Obesity in cats is an epidemic in America. It is the most common preventable disease in cats with 30% to 35% of the feline population being obese. Half of cats aged 5 to 11 are over their ideal weight.
Obesity is defined as an accumulation of excess body fat. Felines are classified as overweight when they are 10% to 20% over their ideal body weight. They are considered obese when they are more than 20% above their ideal weight.
We are all aware that obesity shortens our lives, and the same goes for cats. Obesity makes cats more likely to develop disease. Studies have shown that even being moderately overweight reduces a cat’s life expectancy.
Scientific evidence now reveals that fat tissue is biologically active. Previously, fat was thought to be relatively inactive tissue, simply storing excess energy and adding to body mass. Now studies show that it secretes inflammatory hormones and creates oxidative stress on the body’s tissue, both of which contribute to many diseases. Obesity is now classified as a chronic, low-level inflammatory condition.
Obese cats are at increased risk for many types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, urinary bladder stones and arthritis. It puts them at risk for anesthetic complications and hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening liver disease. They are unable to properly groom and exercise.
Like anything, recognizing and acknowledging that your cat is overweight or obese is the first step to addressing the problem. Americans are bombarded daily by imagery in the media of overweight cats, making it difficult to recognize what healthy and lean looks like. Your veterinarian can assist you with a weight assessment for your cat and help you set goals for your cat’s weight. Your veterinarian can provide an estimated ideal body weight to use as a target.
You may need to put your cat on a diet that has been formulated as a weight loss food. These foods are prescription-only and aren’t available over the counter. They are specially formulated to have a lower calorie density, yet maintain an appropriate nutrient balance. It is not appropriate to simply reduce the volume of your cat’s current food. This will cause malnourishment over time. Your veterinarian can help you determine which nutritional products are best for your cat.
While your cat is on a weight-loss program, it is important to have regular body condition assessments and weigh-ins at your vet’s office to ensure progress is being made toward normal body weight and condition. Regular weigh-ins — ideally every two or three weeks, or at minimum once per month — are an important component of successful feline weight loss, and it keeps everyone accountable. It is important to verify weight loss, to ensure it is neither too rapid nor excessive, and to determine when enough weight has been lost.
Once an ideal body weight and condition has been achieved, it is important to maintain that weight. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate food and portion for weight maintenance.
Sonnya Crawford, DVM, is a veterinarian at Grays Harbor Veterinary Services in Montesano. Her pets include two cats, numerous parrots, a giant bunny and saltwater fish. Her special interests are in avian medicine, veterinary dermatology and dentistry. Reach her at email@example.com.