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The average domestic cat should ideally weigh approximately 8 to 10 pounds. However, more than 50% of household cats in the US are obese or overweight. The feline obesity epidemic is a major concern among veterinarians today, and should be to anyone with a feline companion. As little as 2 pounds of excess body weight can put cats at an up to 3 times increased risk for development of Type II diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, joint injuries, urinary tract disease, and overall lower immune system function. Obese cats have a significantly shorter lifespan when compared to cats at an optimum weight.
Why are so many household cats obese?
Our feline companions enjoy a life of leisure with all of their daily necessities provided by humans and have evolved to take advantage of a sedentary lifestyle. However, domestic cats are only a few generations from their wild counterparts with whom they share many genetic, physical, and behavioral components. Feeding behavior is highly similar to wild cats that consume 10 – 20 small meals throughout the day and night while spending many hours actively hunting. Domestic cats fed ad libitum (“free choice”) also consume frequent small meals throughout the day, but need only to take a few steps to the food bowl to obtain them. Instinctive hunting behaviors remain but are exhibited as playing, stalking and bouts of “friskiness,” and rarely last longer than an hour each day.
Spaying/Neutering is a common and highly recommended procedure that is integral to population control and significantly reduces behavioral problems in household cats. However, spayed and neutered cats have significantly lower (24-33%) daily energy requirements due to a decrease in their basal metabolic rate. But since their appetite is frequently unaffected it results in consumption of excess calories which are converted to fat. Male cats appear to be at a higher risk for obesity subsequent to castration when compared to spayed female cats.
Lastly, most commercial cat foods are formulated to be highly palatable because, let’s face it, you’re going to buy more of the food your cats like! Fat has long been known to be the best way to enhance palatability, and is added to many commercial diets for this purpose.
The evolution of the human-animal bond with our cats is wrought with good intentions. We provide our companions with all the luxuries they need, including an unlimited supply of their favorite foods. We’ve done everything in our power to make our cats as happy as they make us, with one unintended consequence: a predisposition to obesity.
Goals of Feline Weight Loss and Healthy Weight Management
Healthy weight maintenance is the first step in safeguarding your cat’s health. Together with advice from your veterinarian, follow these steps to design an individualized plan for your cat.
Step 1. Determine the ideal body weight for your cat
Do this with the help of your veterinarian. This chart shows how your veterinarian calculates your cat’s body condition score (BCS) on a scale of 1 (too thin) to 5 (obese).
Hills Pet Food has a website with a helpful guide to assess if your cat is overweight:
Step 2: Dietary Management
Your veterinarian can help you to determine the optimum diet for your cat’s needs and determine how many kilocalories (kcal) per day to feed to maintain an ideal body weight.
Cats should never be put on a diet without veterinary supervision
Many cats are finicky, but if a cat does not eat for 2 consecutive days it can develop life-threatening hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome)
Feed frequent small meals throughout the day. If this is not possible, feed a minimum of 2 meals per day.
Rechecks are critical!
Ideally your cat should be weighed once a month to assess if your weight loss plan is working.
How long will it take?
Healthy weight loss in cats should not exceed 1 – 2% of their body weight per week. Most cats will achieve their ideal weight within 6 – 8 months.
Step 3: Exercise
Exercise is not natural for cats like it is in dogs. Cats do not have any instinctive desire to exercise because they spend most of their day actively hunting for food in the wild. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure your cat gets at least 15-20 minutes of exercise each day. This can easily be accomplished using toys, laser pointers, and various other forms of environmental enrichment.
Treat balls are a great way to give your cat mental and physical stimulation.
Step 4: Understand how to maintain the ideal body weight
Involve everyone in the household
Keep your cat active with playtimes and stimulation
Regular veterinary examinations and re-checks
Consult with your veterinarian as needed with any questions or concerns about your cat’s health.
Cori Blair DVM
Hello readers, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. Now that the season has passed and we have bid farewell to 2014, it is time to set our sights on 2015. While I am sure all of you have been faithfully following your personal resolutions, might I suggest that you make a few for your pets as well. Here is a list of suggestions sure to make this a happy and healthy year for your pet as well.
1) Have a consistent diet plan
Over 50% of U.S. pets are considered overweight or obese by their veterinarians. Carrying this extra weight around has more consequences than just affecting how your little ones look in a swimsuit. Overweight pets are more prone to diseases like arthritis, diabetes, breathing difficulties and even cancer. In addition, a fit pet is a happy pet, who can keep up with you and all your activities. What better time to start a weight loss plan than early in the New Year? Try to exercise with your pet each day. You can always start slowly with a steady walk for a short period of time and later adjust to an intensity or time that fits you and your pet best. Also, try to actually measure your pet’s food for each meal. It is hard to lose weight when foods are freely available all day or “eyeballing” the portion poured into a bowl. Start with an 8-ounce cup and measure how much your pet is currently eating on a daily basis. Based on that information and your pet’s current weight, your veterinarian can help you establish the proper ration. Weight loss is never easy, but I have faith that you can do it. After all, the rewards for you and your companion include a longer and happier time together.
2) Find a fun activity to do with your pet
I am a runner and have always dreamed of having a dog that could run with me on those lonely early morning jogs. Conveniently, I live near a dog-friendly beach that allows access to leashed pets. I have two dogs so what could be better? Except dear readers, while my two canine companions are quite athletic, they are also pint-sized. Thus, they are not really cut out for the long distance jogs that I like to take. Does this mean that we can’t play? In the words of my toddler, “Goodness No!” It just means that we need to find a fun activity that suits us both. For some dogs it may be daily walks to the park or coffee shop. Others may enjoy cuddling while you read a book by the fireplace. Or perhaps, you could enjoy a game of frisbee every so often. However you spend time with your pet, it is important to reinforce the bond you share, as this will yield many long-term advantages. Several medical studies that have proven the health benefits attained by people who spend time interacting with their pets. These include reduced stress, lower blood pressure and decreases in anxiety or depression. And, in my experience pets who receive increased levels of exercise and attention tend to exhibit far less undesirable behaviors. There is an old adage that most often rings true, especially in this busy world, “a tired pet is a happy owner.” So be sure to get out there and spend some quality time with your little one!
3) Don’t forget those pearly whites!
Bad breath is the worst! Not only can be it be an unpleasant surprise when your little one wants to give you a kiss, but it can be an indication of infection deep inside the gums. This type of infection causes a great deal of pain and can even damage critical organs like the heart, kidneys or liver. Even though many dogs and cats may seem to have adapted to the discomfort of having dental disease, they will be much happier and healthier if we are able to resolve the infection completely. Countless clients have told me how much better their little ones feel and act after a dental procedure. Most say that their pets start acting like puppies or kittens again shortly after the procedure. How cool is that? I am talking about a literal fountain of youth, fresh breath, and increased comfort and happiness. “What could be better?” you may ask. Well, February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and Ocean County Veterinary Hospital is offering a promotion to help you celebrate and save money on dental services and products. So let’s keep those whites pearly, guys!
4) Update your pet’s ID information
The statistics on pet loss in this country are quite sobering. The American Humane Association estimates that over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen each year in the United States. In addition, they estimate that one in three pets will become lost at some point in its life. That’s a huge number! I personally have six pets (two dogs and four cats) that could potentially wander from the house which means that, statistically, two of them could become lost at any time. This is unacceptably high for my family, and I am sure for many of you as well. It is important to take precautions to avoid loss of your pet, but accidents happen to everyone. As such, it is prudent to increase the chances of recovering your companion if he or she becomes lost. The ASPCA reports that for dogs entering shelters, 26% are returned to previous owners, while 31% are euthanized. The numbers are even dire for cats where less than 5% are returned to previous owners and 41% are euthanized. There are a few things that you can do to increase the odds of recovery should your pet become lost. Microchipped and properly registered pets are much more likely to be returned to their homes. Statistics show that 52% of lost dogs and 38% of lost cats that have been microchipped are reunited with their owners. Now you may be wondering why these numbers aren’t closer to 100%. The reason is that many owners forget to register or update their contact information with the company that hosts the microchip database! You do know what this means, right? First, get all of your pets microchipped. Second, make sure you register your contact information for each pet that you own. Lastly, to be extra safe, make sure your pets have an additional form of identification such as a tags and a collar which would be visible if anyone finds your pet. The shelters cannot help you find your pet if no one brings them there. Without external identification, some well-meaning Good Samaritan may think your little one does not have a responsible owner and take them in as his own. Once you have followed these steps, I recommend having your pet’s microchip verified yearly by your vet (this is a quick and easy process). Be sure that your most recent address and contact information is registered in the microchip database. As my grandma used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care.” Not to mention the pain it saves!
5) Make a well-check appointment for all your pets
Except for some parrots and tortoises, our pets age more quickly than we do. They pack a lot of life into a shorter time span. So, it is important that you bring your little one in for regular wellness examinations at least once a year. As they become more advanced in age, we recommend twice-yearly visits. Regular check-ups can help us detect certain abnormalities before they become major problems. Medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, dental problems, kidney disease, arthritis and even some types of blindness, can be more properly treated or reversed if detected early. In addition, these regular visits allow our healthcare team to record even slight changes, which may become important later on. Make a resolution to schedule your pet’s wellness exam in a timely manner.
I hope these New Year’s recommendations have been a helpful inspiration. From all of us here at the family of Ocean County Veterinary Hospitals, we wish you a blessed and fruitful 2015.
Dr. Zach Weiner