Domestic cats should be able to self-regulate their weight so why do they become obese?

At first it mystified me as to why veterinarians describe a current domestic cat obesity epidemic. You never see obese Near Eastern African wildcats. These are the wildcat ancestors of the domestic cat. They are very similar in their behavior and the same in terms of anatomy. They are slender, fit cats. Something has gone wrong for there to be millions of obese domestic cats. You would have thought that if you put food down on a free grazing basis for a domestic cat that they would stop when they’d had enough. And having enough is enough to sustain the cat and no more. In such a sophisticated top predator, there must be an automatic system which monitors and regulates their food intake. So what is going on?

Cat obesity trends in the USA
Cat obesity trends.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Lifestyle affects weight

I wonder if the domestic cat’s lifestyle is affecting its ability to properly self-regulate weight through food intake. The basic model is that if you consume more calories than you burn in exercise and activities you will put on weight because the excess energy in food is stored as fat for when it is required i.e. when food is unavailable.

The cat has a good ability to conserve energy. When a cat is neutered the metabolic rate decreases by about 20 percent. Neutered cats require less food. Also, neutering reduces a cat’s desire to roam. This reduces the cat’s activity levels so they burn less energy. Perhaps the spaying and neutering affects the cat’s ability to self-regulate food intake because the cat does not recognise the need to eat less after the operation. This is because the operation, in a strict sense, is unnatural.

There is another aspect of modern feline life which may affect weight management. Living indoors can make things worse. We know that in most countries confining cats to the home is untypical but in the best and greatest domestic cat marketplace in the world, America, a significant percentage of cat caregivers keep their cats inside at all times for reasons of safety and peace of mind for the owners. These cats have restricted opportunities for exercise. As a consequence they use less energy and they can gain weight.

Encouraging cats to exercise is not commonplace. Perhaps, too, cat owners have normalised food portions which are too large. The cat becomes used to large portions and is perhaps also bored and indulges, like humans, in food therapy.

Cats under two years of age are less likely to be overweight when compared to cats between 2 and 10 years of age. Dr Bruce Fogle DVM writes that he is surprised that purebred cats are “somehow less likely to develop obesity than moggies”. Perhaps this is because their human guardians care more for them and are therefore more likely to play with them? That applies to dogs in my view.

cat eating and licking lips
Cat Food Issues. Image: PoC.

Dr Bruce Fogle DVM does not discuss what appears to be a prevalence of feline Type II diabetes in the Western world. This may be due to increased obesity. Obesity creates insulin resistance. A dry cat food diet can cause the pancreas to malfunction which reduces the amount of insulin in the body which in turn increases the blood sugar level causing illness in what is then a diabetic cat.

I have written a page about case examples of 3 diabetic cats, 2 of whom had diabetes without the knowledge of their human caregiver. In each case their diabetes was either removed or managed through the application of a controlled wet food diet. All 3 cats were originally fed a continual and long-term dry food diet which Dr Elizabeth M Hodgkins DVM says is the cause of many dehydrated, hyperglycaemic, overweight and eventually diabetic cats amongst the domestic cat population especially amongst full-time indoor cats.

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