How does obesity affect cats?

The question in the title is current as according to VCA Hospitals in the United States, almost 60% of domestic cats in that country are overweight. There is a domestic cat overweight problem in the UK as well. 

A domestic cat is considered overweight when they weigh 10-20% more than their ideal body weight, and obese when their excess fat is more than 20% above their ideal weight (PetMD). Today I saw a tweet of an obese domestic cat weighing 30 pounds.

The tweet explained: “This cat could barely walk, and his skin was covered in infections and a burst abscess that [the owner] never knew about because he was so fat.”

Obese cat developed skin infections and an abscess which resulted in the coat being shaved by a veterinary clinic.
Obese cat developed skin infections and an abscess which resulted in the coat being shaved by a veterinary clinic. Image: Twitter.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The tweeter does not explain why the abscess was caused by the obesity. It’s probably happened because the cat was very static and developed a kind of bed sore which became infected forming an abscess (a bacterial infection below the skin).

Some health consequences of feline obesity

What other health consequences are there for the obese domestic cat? This is a summarized list:

  1. A shortened lifespan. A study on dogs found that there was a 2-year reduction in lifespan. If the average dog lives for 12 years, a reduction of that order represents a 17% shortening of lifespan. Pretty shocking. This is because obesity brings illnesses and illnesses can be serious and kill the animal. It is suggested the same sort of lifespan reduction would occur with cats.
  2. Fat tissue is not inert. It is active and it secretes inflammatory hormones and creates ‘oxidative stress’ (a state that occurs when there is an excess of free radicals in the body’s cells) in the tissues. These can cause illness.
  3. Because of 2 above, veterinarians treat obesity as chronic low-level inflammation. I guess they need to administer medicine to lower inflamation.
  4. Cancer.
  5. Diabetes mellitus (diabetes both type 1 and type 2).
  6. Heart disease and hypertension (increased blood pressure). High blood pressure causes a range of health problems such as kidney disease and stroke.
  7. Degeneration of the joints because of the weight carried and osteoarthritis. This means pain when moving and a lowering of quality of life.
  8. Complications for a veterinarian when administering an anesthetic. A higher than usual BMI can cause complications and there is a longer recovery time.
  9. Skin and coat problems (as seen in the photo and as stated by the twitterer).
  10. Difficulties fighting infectious diseases.

There are obvious non-health consequences such as:

  • Life becomes less enjoyable because the cat is less active. They can play less. Being active is important for mental health.
  • The cat feels less vibrant. A form of distress.

A secondary issue is losing weight. It has to be carried out in a controlled and slow manner to avoid a serious condition called hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

Assessing correct weight

How do I know if my cat is obese. Well applying common-sense to a visual appraisal should do it. But you can refine that method by palpating the rib area. You should feel the ribs coated by a thin layer of fat. Looking from above the cat should have a ‘waist’ – a small indentation just before the rump.

Correct weight cat
Correct weight cat. Photo: Warren Photographic with his permission.

It is clear that obesity, as in humans, is very serious for cats. The only reason for it is caretaker carelessness and neglect. Neglect is the main reason and a lack of concern for the health of their cat. There may be a false normalisation of an enlarged body; believing that an obese body is a normal body. Some cat caregivers may be obese themselves and have lost their ability to assess the condition.

Body dysmorphism by proxy – the pet obesity epidemic
The three reasons why there is cat obesity

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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