Obesity in cats is a growing problem. It is estimated that around half of all cats in the UK are overweight or obese.
Obesity can shorten life-expectancy and increase the risk of diseases which can cause significant problems and expense. These diseases include diabetes, arthritis, skin disease, urinary tract disease and breathing difficulties.
What is obesity?
A cat is considered ‘overweight’ if their body weight is 10-19% heavier than ideal, and ‘obese’ if their weight is 20% or more than ideal. For an average 4kg cat, they would be overweight if they were heavier than 4.4kg, and obese if they were over 4.8kg.
Exactly what weight is ideal for your cat depends on their age and breed, so while it is useful for monitoring, using the Body Condition Score (BCS) is the best way to determine whether or not they are at their ideal weight. The BCS is determined by looking at and feeling your cat’s body. The ribs and spine should be able to be felt but should not be visible, there should be an obvious waist when viewed from above and tuck of the abdomen when looked at from the side. BCS can be measured out of 5 (where 5 is obese, 1 is extremely thin and 3 is ideal), or 9 (where 9 is obese, 1 is extremely thin and 5 is ideal).
Why do cats become obese?
A cat will gain weight if the amount of calories they eat is greater than the calories they burn in their daily activity. Neutering decreases a cat’s calorie requirement by about 20% so neutered cats need less food to maintain a healthy condition. Cats which do a lot of exercise will need more food than one who sits on the sofa most of the day.
If food is freely available, with no portion control, many cats will eat an excessive amount. High-calorie treats being fed will also increase a cat’s risk of obesity. Some medications such as steroids (e.g. prednisolone) will also increase the risk of a cat becoming overweight.
How can I get my cat to lose weight?
It is important for any weight loss to happen at a safe rate, of around 1% per week. For this reason, weight loss is not a fast process. For example, a cat who weighs 5.5kg with a target weight of 4kg should take around 6 months to lose the weight. In reality, it is rare for weight loss to proceed at this rate, so it may well take longer. Persistence is vital.
Weight loss is best done with careful monitoring by your veterinary practice and your vet will be able to advise you on a diet. However, many cats do find travelling to the veterinary practice very stressful and may struggle with this regular monitoring. I am able to offer a remote weight loss advice package – visit Pawsitive Vet Care for more details.
Kitchen scales enable you to accurately measure your pet’s food. Using a measuring cup or a handful can result in wildly different amounts of food being fed.
Puzzle feeders such as the Doc and Phoebe Indoor Hunting Feeder, Slow Feeder, CatIT Design Senses Food Maze or a treat ball help cats to eat more slowly, and therefore feel more full. It also gives them something to occupy their minds and can encourage exercise.
Microchip-controlled cat feeders are really useful in multi-cat households where cats need to be fed different foods, or different amounts.
Diet food such as Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic Weight Management is often a key part of weight loss, ensuring that vital nutrients are not restricted when the calorie content of the diet goes down.
Encouraging your cat to play and exercise helps to maintain their muscle mass during weight loss, as well as helping with weight loss itself. Provide plenty of toys and encourage your cat to use them. Toys that mimic hunting are favourites for most cats. For cats who spend a lot or all of their time indoors, cat trees can encourage them to move about and explore different areas.
A set of accurate cat scales can enable you to monitor your cat’s weight at home. Weight does fluctate naturally during the day so if you weigh too frequently you will get odd readings. Try to weigh your cat at the same time of day, no more frequently than once a week.
A tape-measure can help you to measure fat loss, particularly around the abdomen.