods also. A great website for purchasing or seeing how to make your own food puzzles is: http://foodpuzzlesforcats.com.
As always, if you are concerned about your cat’s health–either being under or overweight, we would be happy to examine your cat and come up with a treatment plan!