Domestic Cat Lifestyle No Longer Compatible with Their Genes

Obese cat

Kibble Cat!

There has been a catastrophic rise in the incidence of feline diabetes. Cats are four times more likely to contract this disease today than 30 years ago1 and as a consequence the U.K.’s first feline diabetes clinic has recently opened in Hertfordshire.  It is called the Feline Diabetic Remission Clinic. Stijn Niessen runs It. The clinic is at the Royal Veterinary College’s Queen Mother Hospital for Animals.

The dramatic rise in feline diabetes (see symptoms) is linked to their lifestyle, hence the title to this post. We know that the domestic cat is a cat’s whisker away from being wild. The domestic cat is inherently a wildcat by nature but socialised and domesticated.  This is his/her genetic make-up.  

Because our cat companions are becoming ever more integrated into our lives they’re exposed to the same pressures as us.  The extreme end of the scale of domestication of the cat is full-time indoor cats.  It is very hard for a cat to behave naturally under these circumstances.  We have been saying this for a long time on this website; that the best cat caretaking is about creating an environment under which the cat can express is natural motivations. Although the reaons for a full-time indoor life are understandable it places an added burden on the caretaker to maintain their cat’s health.

Stijn Niessen says that more than 50% of cats kept indoors are dangerously overweight.  This compares poorly with cats who go outdoors, of which, 25% suffer from the same weight issues.  He also states that cat have the same problems us in driving in the increase in human diabetes. It seems that our lifestyles are being foisted upon the domestic cat and a domestic cat is ill equipped to deal with this.

We feed cat’s tasty rich foods.  The original domestic cats never had these opportunities.  Yet, as mentioned today’s domestic cat is pretty much identical to the domestic cats of 1,000 years ago.

The cat’s diet should accurately mimic the diet of what they would have eaten in the wild and me know what that is: high-protein e.g. the mouse and other rodents.

Apparently, the clinic’s research indicates that Burmese cats are particularly prone to diabetes.  However, domestic shorthaired and long-haired cats are also prone especially in middle age.  The research also shows that the gene that controls satiety in people is sometimes mutated in domestic cats that develop the disease.  An obese cat is eight times more likely to have this mutation.

Being overweight and diabetic carries multiple feline health problems.  The excess weight puts a strain on the body.  The fat circulating in their blood inflames their joints.  The cat has to be given insulin injections and their diet has to be strictly controlled while their glucose levels are monitored.

Just by putting an obese cat on a sensible diet can result in a 1 kg loss in wait in a month. The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, London Branch, cattery spokesperson, Lindsay Quinlan,  says:

“Most of the dangerously overweight cats we get have been living indoors,  But people often give their pets too much food or the wrong types of food as an expression of their love, although it is in fact a form of cruelty.”

An example of the kind of cat that the clinic treats is Daniel an 11-year-old cat owned by Michelle Howlett, 47.  Michelle had ignored a number of warnings about her cat’s weight until he reached 12 kg, which is almost three times the normal weight for a domestic cat.

Michelle felt guilty.  She was told by the vet that Daniel was obese, which upset her greatly but she knew it was true and she realised it was her fault.  Daniel is on a daily course of insulin injections and a special diet.  He is now in remission from his diabetes.

“He have longer has to have the insulin but he will have 2 be the special diabetic feet for the rest of his life.  Luckily, he loves it,” says Michelle.

The title (more of less verbatim) comes from the Sunday Times (Kevin Dlowling) and probably originates in what Stijn Niessen said in interview.

1. Source: Feline Diabetic Remission Clinic

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Domestic Cat Lifestyle No Longer Compatible with Their Genes — 6 Comments

  1. This is food for thought especially for those people who think a cat should be kept indoors at all times. That has some merit of course especially in built-up areas with lots of traffic and dogs on the loose but it has it’s down side as you explain. Surely it’s matter of controlling the cat’s diet and using a bit of common sense? I have only one cat that is on a reduced diet since she has a tendency to put on weight.
    I have perhaps just discovered something important in considering cat food. Three of my cats have been suffering from a bad digestion and some diarrhea which responded only temporarly to antibiotics, de-worming, or any other kind of treatment. I cut out dry food and switched to canned with added meat chicken or chicken liver and the improvement was 100% in a matter of a couple of days. Dry food has a lot of added starch so that it can be made into dry biscuit which keep, whereas canned keeps by virtue of being heat treated and canned and does not need starch. I suspect it is the carbohydrate content that upsets them by encouraging the growth of bacteria that feast on carbohydrates thus changing the intestinal flora. The clue was the smell of rotting apples or cider typical of degenerating starches in fruit and vegetables. Could this be the explanation for many cases of Inflamed Bowel Disease, IBD, in cats and maybe humans too?

    • I suspect it is the carbohydrate content that upsets them by encouraging the growth of bacteria that feast on carbohydrates thus changing the intestinal flora

      Great comment. Thanks Harvey. the problem is that today we have created an almost intractable, unresolvable problem with the domestic cat and his care. As urbanisation grows due to human population growth the long-term scenario is that more more cats will be living indoors, more often, because it is unsafe to let them go outdoors. The modern cat owner has a choice between their cat being potentially injured or killed on the roads or attacked by a predator and struggling with their cat becoming overweight due to living in an environment where it is difficult for a cat exercise. We know how difficult it is for many people to maintain their healthy weight. It is almost an inherent problem with the human and this carries over to the caretaking of their cat in feeding an unhealthy diet.

  2. Most people think we humans did cats a huge favour by domesticating them.
    But in reality, we have taken an awful lot from them.
    Yes the cats we call the ‘lucky ones’ with homes have our love, warmth, veterinary care and plenty to eat, but are they truly happy? Do they yearn deep down inside to go off on hunting trips as their ancestors did and have the thrill of catching their own natural dinner?
    There are no overweight wild or feral cats!
    Even cats like our own who are allowed as much freedom as is sensible to give them, are in our power, we make the rules whether they like it or not.
    I think we have gained more than cats in the process of domestication despite some people thinking cats should be grateful to us.

  3. I feel badly for Monty during the times I must keep him in, like during the times of day when the yard is all in the sun and there are lots of bees buzzing around. He loves being out there and for him it is all about hunting. He catches and torments chipmunks. He’s not hungry, so it’s not a clean kill. He just wants to play. I hate seeing him be so cruel so I do what I can to facilitate the escape of the chipmunk. I don’t think Monty understands why I would do that. His little heart if that of a predator. He wants to do his job– catch rodents and other small animals. But it’s a job that doesn’t really need doing around here and even if it did, it would be better if he caught small animals for food, killed them and ate them. When he does kill something it’s body goes to waste. He won’t eat his kills. He has to be who he was created to be. Yes, he’s my little furry companion, but he has this whole other life of a hunter. His expeditions into the back yard are all about hunting. The more he hunts, the better he gets at it, and the more small animals are going to be caught by him. But I just can’t bear to keep him inside 24/7. There are other good things about outside– he climbs trees, he runs and he explores. After a stimulating time outside he sleeps much better during the night, so Jeff and I sleep better. Also, I love the outdoors. Why should he not love it also? It’s just that he can’t love the outdoors for the breezes and the sunshine alone– he loves it for the chance to hunt. Meow. Meow. He’s asking now to go out. In an hour or two we will and maybe there will be carnage in the back yard again.

  4. I Think its important for the, cats or cat to have a balanced life of right food and exercise esp inside cats. I think also just like us Humans who can get like this. I think its a lot like portion control. Having a good balance in both worlds. I know my cats get lots of exercise inside and out. Have lots of play time together. Also to keep an eye on the teeth, as when eating lots of kibble they teeth can fail. Just my opinion.

  5. There is no doubt that cats have benefited enormously from their relationship with humans although there are significant problems in that relationship. The small wildcats from which the domestic version derived can only be counted at this moment in the hundreds of thousands or maybe less but their domesticated cousins have spread all over the globe and are numbered in the hundreds of millions. The figure of 600 million has be used. You can say that this is a clear example of adapt to survive. The wild version continues pretty much as always and is thus dependent on everything going it’s way such as suitable habitat and prey availability. Take those requirements away from the wildcat and it is doomed UNLESS it adapts and learns to tolerate a closer relationship humans so that it can feed itself. That of course is what happened 10,000 years ago.

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