It has become quite apparent in our country that obesity is the number one health epidemic of the 21st century. Unfortunately, this epidemic is also affecting our canine and feline patients. We have seen an increase in the number of patients entering our clinic who are morbidly obese. In the US, it is estimated that 40-50% of the cats ages 5-12 are overweight! One problem is that this weight issue is not seen as a major health issue…often times the cats (and dogs) are seen as “cute” and “extra-fluffy”. It really bothers me when I see pictures on the internet of people showing off their overweight cats like it’s funny. These cats are at risk for serious health consequences secondary to their obesity!
The problem with our feline patients is that the majority of cats are indoors only, which is better overall for their health and safety, but dramatically limits the amount of activity they receive. Many of these cats then consume too much food given their lack of activity…and hence the extra pounds ensue. One amazing statistic I came across is that a 8 pound cat consuming an extra 10 calories (Kcal) a day will gain about 12% of its body weight in 1 year…that’s only 10 extra kibbles a day! It’s no surprise that our cats are gaining weight.
The first step with any problem is to recognize that the problem exists. To evaluate whether a cat is overweight, we utilize what is called the body condition score or BCS. The BCS system that we utilize at the Animal Wellness Center assigns a pet a BCS score out of 9, with 5 considered ideal. For a cat with an ideal body weight, you can easily feel the ribs but not necessarily see them and has a clear waistline. A cat that is an ideal weight should not have a fat pad! Any degree of a pooch with fat accumulation is an indication of obesity. Here is a link to the Purina BCS guide that we use (http://www.projectpetslimdown.com/Home/Obesity). Take a look to see if you can grade your cats BCS.
If we have determined that your kitty is overweight, then our next step is to determine what the ideal weight should be and how many calories per day your cat should consume. We also want to track what your cat is consuming each day…similar to Weight Watchers. Every little item that they eat has calories – including treats, milk, human food, etc. One of the veterinarians at the Animal Wellness Center will do the calculations and put together a weight loss plan for your cat, including the goal weight and how much to feed each day. We will also likely discuss switching to a diet that is lower in fat and higher in protein, as this is more ideal for weight loss. In general, we simply cannot just feed the cat less of its normal diet. The cat will likely be hungry and the entire nutrient quantities will be reduced because diets are balanced based on energy content. By switching to a diet specific for weight loss, we can guarantee that the nutrients are still appropriately balanced.
The other big component, that is especially difficult for our kitties, is increasing their daily activity. Just like with us, restricting our daily calorie intake is often not enough…we need to exercise too. While we may not be able to walk our cats like dogs, there are other methods that can be used to increase activity. Because cats are natural hunters, you can utilize this desire by using a laser or other interactive cat toy (I personally recommend the “Da Bird” toy) to increase movement. Food can also be placed around the house in muffin liners to create a “treasure hunt” for the cat. This also plays on the natural nature of cats to eat multiple small meals throughout the day. There are also several commercial products available to help enrich mealtime.
With a combination of diet restriction and increased activity, hopefully we can help your kitty lose weight over a period of time. Weight loss is a process and will not happen overnight. We want to work with you as a team to help get your kitty back on the road to health!