Overweight Cats Are An Epidemic

Overweight Cats Are An Epidemic

Loads of Americans have developed spare tires around their middles, and so have many of our pets. Cats are particularly portly; about 55 percent of tabbies are tubby, says the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Some suggest this is a conservative number.

According to the Banfield Pet Hospital 2012 State of Pet Health Report, there's been a whopping 90 percent rise in overweight and obese cats since 2007. Yet, nearly 70 percent of cat owners say their purring pal is purr-fectly svelte. Cats don't become hefty overnight, so some owners just can't tell; without visiting a veterinarian, they have no idea what their pet weights. Other owners have a skewed idea of what cats should look like, thinking tubby is cute. Still other owners are simply in denial.

In any case, the rise of portly cats has become epidemic, and the impact is undeniable. Diabetes and arthritis have never been so prevalent in cats. In fact, behavior problems -- which can lead to euthanasia -- may be more common in overweight cats. For example, weight gain may contribute to arthritis, so it hurts kitty to step into the litter box or walk up/down the stairs leading to the box. Some pudgy cats can barely fit into a litter box. As a result, some have accidents and are relinquished to shelters or simply left outdoors to fend for themselves.

Some cancers are associated with obesity, and a lack of mental and physical exercise may heighten the probability of cognitive dysfunction (dementia) in older cats. Obese cats also have difficulty grooming themselves.

So, why are there so many tubby tabbies today? There are several explanations:

1. Spay/neuter: More cats than  ever are being spayed or neutered (about 90 percent), which is good. However, there's a consequence to these procedures, which is seldom discussed. Cats who've been "fixed" do experience a drop in energy needs, yet tend to be hungrier. As a result, they have a tendency to beg for table food, or even cat food, often "training" their people to give it to them. This eventually becomes a vicious cycle: The cats pack on pounds as their metabolism slows, making exercise less likely, further boosting weight gain.

2. Free feeding: Leaving food out 24/7 in multi-cat homes makes it impossible for owners to keep track of which cat has eaten what. Cats do train us very well as their automatic food dispensers.

3. Indoors only: Studies show outdoor cats spend about 17 percent of their time traveling/hunting. Indoor-only cats are safer, but do spend far more time catnapping.

So, what to do? Exercise isn't only important for dogs and people. Use an interactive toy to engage your kitty. Hide food treats in puzzle balls and toys around the house when you're not home so your little lion can "hunt." Enrich your cat's environment by providing toys and lots of places to climb and scratch. Note: Toys can be as simple as an empty box or plastic cap from a milk bottle.

Some indoor cats enjoy walking outside on a leash and harness. "Catios" are the cat's meow -- a trend in New York City and elsewhere whereby patios and porches are enclosed, keeping felines in and potential predators out. Learn more about enriching your pet's environment in a free handout from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine,  Dr. Tony Buffington's Indoor Pet Initiative.

For spayed/neutered cats yet to win the battle of the bulge, there's good news. The new Spayed/Neutered cat food from Royal Canin provides a unique blend of appetite-curbing fibers, and the donut-shaped kibble slows down cats' eating, (There's a Spayed/Neutered diet available for kittens to senior cats, all age groups.)

Remember that a year in a cat's life is equivalent to about four or six human years. Make sure your pet sees a veterinarian at least once a year for preventive care, which includes being weighed. Owners are often unaware their cat has become plump. Veterinarians are the best source of advice on weight loss. Beware: Crash diets may cause fatty liver disease, which can be fatal.

Diabetes can be difficult for pet owners to recognize (another reason for veterinary visits). Diabetic cats do require insulin, such as ProZinc, specifically created for cats. It turns out that with exercise and a high protein/low carbohydrate diet, weight loss may follow, and some cats then go into remission.

Through diet and scheduled feedings, even spayed/neutered cats may not be so determined to eat. And for those who are already rotund, veterinarians can create a plan to enhance your cat's quality of life, and maybe even extend the pet's life.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services
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  • It is not just free feeding that leads to obesity. Most commercial cat foods are terrible for cats. All that dry kibble? That's not what cats are built to eat. They are obligate carnivores ~ they must eat a meat based diet to be healthy. Think about it. What would their natural diet be? A nice juicy mouse of chipmunk ~ something that is most with a few bones for crunch.
    My Twiss was vomiting a bit of blood from time to time. Overnight that went to really vomiting blood and diarrhea that was straight blood. His was suffering from inflammatory bowel caused by commercial dry kibble.
    I got him on probiotics to start and his recovery began right away. I then went to canned food + home cooked + occasional raw. Do read the labels. Profit is the priority not the well being of our cats. You will find that most commercial canned foods have wheat as gluten or starch. DO NOT feed anything with wheat or corn.
    Our mainstays are Friskies and, believe it or not, Walmart's store brand. The kitties have glossy coats, regular bowels, and plenty of energy.

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    Hi Steve- Both cats and dogs are overweight in epidemic proportions. More than 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are overweight or obese according to APOP. We have created a site and a mobile app to help dog owners better deal with this issue. And we even posted a piece today about Spaying/Neutering your dog and the “ensuing” weight gain. Here is the link: http://slimdoggy.com/peggys-pet-place-will-neutering-make-your-dog-fat/ Pet owners should use a tool like the slimdoggy app to know how much they should feed their pets given the pets age, weight, target weight, activity levels, and food brands.

    For dogs, the fact that there are 41 million ‘fat’ dogs in the US means that their owners are likely paying in excess of $6 billion- $8 billion dollars a year in extra food, medicine, and medical costs due to their dog s being overweight! That is a lot of money- 450-550 mile long stack of dollar bills! (see our post about this here: http://slimdoggy.com/now-much-does-it-cost-to-have-a-chubby-puppy/) Further, per the Purina landmark study, a lean dog will live about 15% longer than a fat one. That could be about 2 years for a lab and longer for smaller breed dogs. I can only guess what the impact would be on the felines—I would suspect similar.

  • That is not what this story is about - but you say you feed the brand's you suggest and I'm surprised many haven't jumped in here and say, 'I dare you!' There are many cats, millions, who live to age 20 on greatly dry. I personally agree and endorse some moist in the diet for many reasons, one because that way they become accustomed to moist if they need later in life, a prescription moist. I agree cats don't generally drink enough water, and moist inherently is rich in H20. There are some things which today researchers (no associated with pet food companies, or funded by them) know about domestic cat nutrition. I believe - when it comes to cats, we're still learning. Also, so you know - 'all natural' on packaging means little, typically....it's merely about marketing, knowing some consumers will purchase. I am not suggesting it's bad. I'm just sayig if you are all natural - I have no idea really what that means.

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    Cats are obligate carnivores but the big pet food companies and their paid for researchers will try to convince cat owners that corn is great for cats. Tony Buffington is one vet researcher that states that cats "adapt" to carbohydrates just fine. Since we have a feline obesity and DM epidemic I would say this is not the case. So we have an environmental enrichment committee. What a joke! Steve, I can just state for a "fact" there are millions of 90 y.o. pack a day smokers out there too. HeHee. Why wait until "they need moist presciption cat food "in the future?? Kind of tips your hand doesn't it?

  • Your point is well taken...but WE KNOW there are many reasons for diabetes in cats, first. And in some cats those carbs may contribute. We also know increasing protein, lowering carbs, increasing exercise and losing weight pushes some cats from diabetes into remission (but not all). So there are other factors. And researchers know this. One is weight gain (regardless of diet). Many diabetic cats are on all-moist diets or even 'raw.' Also, enrichment is GREAT for indoors cats - aside from diet issues....if you want me to articulate reasons, I can do that in several hundred pages - but I won't....and diet is only maybe 20 pages. . . In fact, Buffington, myself and others first looked at enhancing enrichment to look at litter box issues. I talk about exercise for the brain as well as alleviating boredom - which is what initiated my interest in enrichment. Buffington showed that interstitial cystitis is what is going on with many cats that urinate inappropriately, often that veterinarian said the cat had a urinary tract infection. Antibiotics, of course, didn't work. Also, because of the inflammation - hurts to pee, associates now with box. And then urinates outside the box. Cats then die because they are delivered to shelters ---- many more than having to do with food one way or the other....None of this, has anything whatsoever to do with food, whether your argument is correct or not. This is simply not about food. Buffington is a hero for finding this. So, now other drugs are used to deal with the cystitis. But the best treatment of all turns out to be enhancing enrichment in homes. Yes, indoors is safer and most people now keep their cats indoors. The issue is that they become brain dead and fat. Food comes into that in part....not though only because of the kind of food, but also what else owners are feeding (table scraps, he over home feeding) but also how much....cats on moist, dry, whatever,it turns out many cats are greatly not self-regulating eaters.

    And, no I have never smoked.

    While it may be convenient to blame everything on --- you name it - anything....it's typically not so simple, though I wish it was.

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    First off, MOST diabetic cats go into remission on a species appropriate diet. Not just some, MOST. I saw it over and over and over again on a message board for diabetic cat owners at Felinediabetes.com You are right, some do not despite getting a species appropriate diet, but it is generally due to the extensive damage done by the body, either by the over consumption of plant based ingredients or some other reason. Some animals are even born diabetic. This does NOT invalidate the need to feed them appropriately.

    Next, I have two cats that develop crystals when they eat species inappropriate food. I was feeding a "premium" dry food when the first one happened. He went on "prescription" food and I continued to feed the rest of my cats dry. When my second developed crystals and owning a diabetic cat, I had to do some serious consideration about food. Reading everything I could on feline nutrition, I came to the conclusion that the fact that we are feeding our *obligate carnivores* plants was just insane. Removing them and feeding my cats a high protein low plant based diet reduced my diabetic's insulin need from 7 units BID to 1. (I also got four of the five diabetic cats I fostered afterwards into remission, and the fifth had additional health issues) It kept my first cat from ever having a re-recurrence of crystals, and it would keep the second one as well if he would stop eating inappropriate things (I think he was a lab in a past life)

    Many people have studied this and have found that cats lack the digestive enzymes to break down the plant based ingredients as humans and other omnivores and herbivores do. What is the point of giving them nutrition that they do not have the key to access?? It is simply taxing on the system and makes it harder on their digestive systems - leading to obesity (a leading factor for many disease including diabetes), increased alkalinity of the urine (which is a main factor in crystal formation) and IBD.

    Now you are right, that not ALL disease is cured by an appropriate diet, just as all inappropriate diet /activities are a direct cause to disease. Yes, George Burns smoke and drank and lived to 100 - does this mean we should all follow this model or should we follow the model that Coke / McDonalds would have us believe that their foods are a part of a healthy life style, or should we listen to the nutritionists who study nutrition WITH OUT corporate sponsor ship?? When someone not affiliated with Royal Canin says their spay neuter food is healthy and appropriate, I might listen.

    I prefer to get my nutritional information for my cats from someone who isn't selling me something (or get paid to promote it)

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    At Feline Nutrition (feline-nutrition.org) we advocate for all cats to be fed bio-appropriate raw diets. No cat should be eating dry food as their primary food, and we would encourage people to eliminate dry foods altogether. Remember, dry foods were not formulated as an ideal food for cats. They were formulated from the idea of "how can we make a food for cats from all this leftover material from the production of food for people." If you started from what is the most appropriate and healthiest food to feed an obligate carnivore, a plant-based food is not what you would come up with. Not all disease is caused by a bad diet, but the carb-rich, highly processed food people feed their pets is a major contributor to ill health in cats. Many diseases can be avoided completely by the feeding of a diet that is close to what a cat evolved to eat.

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