Did you know? The average domestic cat should ideally weigh approximately 8 to 10 pounds. However, more than 50% of household cats in the US are obese or overweight. The feline obesity epidemic is a major concern among veterinarians today, and should be to anyone with a feline companion. As little as 2 pounds of excess body weight can put cats at an up to 3 times increased risk for development of Type II diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, joint injuries, urinary tract disease, and overall lower immune system function. Obese cats have a significantly shorter lifespan when compared to cats at an optimum weight.
Why are so many household cats obese? Our feline companions enjoy a life of leisure with all of their daily necessities provided by humans and have evolved to take advantage of a sedentary lifestyle. However, domestic cats are only a few generations from their wild counterparts with whom they share many genetic, physical, and behavioral components. Feeding behavior is highly similar to wild cats that consume 10 – 20 small meals throughout the day and night while spending many hours actively hunting. Domestic cats fed ad libitum (“free choice”) also consume frequent small meals throughout the day, but need only to take a few steps to the food bowl to obtain them. Instinctive hunting behaviors remain but are exhibited as playing, stalking and bouts of “friskiness,” and rarely last longer than an hour each day.
Spaying/Neutering is a common and highly recommended procedure that is integral to population control and significantly reduces behavioral problems in household cats. However, spayed and neutered cats have significantly lower (24-33%) daily energy requirements due to a decrease in their basal metabolic rate. But since their appetite is frequently unaffected it results in consumption of excess calories which are converted to fat. Male cats appear to be at a higher risk for obesity subsequent to castration when compared to spayed female cats.
Lastly, most commercial cat foods are formulated to be highly palatable because, let’s face it, you’re going to buy more of the food your cats like! Fat has long been known to be the best way to enhance palatability, and is added to many commercial diets for this purpose.
The evolution of the human-animal bond with our cats is wrought with good intentions. We provide our companions with all the luxuries they need, including an unlimited supply of their favorite foods. We’ve done everything in our power to make our cats as happy as they make us, with one unintended consequence: a predisposition to obesity.
Goals of Feline Weight Loss and Healthy Weight Management
Healthy weight maintenance is the first step in safeguarding your cat’s health. Together with advice from your veterinarian, follow these steps to design an individualized plan for your cat.
- Determine the ideal body weight for your cat
- Dietary management
- Understand how to maintain the ideal body weight
Step 1. Determine the ideal body weight for your cat
Do this with the help of your veterinarian. This chart shows how your veterinarian calculates your cat’s body condition score (BCS) on a scale of 1 (too thin) to 5 (obese).
Hills Pet Food has a website with a helpful guide to assess if your cat is overweight: http://petfit.hillspet.com.au/Public/CanIFeelMyPetsRibs.aspx
Step 2: Dietary Management Your veterinarian can help you to determine the optimum diet for your cat’s needs and determine how many kilocalories (kcal) per day to feed to maintain an ideal body weight. Cats should never be put on a diet without veterinary supervision Many cats are finicky, but if a cat does not eat for 2 consecutive days it can develop life-threatening hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome) Feed frequent small meals throughout the day. If this is not possible, feed a minimum of 2 meals per day. Rechecks are critical! Ideally your cat should be weighed once a month to assess if your weight loss plan is working.
How long will it take?
Healthy weight loss in cats should not exceed 1 – 2% of their body weight per week. Most cats will achieve their ideal weight within 6 – 8 months.
Step 3: Exercise Exercise is not natural for cats like it is in dogs. Cats do not have any instinctive desire to exercise because they spend most of their day actively hunting for food in the wild. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure your cat gets at least 15-20 minutes of exercise each day. This can easily be accomplished using toys, laser pointers, and various other forms of environmental enrichment.
Step 4: Understand how to maintain the ideal body weightInvolve everyone in the householdKeep your cat active with playtimes and stimulationRegular veterinary examinations and re-checksConsult with your veterinarian as needed with any questions or concerns about your cat’s health.