Lifestyle Factors Related to Feline Obesity

Buster Brown

June is Adopt-A-Cat Month and every blog post in June will focus on some aspect of our furry feline friends. Today’s topic is obesity.

I saw one of my favorite patients the other day. Okay, I admit, all my patients are my favorite. Buster Brown is a mink-coated Tonkinese cat, just a bit over one year of age. Because he is young and healthy, I haven’t seen him since before he was neutered and was a bit shocked when I put him on the scale. He had gained three pounds during the five months since I had last seen him. When his family saw the numbers on the scale, they asked, “How did this happen?” Below, I have outlined a few of the contributing factors to feline obesity that cat families can use to keep their furry friend at an ideal body condition.

But My Cat is Big-Boned
You are right, the significance of weight gain depends somewhat on the size of your cat. A slinky Siamese can gain less weight and still have a good body condition than the king of cats, the Maine Coon, but adding three pounds is probably too much for just about any cat. When I assessed Buster B’s body condition score, a scale which looks at a cat’s distribution of fat in various parts of the body, he scored 8/9, which is considered obese for a cat of his size.

Fixing Him, Even Though He’s Not Broken
Although Buster B is extremely handsome, he is a pet and was not going to make babies. Thus, he was neutered before he had a chance to start spraying urine on the furniture or drapes. Male cats that have not been “fixed” have very stinky urine and for that reason, pet cats are typically neutered. Neutering is a known risk factor for obesity in cats and portion control is a good practice after neutering. Decreasing a cat’s food intake by approximately one-third after neutering surgery is a good rule of thumb to prevent unwanted weight gain.

He Likes Crunchies and I Hate Those Smelly Cans in the Fridge
I am with you on this point. Cats like what they like and I find those little cans of congealed salmon and tuna pate revolting sitting next to my kale and organic chicken breasts. But, a diet of more than 50% dry food has been shown to be associated with obesity. If you feed your cat dry food fed free choice, without regard for portion control, your kitty can pack on the pounds. Ditto for treats; limit how many your cat consumes per day since snacking predisposes cats to obesity.

Kitty Gymnasium
In a recent scientific study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, risk factors for obesity in cats at two years of age were identified. Cats kept indoors were more likely to be overweight or obese. I suspect this is related to exercise or the lack of it in a confined space like your apartment. While research indicating cat calisthenics helps to keep weight off is lacking, exercising your cat with a laser light, fishing pole toy or encouraging them to run up and down the stairs can’t hurt. Better yet, provide a cat tree for climbing as cats love to be up high.

One third to one-half of American cats are considered overweight or obese. Be proactive and keep your kitty slim and trim by controlling his food portions, including some canned food in his diet, and making sure he gets plenty of exercise.

The Importance of Portion Control for Pets

In my last blog I wrote about Pusuke, the world’s oldest dog and the role of breed and size in dog longevity. Every pet owner dreams of having their beloved cat or dog with them for many, many years. But do you know you could be doing something which might decrease your pet’s longevity? That something is overfeeding.

Every living creature needs food to survive. But research has shown overweight and obese pets do not live as long as their thinner counterparts. Maintaining your pet at an ideal body condition score will help to lengthen its life.

Ideal body condition score
Your veterinarian may have talked to you about your pet’s ideal body condition score (BCS). Body condition assessment is used by veterinarians to quantify under and overweight pets. It serves the same purpose as the BMI your doctor calculates for you. At The Animal Medical Center, we record the body condition score of each pet we examine using a separate system for dogs and cats.

Portion size matters
Portion control is critical to maintaining an ideal body condition. An article in the New York Times about kitchen scales made me think of another worthwhile use for your kitchen scale: weighing pet food. It is so easy to be too generous when you use a scoop or cup to serve up a portion of dry food nuggets. When I prescribe a cup of food, I mean a level cup, not the heaping one I suspect pet owners are serving. Not all cups are created equal and some cups have the measuring line just below the top of the cup – allowing you to feed more than the cup you think you are feeding. Now, I prescribe pet food in grams – easily weighed on your kitchen scale. Busy pet owners might want to premeasure pet food servings into plastic bags or storage boxes, kind of like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig meal plans for people. This will make it quick and easy to feed your pet easy at the end of a busy workday.

The kitchen scale can also be used to measure canned food by putting the feeding bowl on the scale using the tare button. The kitchen scale should be used if your pet’s daily portion is a little more or less than an easily measured amount like a ½ can at each meal.

Portion control will go a long way toward keeping your pet at their ideal body condition and healthy for a long time. If you need help deciding on the best kitchen scale for your kitchen, try Cook’s Illustrated.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.