9 Ways Being Overweight Can Hurt Your Cat

Fat Cat
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Did you know that overweight and obese cats are at higher risk for health issues like diabetes mellitus, urinary tract disease and joint problems?

Do you have a fat cat? It's estimated that half of all cats seen by veterinarians in the United States are overweight, with many being obese. If your cat has ribs that are hard to feel, no visible waist, a round belly, and noticeable fat deposits, he is likely overweight. Being overweight is more than an aesthetic issue; just as in humans, it predisposes your cat to some serious health problems.

Health Risks to Be Aware Of

  • Overweight cats may not live as long as normal-weight cats.
  • Increased weight can place an excessive burden on joints, tendons and ligaments, in some cases causing arthritic changes. Jumping down from high places can be especially hard on joints.
  • Overweight cats may develop high blood pressure, placing an added burden on the heart. In addition, the heart must work harder to pump blood to all the additional body tissue.
  • Obesity often brings on diabetes mellitus, as the body's requirements for insulin exceed the body's ability to produce or use it.
  • Fat in the chest and abdomen can restrict the ability of the lungs to expand, making breathing difficult.
  • Obesity can predispose cats to hepatic lipidosis, a potentially fatal disease.
  • Overweight cats have a greater risk for urinary tract disease.
  • Overweight cats can present a greater surgical risk because of the effects of obesity on heart and lung function. If obesity has compromised liver or kidney function, anesthetic drugs may not be metabolized properly, potentially increasing the risk for anesthetic drug overdoses. In addition, thick layers of fat may make it difficult for the surgeon to reach the surgical target.
  • Overweight cats may have decreased immune function, increased skin fold pyodermas, increased risk of constipation, flatulence and possibly increased chance of some cancers.

How to Help a Cat Drop Weight

Although obesity can be caused by some medical conditions, in the vast majority of cases, fat cats are the products of eating more calories than they expend. It's difficult to prod overweight cats into exercising, although you can increase your cat's activity to some extent with games and even short walks. The most effective way to help your cat lose weight is to reduce his calorie input.

Never put a cat on a crash diet. Cats have an unusual metabolic response to sudden fasting in which they can develop hepatic lipidosis. Your cat didn't gain all this weight in a week or even a month; it's going to take him even longer to lose it.

First, no more free feeding. Leaving food down for your cat to munch on at his leisure encourages him to eat more than he would if fed only in discrete meals. Feed your cat three or four small meals each day (not three or four regular-size meals but downsize ones) instead.

Second, feed your cat a canned, meat-based diet, which generally has a higher protein content than dry kibble. Dry food can be less palatable to some cats and often contains high levels of carbohydrates, which are more likely to be turned into fat.

When changing diets from your cat's old diet to a new one, add the new food in gradually, exchanging about a quarter of the old diet for the new every few days until the entire bowl is filled with the new food after about a week. Abrupt diet changes could cause stomach upsets, which could in turn make the cat not look upon his new diet with gusto. Chat with your vet before making any changes though.

The Right Way to Treat

What about treats? Handing out treats is one of the pleasures of living with a cat. Just make sure those treats are healthy, such as slivers of cooked chicken, and that you subtract their calorie count from the meal allotment for the day. When possible, redirect your cat's begging to another activity, such as a quick petting session or game. Sometimes refilling the water bowl with cool water will satisfy him. If he still demands a treat, toss it across the room so he at least gets a little exercise going after it.

Weigh your cat regularly, either weekly on your home scale or every few weeks on the veterinary clinic's more accurate scale. Depending on the result, work with your veterinarian to evaluate your cat's diet regimen and make changes accordingly. Weight loss is not an overnight project, but your cat will thank you with many more active healthy years because of your efforts — even if he's looking at you accusingly as you hide the treats right now.


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