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.

Why Being a Fat Cat is Not as Good as it Sounds

The allure of being a fat cat with a private jet, international residences and a Swiss bank account is undeniable; having a fat cat of the feline species as your pet is undeniably a recipe for a health care disaster.

Obesity runs rampant in American pets. Estimates by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention indicate over 50% of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese. That percentage translates to 89.5 million overweight or obese pets and over half of them are cats.

But, I Hear You Say…
But, she is soooo cute when she dances around for a cat treat. But, he wakes me up at 5 am if I don’t fill the bowl extra full. But, she loves her food. How can I deny her that pleasure? But, he eats the food of my other cat that eats slowly.

Feline Research Shows
In a recently published study from the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, researchers at the University of the Grand Canary Islands tested respiratory function in normal and obese cats. These researchers used a cat-sized Plexiglas chamber to measure barometric whole-body plethysmography. Roughly translated, the researchers measured respiratory rate, amount of air in each breath, and how fast air was inspired or expired. Fat cats and ideal body condition cats had the same rate of respiration, but fat cats had a decreased amount of air in each breath and a lower speed of inspired and expired air, suggesting obesity impairs lung function. All the cats in the study were healthy, with the exception of obese body condition. But if you have a cat with asthma or heart disease, obesity could seriously impact their ability to breathe.

Fat Cats Have More than Respiratory Problems
In addition to worsening respiratory problems, obesity in cats has been associated with a number of diseases. Obesity puts cats at greater risk for developing feline lower urinary tract disease and subsequent urinary tract obstruction.  Fat cats are the ones veterinarians monitor most closely for diabetes because early intervention and weight loss can reverse that disease in cats. Obesity initiates a vicious cycle of decreased activity and weight gain, leading to even less activity and more weight gain.

Preventing Obesity in Cats
Step one to preventing obesity in your cat is to recognize what a cat with an ideal body condition score looks like. Many cat owners believe their cat’s weight is perfect when my observations indicate their cat is overweight. Next, talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s diet and have them calculate the correct amount of food per day to keep them at an ideal body condition score. Finally, measure their food rather than just pouring into their bowl what you think is the correct amount. Your cat will thank you for NOT making them a fat cat.