Pudgy Senior Cats: How to Get Them in Shape

Cat Playing with Toy

At one time, the phrase "fat cat" conjured up images of wealthy and powerful people. Nowadays, with obese felines like Sponge Bob and the recently departed (39 pound!) Meow making headlines, the meaning has taken a more literal turn.

The negative health effects for plus-size cats include a potentially shorter lifespan and an increased risk of diabetes. But the solution isn't always simple, especially if your kitty is also getting up there in age.

Vetstreet looks at some of the ways that veterinarians who work with senior kitties can address an older pet's portly physique, taking her aches and pains into account.

Why Feline Obesity Is a Growing Problem

When it comes to pudgy cats, although some owners may think they “look cute, [obesity] is cutting down their quantity and quality of life," says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, DVM, of the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in California.

According to Dr. Cruz, obese cats are about four times more likely to develop diabetes mellitus, plus they are more prone to developing urinary tract disease, heart and liver problems, and certain types of cancer. “So being obese is a true medical disease,” says Dr. Cruz.

Unfortunately, the reluctance of many owners to bring their cats to the veterinarian also means that some senior cats don’t get recommended twice-yearly wellness checkups, which enable a veterinarian to properly monitor a kitty's weight and overall health.

Dog owners can more easily get a sense of a pup's added poundage by monitoring the fit of a harness or a collar, but it's more difficult to notice weight gain in cats. So it's important to keep regular tabs on your older kitty’s physique by checking for the waist and ribs when your pet is in a standing position. Ideally, you should be able to see a defined waist when viewed from above, as well as feel the ribs, which should have a thin layer of fat over them.

How Can I Help My Senior Cat to Slim Down?

If you think that your cat is overweight, it's essential to get her to the veterinarian, who can rule out any underlying medical conditions — such as abdominal tumors or fluid buildup from feline infectious peritonitis — before working with you to create the right fitness and weight-loss plan.

Cats should lose no more than 1 to 1.5 percent of their total body weight per week, says Dr. Cruz, noting that owners should never decide on their own to switch their feline to a new food without consulting a vet.

Cats are notorious for turning up their noses at grub, and if a feline skips even a few meals (or eats, but is losing weight too quickly), she can develop hepatic lipidosis — a life-threatening fatty liver syndrome that can cause jaundice, among other health issues. “When I was in vet school, they used to say a yellow cat equals a dead cat because it was so hard to treat,” says Dr. Cruz. Although treatments have since improved, many cats still die from the disease.


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