Feline Obesity – Being the “PHAT Cat” may not always be a good thing…

06 Jul Feline Obesity – Being the “PHAT Cat” may not always be a good thing…

Most of us see fat cats showcased on the web, posted on social media, lounging in our friends’ houses, or maybe even on our own couch. While these cats might look cute and make us laugh, the problem of feline obesity has become an increasingly greater issue seen in veterinary clinics across the country.

What is feline obesity, and how do cats become overweight or obese?

Obesity refers to the accumulation of excess adipose tissue, or fat, on the body. Nearly half of all pet cats in the United States are estimated to be either overweight or obese.

There are many things, some of which we can and cannot control, that may contribute to feline obesity:

  • Decreased activity
  • Free feeding
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Breed
  • Boredom
  • Hormonal changes from castration
  • Feeding extra treats
  • Other health issues

Cats gain weight for the same reason that we do: we gain weight if we eat more calories than we burn in a day. Many of us don’t realize that we are contributing to the problem of feline obesity. A lot of people unknowingly overfeed their cats, and underestimate their weight.

Also, the main interaction between an owner and their cat is generally during feeding time, which presents another challenge. We often struggle to find other ways to communicate with cats besides using food. While we often intend to play with them each day, it is not uncommon to come home from a long day of work or school, and collapse exhausted on the couch. Our feline friends may come up and cuddle with us, and play time has quickly become nap time. We also may interpret their “meows” as cries for food, but cats may meow and try to get our attention for more reasons than just to snag a little more food.

Why should we be concerned that our feline companions are gaining weight?

Feline obesity is a major risk factor for other health problems that may lead to more serious issues besides a bigger belly.

  • Diabetes Mellitus occurs when pancreatic cells either do not produce enough insulin, or the cat’s cells do not respond to the insulin provided. Type II diabetes, or insulin resistant diabetes, is most common in cats. The most common treatment for Type II diabetes mellitus is the administration of insulin twice a day, and treatment will continue for the duration of the cat’s life.
  • Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in a joint, which protects the ends of bones, wears away, and often results in pain and discomfort. Most cats develop arthritis as they get older. A cat that is overweight or obese has a greater risk for arthritis pain since they carry more weight, and therefore more force is applied to their joints.
  • Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) occurs when functional units of the kidney are damaged, and the kidneys gradually lose the ability to adequately concentrate urine and perform other vital functions. CKD can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Available treatments can only try to maintain what kidney function remains, they cannot reverse damage done to the kidneys.
  • Obese cats are also at risk for many more issues, like urinary stones, respiratory and cardiovascular problems due to excess fat surrounding vital organs, endocrine and metabolic disorders, and ultimately reduced lifespan

So how can we help our fat cats become healthy and allow them to live a long, happy life?

Here are a few tips you can try to help your cat shed some weight!

  • Play with your cat for at least 5-10 minutes a day to increase their physical activity, and increase frequency with time
  • Feed them using a toy feeder where they must play and interact with the toy to get their food, or hide small bits of food around the house for them to find (many internet ideas available for DIY toys!)
  • Allow them to have access to a scratching post, climbing tree, and/or elevated areas
  • Rotate toys to keep your cat interested
  • Utilize cat nip to spark their interest in old toys or a scratching post
  • Keep track of your cat’s weight (if they will let you!) using a small baby scale each month
  • Talk to your veterinarian about a weight loss plan for your cat, including how much to feed your cat, what a healthy weight for them would be, and whether you should consider changing your cat’s diet