Fernando Botero's Cat, The Art Museum, Singapore - Photo by Eustaquio Santimano
It is hard to skirt around the argument that cat obesity is nearly always due to overeating and overeating is due to overfeeding and that is about people not cats. It can be as challenging for us to diet our cat as it is to diet ourselves. For us and cats, calorie input must = calories burned to maintain a healthy weight.
Some cats are predisposed to obesity: middle aged cats (inactive - old cats tend to lose weight1), poor health, neutered cats. Obesity is more common in neutered cats than intact cats. Some evidence exists that neutered cats eat more after the operation5 (increased appetite). Neutered cats may have lower activity levels with corresponding lower energy requirements6. This is caused partly by a lower metabolic rate (30% less) when the cat is at rest5. Possibly neutered cats are less active1.
One would have thought that cats would self regulate calorie intake and this is normally the case. Feral cats cannot get enough calories often. Circumstances for indoor cats and indoor/outdoor cats can override the natural processes. Boredom, highly palatable dry food, high calorific density of food and low activity are examples of factors that upset the self regulation process1.
My cat is overweight but not obese so I know a bit about weight problems. I have dieted her all her life without real success and that is my fault but she was psychologically damaged I feel as a kitten in being abandoned and left starving hungry. In defense I would say that she is a bit gluttonous and does not self regulate her intake of food as we sometimes expect cats to do.
Cat obesity is a big problem in the modern world for the domestic cat. In fact it is the most common form of malnutrition in cat companions1 with between 20% to 48% of cats2|3 (presumed to be USA studies). Cat obesity has crept up on us. When the Maine Coon was mouser (s)he was not obese. Cats are more sedate, pampered and indoors.
Actually when I think about it, Charlie, my three legged cat that I inherited from my mother was also quite overweight. He is losing it. This was also due to overfeeding. She wouldn't mind me saying that she was a bit naughty feeding him high quality human treats such as ham and chicken. Maybe this is OK once in a while but not all the time. It is also an unbalanced diet.
Is our cat obese? It is frankly pretty obvious but on this page I discuss a healthy cat weight. It basically comes down to the rib test - can you feel the ribs under a layer of subcutaneous fat? If you can feel the individual ribs your cat is probably not overweight. A cat that is 25% above normal weight is considered obese1. Personally, though, I feel that we should be careful not to pigeon hole cats into standard sizes. Some cats are naturally cobby (stocky). Most cats in the middle bracket for size weigh about 8 pounds (lbs).
Overweight cats are susceptible to certain diseases and health problems including: diabetes mellitus (see symptoms), lameness, hepatic lipidosis and skin conditions (not associated with allergies)4.
Back to us. We are overfeeding if our cat is obese (barring any illnesses).
The classic (and vet recommended) method to deal with this is to feed our cat less No, what I mean is less calories. The dry food restricted calorie types are recommended. I personally feel that it is unwise to only feed dry food as it can lead to health issues particularly urinary tract disease but Hill r/d or l/d in conjunction with other low calorie wet foods would seem to be the answer.
The Hills weight reducing dry foods come with a measuring cup so you just put out the amount recommended to lose weight. It works. I have a problem now because I have two cats (actually a third stray comes in too). This means food is left over from one cat and the other eats it making control difficult. Your vet will probably be willing to advise on quantities at the next regular appointment for example.
Manufacturers of commercial cat foods that is stated as complete and balanced are required to state recommended quantities to feed (this may only apply to the USA). However, you should find these recommendations on the box. For example in the UK, Felix pouches (12 per box) have a recommendation on the bottom of the box at 3 pouches per day, ideally in separate meals, for an average cat of 4 kg in weight. Each pouch weighs 100 grams. This figure by the way seems to conflict with another source1 in which an average cat of average activity is recommended to eat 62 grams of food. However the latter relates to dry cat food, which clearly contains more calories per gram and also wet food is just that; there is a lot of water in it, which has no calories. Clearly, though, these are wide guidelines as cat weights differ considerably.
The feeding of supplements should stop to avoid cat obesity (treats and bit here and there). This can be hard because we like to please our cat and cats are mightily persistent. Mine always win the arguments.
Cats can sometimes scrump food elsewhere. A neighbour might me feeding her or him if she is an outdoor cat. Monitoring movements might detect this. Experts say that under a diet a cat should be able to lose 4% of their weight weekly. If the cat weighs say 15 lbs, this means about half a pound a week.
Weighing our cat regularly is also a form of useful monitoring. I would try carrying your cat onto human scales and subtract your weight but these sorts of scales are not that accurate.
One thing that can be overlooked is exercise. For indoor cats in small homes in winter where the human companion works full-time exercise for the cat is hard to come by. We should make the effort, however. There are some great toys but the best are homemade cat toys.
When an ideal cat weight has been reached (dreaming?) after about 5 weeks dieting, a high quality but perhaps not too palatable cat food can be provided in a controlled quantity to maintain the correct weight. The trend is away from dry cat food despite its convenience (its convenience is its downfall and the manufacturing process: Cat Food Recipe).
Update 12th November 2010: There is a short article in the newspaper today. The headline is, "Pet food with portion tips to slim down the fat cats". Research indicates that 29% of cats in the UK are obese. People don't know how much to give their cats it is said. The idea is to provide portion size tips on the packaging. It is also said that people are not providing their dogs (and cats) with enough exercise plus feeding too much - in short killing our pets with kindness! One other point is that a lack of activity can lead to depression. It is well known that exercise is very good, even essential for people and a good way to control the blues. I have made a comment about cats preferences to being fat or thin. I wonder too if some thin cats are in fact depressed through being permanently indoors while not having enough exercise. Just a thought, no more. Cat obesity is one of the modern era's main problems for cat keepers.
I am not sure about the portion size idea though as often cat food is provided in sachets that are a portion size.
Cat Obesity - Associated posts:
Cat Obesity - Sources:
Own Experiences with cat obesity
1. The Cat, Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health by Lind P Case
2.Overweight Cats: Prevalence and risk factors Journal of Obesity Scarlett et al.
3. Influence of feeding regimen on body condition in the cat Journal of Small Animal Practice Russell K et al.
4. Association between body condition and disease in cats Journal of AVMA 1998
5. Effects of neutering on body weight, metabolic rate and glucose tolerance of domestic cats Research in Veterinary Science 1997
6. The effect of castration and body weight on the occurrence of the feline urinological syndrome Feline Practice 1978