WEIGHT MANAGEMENT IN CATS
By Stephanie Carter
River Road Veterinary Clinic, Norwich, VT
Obesity, or the state of being seriously heavy, is a common condition in cats today. Cats’ lifestyles have changed dramatically since they became domesticated. In the wild, cats spent the majority of their time hunting for food and very little time eating. Now, most cats are not required to hunt for their food, and spend more time eating than exercising. The decrease in exercise along with over-consumption of food is the leading causes of feline obesity. Some cats are predisposed to obesity because of their personality, breed, or disease state.
Obese cats show specific physical characteristics that differ from the normal feline shape. A cat with an ideal weight will be well proportioned. His waist will be distinguishable from his ribs. His ribs should be noticeable, and have a small amount of fat covering them. As a cat becomes heavy, the ribs are less noticeable, and the fat covering the ribs increases. It becomes more difficult to be able to tell the waist apart from the ribs, and the belly takes on a round shape. When a cat becomes obese, her ribs are no longer noticeable, and the fat covering her ribs becomes thick. She becomes heavy over her entire body and her waist is no longer distinguishable. Her belly is very round.
Obese cats are more likely than slimmer cats to develop health problems. Overweight cats are prone to developing type II diabetes. Cats with type II diabetes usually requires a twice a day treatment with insulin injections. Obese cats are also more likely to have arthritis, liver disease, and breathing and circulatory troubles.
Cats diagnosed with obesity are generally put on a “diet” to decrease their weight. It is very important to consult with a veterinarian when starting a weight loss program for your cat. Cats should lose weight gradually, and need to be monitored during the process. Cats that lose weight too quickly can develop life-threatening hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disorder). Hepatic lipidosis occurs when the liver accumulates an excessive amount of fat. This fat accumulation can lead to problems such as liver dysfunction, vomiting, muscular deterioration, and brain function impairment. Symptoms include weakness, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes), vomiting, excessive salivation, and depression. If left untreated, hepatic lipidosis will lead to further metabolic dysfunction and death. It is very important to transition the food over to diet food gradually in order to avoid developing this disease. Cats may actually starve themselves to death rather than eat a new food, so the transitioning process is imperative.
There are several obstacles to successful weight loss in cats. The first obstacle is awareness. In order to begin a weight loss program, the owner must be aware of the fact that there is a weight issue. Once the owner is aware of the problem, a solution plan can be made. The second obstacle to successful weight loss is being a cat in a multiple cat household where each cat is at a different weight. The first step in this situation is to change the feeding behavior of the household. The cats should be taught to eat two meals a day, rather than letting them have access to food all day. This will make monitoring food intake much easier. After that, generally, the quantity of food can be decreased by 10 percent to produce weight loss in the overweight cat without negatively impacting the slimmer cats. Next, cats that require a special diet will need special consideration when administering a weight loss plan.
Finally, owners may be faced with the difficulty of trying to decrease the weight of a cat that is always hungry. Usually, weight loss can be achieved by decreasing the food consumption by 10 percent. Measure the amount of food provided (provide more than the cat will eat), then measure the amount of food left at the end of the day. Subtract the amount left from the amount given (to find out how much was actually consumed). It is this final figure that you will decrease by 10 percent. With obese cats that are always hungry, it is sometimes advised to change their diet to either M/D diet food or DM food. These foods are higher in protein than carbohydrates and help to decrease hunger. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you as to how to safely proceed for your cat’s unique situation.
Contact your Veterinarian if your pet:
1) Won’t eat her diet food.
2) Is acting weak or depressed
3) Is abnormally hyper or agitated
4) Or has a change in over-all health.
River Road Veterinary Clinic is operated by Dr. Christine Pinello, a native of Bethel, VT. She started the practice in 1985.