No one likes hearing their cat is fat. One of the things I learned recently while in a room full of veterinarians is that they dread having to tell you that your cat is overweight, too. But cat obesity is on the rise. A 1970s study found 6.5 – 12% of cats were overweight, while more recent studies report 40 to as many as 67% of cats are tipping the scales farther than they should. No wonder vets dread having to tell you your cat is overweight. They’ve had to deliver that news far too often recently.
Being overweight brings health hazards you want to avoid for your cat, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Some abdominal cancers
Any human who has decided to diet knows that the principle of weight loss is simple: more exercise, less calories. Anyone who has tried their own diet also knows it’s never that simple.
First of all, see your vet before putting your cat on a diet on your own accord. Cats who do not eat, or who eat extremely little, can develop hepatic lipidosis, which is life-threatening. You need to be sure that you’re not restricting their calories too much, and your vet can help you figure out what a good goal weight. For obesee cats, this might be a weight higher than an ideal cat for a cat their size and frame. From that, you and your vet can agree on the daily calories for your cat.
The basic daily calories are calculated by determining the cat’s resting calorie requirement at their ideal weight. The resting energy requirement formula is:
[70 x (ideal weight in kg)]3/4
This formula is an estimate of how many calories your cat needs to hang out around the house all day but doesn’t include any exercise. Your vet will help you calculate how many less calories than this are necessary for safe weight loss for your kitty, whether it’s at or under her resting energy requirement. (You didn’t want to do that math anyhow, did you?)
Avoiding the Things that Make Cat Diets Fail
You may have fallen off of the diet wagon in the past, so you know that diets can fail to produce the hoped-for results. Did you hope that the chocolate cupcake after midnight didn’t count? Unfortunately, it did. For your kitty, cat treats count. So do whatever they mooch from you while you’re eating your dinner. So does that cheez doodle your cat grabbed while you were packing your lunch. With a much smaller calorie intake necessary than ours, your cat’s cheating on their diet can cause it to fail without your realizing they are eating very much extra food.
Hungry cats can be whiny cats. If your cat learns you will shake “just a little” extra kibble into their bowl when they give you that forlorn expression and meow, your kitty has won, and the diet has lost. Using an automated feeder may help cut down on the begging between feeding times because you aren’t seen as the bringer of the food.
Having multiple cats in the house hold can present special challenges. The cat with a higher metabolism who isn’t prone to obesity may take longer to eat their larger portion and be bullied away from their bowl by the dieting cat, who seems to spend all of their time asking, “Are you gonna finish that?” Feeding in separate rooms or putting the non-dieting cat’s food in an inaccessible location can help. You can put the food up high in a location that the heavy cat can’t reach by jumping but the skinny cat can. You can even set up a cat door between rooms in your house that recognizes individual cats either by a collar tag or their microchip to only allow access to the non-dieting cat.
Finally, some cats are just couch potatoes. (Looking at you again, Ashton!) It’s time for your cat to get a little more exercise! As little as ten minutes of play a day chasing the laser pointer, a feather wand, or other favorite toy can make a big difference in your cat’s weight loss.
Talk to Your Vet
Every cat is unique, and their metabolisms aren’t all the same, either. The diet that your friend’s cat’s vet recommended for his cat isn’t necessarily the right thing for yours. Calculating the resting energy requirement for a given weight is no substitute for a visit to your vet to discuss healthy diet options for your cat. So pay your vet a visit and be ready to have a chat about your cat being overweight. Your vet will appreciate how proactive you are, and your cat can be healthier and happier.
International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine, Prevalence and Risk factors for Obesity in Adult Cats from Private US Veterinary Practices
Preventative Veterinary Medicine, A cross-sectional study to compare changes in the prevalence and risk factors for feline obesity between 1993 and 2007 in New Zealand