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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.

The Best Cat Diet

Research has shown that there are several ways of approaching a cat diet. Fortunately, there are many commercial varieties of therapeutic canned and dry foods that are palatable and nutritionally sound.  Hoskins tells WebMD that it’s fine to combine canned and dry foods for your cat’s diet.

Joe Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, DACVN, is a clinical nutritionist with Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  He recommends a diet of low-calorie canned food because it has more fillers than dry food. The recommendation is not aimed at your cat, but at you. The canned food tends to make you, the caretaker, feel you are giving your cat enough to eat. Wakshlag also says to make sure you don’t forget to look at the calorie count on the label. “I think the bottom line is you have to replace fat with protein and carbohydrates,” he tells WebMD. “The key is to remove fat, which is contributing the most calories.”

The latest trend in feline weight loss management is a high-protein/low-carb diet, the so-called “Catkins” diet.  Hoskins says he prefers low-carb cat diets because he believes carbohydrates raise the risk of diabetes. Diets that contain L-carnitine help maintain lean body mass, he says.

Other research has shown that obese cats lose weight without losing lean body mass following low fat/high fiber diets and high fat/low carb diets. Both kinds of diets have been shown to improve glucose tolerance.

Look at the label on the cat food to make sure your cat is going to get the right nutrients for his stage in life and that the top ingredients are meat, meat byproducts, or seafood. Nutrients like taurine and B vitamins are also good.  

Keep in mind: cats are natural carnivores, so vegetarian diets won’t do.

Should you give your cat supplements like vitamins and minerals?

In a word, no. A good cat food contains all the vitamins and minerals your cat needs. Do not use supplements unless directed to do so by your veterinarian.

What if the diet doesn’t work?

If the diet isn’t working, your cat is probably still eating too much. Retaining weight is usually not related to medical problems, Hoskins says. “No disease is contributory to obesity” in cats.

Wakshlag adds that endocrine disorders like diabetes and hyperthyroidism don’t cause obesity in cats.

Getting your cat to move

Motivating Nibs to move for reasons other than food is one of a cat caretaker’s bigger challenges, especially if the cat doesn’t venture outdoors. But veterinarians agree that laser pointers, which emit a pinpoint of light that intrigues cats and often gets them off the couch, are good for owners who don’t want to move much themselves.

Other interactive toys, like sticks with feathers at the end and balls, are fine, too. Climbing apparatus and scratching posts may also interest your cat, as will empty boxes.  

Hoskins says that cat owners should encourage physical activity from the start, when your cat is still a kitten. He tells WebMD, “One of the problems in reversing obesity is that you can change their diet, but it’s hard to do anything with their activity.”

Reviewed on July 06, 2009
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