Fat to fit plan for your feline

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Felines are no different from human beings in terms of weight gain – if calorie intake is greater than calorie burned, they will put on weight. And if you have a housecat who has the choicest of foods and treats handfed to her, chances are, your kitty is…well…going to end up on the tubby side. Here’s how to handle the extra flab.

Sometime back, authorities in New Jersey found a cat weighing 20 kg wandering in streets. She was nicknamed Captain Chunk (and later renamed Princess Chunk after obvious discoveries were made) and put up for adoption. This incident brought to light the serious problem of obesity in cats the world over.

Some studies suggest that almost 25 percent of housecats may be overweight; meaning that they are 15–20 percent over their ideal body weights. This figure is not hard to believe since we tend to indulge our cats with free feeding, calorie laden food and endless treats. Additionally, lack of exercise, neutering and ageing contribute further to this problem. A small percentage may become obese due to hypothyroidism, but this is rare.
First things first
So, how do you find out if your cat is overweight? Cats are unlikely to jump happily onto the weighing scales, so the best method is to weigh yourself with your pet in your arms and then again without, and make the deduction. On an average, housecats weigh between 4.5 and 5.5 kg. Of course, certain breeds will weigh more, so your vet is the best person to decide. Ideally, your cat will have a thin layer of fat under its skin, but that should not prevent you from feeling her ribs.
The health problems with obesity
Obesity is a serious condition in cats; one that often goes unnoticed. It is often diagnosed only when pet owners take cats in for a related condition. Some of the problems that stem from obesity include diabetes mellitus, lameness (caused by arthritis or muscle injuries), an increase in the incidence of skin conditions (probably because the cat cannot reach all its parts to groom properly), and serious problems of the heart and lung. One study found that overweight cats are twice as likely to die during middle age (anywhere between 6 and 12 years) than other normal cats.
A good news!
But here’s the good news: unlike in the case of humans, where we are constantly battling temptation and weakening will power, cats are fed by us. We control their diets to a large extent and we should exercise this power judiciously.
The kitty weight-loss plan
If your vet suspects a medical condition, he may prescribe a blood or urine test but otherwise the treatment for obesity is broadly along the following lines.
Reduce calorie intake

  • Switch gradually from free feeding (topping the cat’s bowl anytime of the day) to 2-3 fixed meals a day.
  • If the cat is fed wet food from a can or home prepared food, make the change gradually to an age appropriate, vet prescribed dry food, which is not only more nutritious and lower in calories, but also safeguards your cat’s teeth.
  • If your cat is used to eating large quantities of food (think of Garfield chugging lasagna) – rather than abruptly reducing the quantity, switch to a lower calorie food of a similar volume initially, so your pet doesn’t protest too much.
  • Snack hazards: show your love for your cat in ways other than food treats and avoid feeding your pet scraps from the table. This will also prevent begging and stealing of food.
  • Account for metabolic slowdown due to age, neutering or change of environment (moving from bungalow to an apartment).
  • Always consult your veterinary doctor before starting a weight loss programme for your cat.

Exercise your cat

  • Play ‘catch’ or ‘predator’ with your cat.
  • Take her for a walk on a leash (gives them a taste of the outdoors too).
  • Get two kittens rather than one, so that your cat will have a playmate (this may not work if you bring a companion for an older cat).
  • Go slow, be patient and realistic – with the help of your doctor, set targets.

Another interesting finding is that overweight pets often belong to overweight households, so this may be a good time to evaluate your whole family’s eating habits and switch to a healthier lifestyle for all!

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