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Overweight Cats: Diets and Associated Health Risks

WebMD discusses health problems common in overweight cats, and offers tips on helping your cat to trim up.
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WebMD Pet Health Feature

Bea Sacks of Huntington Woods, Mich., calls Jack, her adult cat, “big.” But she has no idea how much he weighs or whether a diet is in order. That’s because Jack, like many housecats, eats whenever he wants and rarely visits the veterinarian. Unfortunately, if Jack is even a pound over his ideal weight, he could be in trouble. Overweight cats are far more likely to develop osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes mellitus, respiratory problems, and non-allergic skin conditions.

If you can hear a thud when he jumps off the bed, you should consider putting your cat on a therapeutic cat diet, modifying your feeding habits, and getting him to move more. It’s a good idea to see a veterinarian first to rule out other issues. Plus, the vet can help you formulate a sensible weight-loss and exercise plan. What the vet can’t do is restrain your urge to reward your cat with treats or to give in to his mewling when you change his diet. Keep in mind: a slimmer, fitter cat is a happier and longer-lived cat.

Is Your Cat Fat?

An average domestic shorthair should weigh between 8 and 10 pounds,  and although you can attempt to put Tiger on a scale, there are other ways to check his fitness:

  • Gently squeeze the sides of your cat’s rib cage. If you can easily feel the ribs, he’s probably not overweight. If you have to press to get at the ribs, he may be heavier than he should be.
  • Look at your cat’s waistline. His body should become more slender from the belly to hindquarters.
  • A swinging pouch between your cat’s hind legs is an indication your cat is overweight.

Slimming Down Kitty

The primary responsibility that you, the caretaker, have is to limit the calories your cat is getting. A 10-pound indoor cat should take in about 200 calories a day, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Here are some of the basics in limiting calories and slimming down your cat:

  • Measure out food. Divide the cat’s targeted calorie intake into four to six small meals.  
  • Keep his water bowl full.
  • Leave out cat food for a limited amount of time.
  • Set a weight loss goal with your veterinarian.
  • Avoid giving treats, or if you must, use a few pieces of her dry food as a substitute.
  • Don’t share human food with your cat; it’s fattening and can cause diarrhea.
  • Don’t allow your cat access to dog food.

The consensus among vets is to implement a new diet slowly. Cats may stop eating if you suddenly confront them with different food.

“The bottom line is, you have to cut calories in proportion to the amount of work the cat is doing,” says Johnny Hoskins, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, of Branson, Mo.  “We try to do it over a several-month time period.” The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says a loss of about 1 pound per month is healthy.

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