When people walk into my house and see my cat Jukie, the first thing they usually say is, “That is a BIG kitty.” Her response is to run to her food bowl. I tell people, “Jukie is very sensitive about her weight. We don’t discuss it.” But we should. Animal obesity is one of the biggest problems domestic pets suffer from. So many of our pets are overweight, but it’s easy to understand why the problem exists.
In the wild, cats hunt for their food. They evolved to eat about 8 small meals throughout the day, usually consisting of small rodents. For reference, a single mouse meal is about 35 calories. Our domestic felines usually get by on 1-2 (much) larger meals a day, and they don’t stay as limber, as the “hunt” usually involves following (at a walk or slow trot) their human friends around the house with an occasional tap, tap with the paw and a sad meow. My own lovely kitty only performs this particular charade if she needs a snack, as she is fortunate enough to have a machine dispense her food at set times of the day. Some families are lucky enough to have multiple kitties all living in harmony (or not) under one roof, sometimes leading to social and/or competitive eating, which can increase the amount of food that your cats would normally eat.
Overweight cats can be at increased risk for diabetes, arthritis, hepatic lipidosis (a serious liver problem), and decreased lifespan. Obese cats can have difficulty grooming their hind end, which can lead to skin conditions or a situation that I like to call “poopy butt.” If your pet is overweight, make sure you talk to a veterinarian, as there are some medical reasons for pets to be predisposed to weight gain.
So what ways can we combat feline obesity? Well, as just mentioned, it is important to start by discussing your individual pet with a veterinarian, since cats can sometimes get very sick if their food is switched or if they they lose weight too rapidly. And of course, your veterinarian can help develop a personalized weight loss plan for your pet to keep your kitty healthy while he or she gets in shape!
There are a few things you can consider when trying to determine why your fuzzy friend is overweight. If you and your vet have decided that you are feeding your feline too much food, you can try decreasing the calories SLOWLY. Start by cutting out the extra treats (even when Fluffy is being adorable), switch to a lower calorie food, or try wet food (it generally has less calories) exclusively.
You can also make sure your cat is getting enough exercise. Even if she doesn’t have to catch her food, most cats still love the hunt. Many cats are big fans of the feather-attached-to-a-stick toys and will attack the feather for hours. My kitty loves to chase her fuzzy catnip mice, and will bring them back so that they can be thrown again. (She also has been observed stalking and hunting insects and wagging dog tails.) Exercise is great for your cat and should be encouraged!
But what if your kitty is a couch potato that prefers lounging to chasing inanimate objects? You could consider a puzzle toy, a toy that makes your pet have to work for their food. They sell fancy toys in the store or you can find one by doing a google search. You could even do something simple, like closing your cat’s food in an egg carton, making her work to open it and get the food out. If your precocious kitty opens it up easily, try taping it shut. Another good idea is using the paper towel cardboard center to store treats. You can fold the ends in, and cut holes in the cardboard for treats to fall out.
Please watch your cat while she plays with the puzzle toys, as cardboard tape and Styrofoam should not be ingested.
While your kitty’s obesity may be linked to diet or medical problems, most cats love the fun of playing hunting games with their human friends. Playing with your cat is a fun, easy way to keep her active, and make sure that her weight problems aren’t coming from a lack of exercise. As always, be sure to check with your local veterinarian for more specific weight-loss plans for your chubby buddy.