Funny fat cats are often depicted in cartoons, but feline obesity is no laughing matter. Overweight cats live shorter lives and are less playful than healthy weight cats, and they are also at risk for developing numerous severe health issues. Our Just Cats Clinic team knows how demanding cats can be when their food bowl is empty, and we provide valuable information about feline obesity to help you stay strong the next time your cat insists they are starving.
Feline obesity prevalence
U.S. pet obesity rates have been steadily increasing for decades, and veterinarians consider the condition one of the most significant health threats to cats and dogs worldwide. According to the 2022 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey, 61% of cats were classified as overweight or obese by their veterinary care provider. This is up from 59.5% in the 2018 APOP survey. Data have also shown that many cat owners don’t realize their feline friend is overweight. In the APOP survey, 28% of cat owners considered their cat’s body condition as normal when their veterinarian classified them as being overweight or obese. This is not surprising, because pet obesity has become normalized, causing owners difficulty in trying to determine whether their cat is overweight.
Feline obesity consequences
Studies demonstrate that overweight cats tend to live shorter lives than healthy weight cats, and they are also typically less energetic and playful. In addition, carrying excess weight increases their risk for developing numerous serious health issues, including:
- Diabetes — Overweight cats have an increased risk for diabetes, a condition that usually requires insulin injections twice a day to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
- Hypertension — Many overweight cats develop high blood pressure, which can lead to kidney disease, heart and vascular problems, and retinal detachment.
- Urinary tract disease — Overweight cats have an increased risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs), urinary calculi, urethral obstructions, and feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC).
- Osteoarthritis — Extra weight strains joints, and can lead to osteoarthritis. In addition, adipose tissue produces a chronic inflammatory response throughout the body, worsening joint pain and inflammation.
- Cancer — Chronic inflammation increases your feline friend’s cancer risk.
- Skin disease — Overweight cats may have difficulty reaching certain body parts, leading to poor grooming and skin disease.
Feline weight assessment
You see your cat every day, which can make realizing that they’ve added a few pounds difficult. The best way to determine if your feline friend is overweight is to schedule a weight assessment with our Just Cats Clinic team. In addition to weighing your cat, we assess their body condition score (BCS) to determine if they are at a healthy weight. This evaluation involves palpating your cat’s body and observing them from different angles to score them on a scale from one to nine, in which one is considered emaciated, five is ideal weight, and nine is obese. For every score higher than five, your cat is an extra 10% overweight. For example, if your cat’s BCS is seven, they are approximately 20% overweight.
Feline weight loss
Never start your cat on a calorie-restricted diet without consulting our Just Cats Clinic team. If cats don’t receive adequate calories for as few as two consecutive days, they can develop the life-threatening condition hepatic lipidosis (i.e., fatty liver disease), which causes fat tissue to mobilize into the liver, resulting in serious health complications. If you think your feline friend is overweight, talk with us, so we can help ensure they lose weight safely. Our team may recommend any of these weight loss strategies:
- Prescription weight loss diet — We may recommend a prescription weight loss diet that is high in protein and fiber and low in carbohydrates to help your whiskered pal lose weight. These diets are specifically formulated to ensure cats receive adequate nutrition during the weight loss process. In addition, these diet formulas help prevent excessive hunger.
- Exercise program — Exercise is essential to weight loss, and our team will devise an appropriate exercise program for your overweight feline.
- Medication — If a condition, such as arthritis, prevents your cat from exercising properly, we may prescribe medication to help alleviate their discomfort.
Feline weight management
Maintaining your cat at an ideal weight is the best way to keep them happy and healthy. Follow these feline weight management tips:
- Avoiding feeding your cat ad-lib — When you leave food out at all times, you encourage your cat to overeat, which can quickly lead to weight gain. To prevent your whiskered pal from packing on the pounds, calculate your cat’s daily caloric needs, determine the amount of food to which this equates, and divide the amount into two or three portions to feed them throughout the day.
- Measuring your cat’s food properly — To ensure your cat receives the correct food amount, measure each portion using a kitchen scale. Cats are small, and one or two extra kibble pieces can make a significant difference in their calorie intake.
- Limiting your cat’s treats — Limit treats to no more than 10% of your cat’s caloric intake.
- Exercising your cat — Use a wand-style toy or a laser pointer to motivate your feline friend to run, jump, and play. Aim for about three five-minute play sessions per day.
- Using a slow feeder or puzzle toy — These devices make mealtimes more intriguing for your cat and prevent them from eating too quickly.
- Monitoring your cat’s weight — Weigh your cat using a baby scale once a month to ensure they remain at a healthy weight.
If you are concerned that your cat might be overweight, or if you would like to have their weight accurately assessed, contact our Just Cats Clinic team.