The Weighty Whiskers Dilemma: Navigating the World of Feline Obesity

Obesity is a common and serious health problem in cats, affecting up to 63% of pet cats in some countries. Take health into your hands and kick away obesity from your feline friend’s life.

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Obesity in cats is a condition in which a cat has excess body fat that negatively affects its health and well-being. Obesity can increase the risk of various diseases and disorders, such as diabetes, arthritis, urinary problems, liver disease, skin problems, cardiovascular disease, and immune system dysfunction. It can also reduce your pet’s mobility, activity, grooming, and quality of life. Obesity in cats can be prevented or treated by working with a veterinarian to devise a weight loss plan that involves a balanced diet, portion control, and increased physical activity.

Punching pounds one
step at a time

Some factors related to cats can influence the risk of obesity. For example – older, neutered, mixed breed, and indoor cats are more likely to be obese than younger, intact, purebred, and outdoor cats. Some cats may also beg for food, steal food, or hunt less, which can affect their energy balance.

Some pet parents may overfeed their cats, give them treats or human food, or not measure their food portions. These practices can lead to excessive calorie intake and weight gain in cats.

Obesity in cats is a chronic, low level inflammatory condition caused by fat cells’ response to being starved of oxygen. This creates oxidative stress and hormonal imbalance in the body, which can impair the regulation of food intake and body weight.

Consequences of Obesity in Cats

  • Arthritis and lameness
    Obesity can cause the erosion of cartilage in the joints, which leads to pain and inflammation. This can affect the cat’s mobility and activity level.
  • Hip dysplasia
    Obesity can worsen the genetic condition in which the thigh bone does not fit properly into the hip socket. This can also cause joint pain and lameness.
  • Diabetes mellitus
    Obesity can impair the production or response of insulin, which is essential for regulating blood sugar. This can result in high blood glucose levels, which can damage various organs and tissues of your feline friend.
  • Cardiovascular diseases
    Obesity can put extra strain on the heart and blood vessels, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, or blood clots.
  • Urinary problems
    Obesity can increase the risk of urinary tract infections, bladder stones, or lower urinary tract disease, which can cause difficulty or pain in urination.
  • Liver ailments
    Obesity can increase the risk of a potentially fatal liver condition in which fat accumulates in the liver cells. This can occur if an obese cat stop eating for any reason.
  • Skin and coat related conditions
    Obesity can make it harder for a cat to groom itself, which can lead to matting, dandruff, or skin infections.

Curbing the cat chub – weight
management strategies for cats

  • Setting a target weight
    The target weight is the ideal weight that a cat should reach after completing the weight loss programme. It is usually based on the cat’s body condition score (BCS), which is a subjective assessment of the cat’s body fat and muscle mass. The target weight should be realistic and achievable, taking into account your pet’s age, breed, sex, and health status. It should also be tailored to the individual cat, as different cats may have different optimal weights for their body shape and size. The target weight can also be revised after the weight loss programme, depending on your pet’s maintenance needs and health outcomes. For example, if your pet has improved its quality of life and reduced its risk of obesity related diseases, the target weight can be maintained or slightly increased.
  • Choosing the right diet
    Diet is the main tool for controlling your pet’s caloric intake and ensuring adequate nutrition during weight loss. It should be a purpose formulated diet that is specifically designed for weight management.The diet should have a lower caloric density, an increased nutrient:energy ratio, and higher protein and fibre content than a regular maintenance diet. This can help your pet feel more satiated and preserve its lean body mass while losing fat mass. The diet should also be palatable and acceptable to your feline friend. It should be offered in measured portions, preferably using a weighing scale, and not free fed or supplemented with treats or human food.
    Introduce any new diet gradually as cats are picky eaters. This will also avoid any adverse effects such as gastrointestinal upset, food refusal, or hepatic lipidosis. The diet should be fed exclusively, without mixing with other foods. Make sure you monitor your pet for any side effects or signs of illness.
  • Increasing physical activity
    Physical activity is another component of weight management that pet parents need to take into consideration. It can increase your pet’s energy expenditure and improve its health and wellbeing.
    Physical activity can also enhance the cat’s bond with the owner and reduce its boredom and stress. Physical activity can be encouraged by providing toys, scratching posts, climbing structures, hiding places, and interactive games. You can also play with your pet with a laser pointer, a feather wand, or a ball. Physical activity should be tailored to your pet’s preferences, abilities, and limitations, taking into account age, breed, health status, and personality of your feline friend.
    Start with small sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the play session. Make sure that any game or toys that you use with your pet are safe to use and enjoyable. Try to make physical activity in any form a part of your pet’s daily routine.
  • Monitoring and adjusting
    Monitoring and adjusting are essential for ensuring the success and safety of the weight loss programme. It involves measuring your pet’s weight and body condition, evaluating her health and welfare, and modifying the diet and physical activity accordingly. Monitoring and adjusting should be done by the vet and the pet parent in conjunction. Make sure you weigh your pet at home every week, using a reliable and accurate scale, and record the results in a diary or an app. The veterinarian should examine your pet every month, using a standardized protocol that includes weighing the cat, assessing its BCS, checking its vital signs, performing blood tests, and asking about her behaviour and appetite.

Adjusting the weight loss programme should be based on your pet’s progress and response to the diet and physical activity. The caloric intake should be reduced or increased depending on the rate of weight loss, which should be between 0.5 and 2% of body weight per week.

Obesity in cats is a complex and prevalent problem that poses significant risks to your pet’s health and wellbeing. It is recommended that pet parents should be more aware and proactive about the prevention and management of obesity in cats, by adopting a holistic and individualized approach that considers your pet’s nutritional, behavioural, and environmental needs and preferences.

(Dr. Prashant Roakade – M.V.Sc Scholar – Department of Veterinary Pathology; Dr. Ankur Pandey – M.V.Sc Scholar – Department of veterinary Anatomy; Dr. Ajay Patel – M.V.Sc Scholar – Department of Animal Nutrition; Dr. Aryak Mishra – M.V.Sc Scholar – Department of Animal Nutrition, College of Veterinary Science and AH, DUVASU, Mathura)

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