The three reasons why there is cat obesity

Cat in dry cat food
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Photo: The Spruce.

I am probably repeating myself but I think it needs to be said. In my opinion, there are three reasons why there is a current so-called “cat obesity epidemic”. Sixty percent of US domestic cats are overweight apparently. The UK is not far behind.

The three reasons are (a) uncontrolled feeding (b) dry cat food and (c) normalizing obesity.

The first two points overlap. Dry cat food allows cat owners to let their cats graze anytime. They leave a bowlful of dry cat food out day and night and their cat will eat at will. Dry cat food contains taste enhancers which can make it tastier than high-quality wet cat food. If a cat is bored or inactive and is under stimulated then he or she may eat more than they need. It is a form of stimulation. It is surprising to me that domestic cats eat more than they need to. You would have thought that they would self-regulate but many cats often don’t. I think it is because of the attractive taste enhancers added to inherently tasteless dry cat food combined with boredom. I believe feline boredom is a bigger problem than we like to admit. Also so called ‘junk’ cat food prevents the cat from regulating calorie intake.

People are normalizing obesity. This is happening amongst humans and they are carrying it forward to their pets. They end up not knowing what a healthy cat should look like in terms of weight. Then they get used to seeing their cat being slightly obese and the weight keeps on piling on. Then they get used to seeing their cat being very obese. Then their veterinarian tells them that their cat is obese and they start introducing some sort of controls. But the vet will still sell them dry cat food (sometimes).

Wet cat food naturally lends itself to controlling the provision of food because it goes off so quickly. You have to put it out for a cat to eat more or less immediately. In hot climates it will become unusable within hours or less.

The answer is to limit dry cat food or eliminate it and control the intake of high quality wet cat food while keeping an eye on the correct weight. We shouldn’t forget a raw food diet either. A raw diet is generally considered to be an excellent diet but it needs to be well produced, carefully handled and it requires knowledge. It does not suit everybody but it will suit many cat owners despite the fact that veterinarians generally denigrated it because they think people are unable to make and store it properly. They also think it may undermine their sales of dry cat food and indeed it may cure some health problems and that wouldn’t be good for a veterinarian would it? Meow.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Cat's Meow says:

    Don’t forget to add mobility problems such as arthritis and declawing.

  2. AbbyandSadiesMom/USA says:

    Having two adult cats, I have first-hand knowledge of this issue. Abby (Maine Coon) weighed in at almost 18 (US) pounds; Shadow (Chartreux) weighed initially weighed in at slightly more than 17 (US) pounds. The vet gave me detailed information as to cat obesity. When I remarked that Maine Coons were big cats, his response was “Sure, if they’re long and muscular. Yours is round and fat and looks like a basketball!” That woke me up; so glad my vet is straight-forward. Anyway, he said not to buy the junk from the supermarket; it’s junk. He said in order for the cats to lose weight they needed to be on primarily wet food of a higher quality. No fillers, by-products, artificial colors/ingredients, corn, soy, wheat, etc. The first ingredient should be either chicken or beef or some natural meat, broth and the rest of it should be all natural ingredients that you can pronounce. As for dry food, he told me to refrain from dry food while the cats were on a diet; however, I could give a few kernels of dry for the crunch factor in a separate dish. If the wet food cans were 5.5-6 ounce size, one half can per feeding twice daily with the kernels of high-quality dry in a separate dish. No treats. When the cats whined because they wanted more food, don’t give in. Engage them in play and make them move.

    Following this strict diet, my two miscreants lost their obesity within a six-month period. Abby know clocks in at roughly 13 pounds and Shadow is a muscular 12.5 pounds! Their behavior is astounding. Although they’re seniors (around 9 and 10), they behave like kittens!

    To maintain their weight, twice daily they’re given no more than three ounces of all natural wet food (Natural Balance, Merrick, or other high-quality food purchased at PetCo), plus occasionally, both get 1/8 cup (small coffee scoop) of high-quality dry in a separate dish (Normally “Fat Cat” – a low calorie dry made by Natural Balance; all natural). The vet made a point of saying that every 5 pounds on a cat would equal something like 15 pounds on a human. Yikes! Treats are kept at a minimum, perhaps three or four times per month, that’s it.

    They don’t seem to miss it. Now they seek attention with play and even take a toy out of their ‘playbox’ and toss it at me to interact. It’s kind of neat.

    • AbbyandSadiesMom/USA says:

      Forgot to mention, the vet said to refrain from giving cats a dry food diet only. Dry food is what gets them fat; it’s mostly carbs and that’s what makes them fat. Unlike dogs, cats don’t drink a lot of water and could suffer chronic mild dehydration; they hydrate through wet food, as well as get needed protein. Dry food only also contributes to urinary tract infections, kidney stones, feline idiopathic cystitis, and lower urinary tract disease. Any cats with health issues that strain their kidneys, such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and cancer to name a few would benefit greatly from a switch from dry to canned. Feeding your cat only dry food is likely to set them up for urinary tract issues when they become a senior.

      Some of this info was gleaned directly from research done when my vet gave me the “speech” and it’s an eye opener. Through research, I found it’s best to feed cats primarily wet food with only a small amount of dry. Never free-feed a cat; it’s unnecessary and promotes bad eating habits. If the cat doesn’t finish the wet food within 1/2 hour, take it up and toss it. The dry can remain since it won’t spoil, but never ever top it off. Once the dry is gone for that feeding, leave the bowl empty until the next feeding.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Gail, thanks for a comprehensive and very useful comment. It is a nice example of how to achieve weight loss in cats. I am going to convert this comment and the P.S. into an article.

  3. Susan Gort says:

    My furpurrsons get fed twice a day. At each meal each cat gets 1/8 can or 1/4 can depending on the size of the can and a little less than 1/4 cup dry food. The dry food is high quality and the cats eat less. two of the cats are on a prescription canned food-for chronic UR and for chronic IBD and pancreatitis. They are in separate rooms for meals and get 1 hour to eat. Whatever is left is removed. They also get 2 treats at each meal. The cat with UR is the only one overweight-by about 1 1/2 lb. He is getting fed a little less of the dry food and his weight is slowly coming down.

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