Recently Nationwide, the largest provider of pet insurance in the US reported an increase in obesity-related claims for the sixth year in a row. Data from 2015 shows that 1.3 million claims amounting to $60 million US were filed for obesity-related health conditions in cats and dogs. This is up from $54 million US in 2014.
Many pet owners still think obesity is a benign condition but it's not. There are many health related conditions obesity can either cause or make worse. I don't think any pet owner wants to intentionally cause disease in their pets, but that is exactly what is happening when we allow them to become overweight. Not only does it make our cats sick, it also shortens their lives. Your cat may look a little tubby on the outside, but on the inside, he is very unhealthy.
According to Nationwide, these are the top ten obesity-related claims made in 2015.
|1. Bladder/urinary tract disease|
|2. Chronic kidney disease|
|5. Liver disease|
|7. High blood pressure (hypertension)|
|8. Congestive heart failure|
|9. Gall bladder disorder|
|10. Immobility of spine (spondylosis)|
Many of the diseases listed above will affect your cat for life. The majority can be managed, and a small number reversed. But obviously, prevention is better than cure or management. Even if your cat does develop an obesity-related disease which can not be completely cured, losing weight will certainly improve his quality of life and help manage the disease.
Why are our pets getting fatter?
According to one survey, up to 58% of cats in the US are now obese. That's right, nearly 6 out of 10 cats are obese. The definition of obesity is when your cat is more than 30% over his ideal bodyweight.
First and foremost, many pet owners don't actually realise their pet is overweight, if they're not recognising there is a problem, they can't fix it. This is why it is so important to take your cat to a veterinarian regularly to have his health and weight monitored.
Many pet owners are choosing to keep their cats exclusively indoors, which is fantastic. The dangers to cats who are allowed to free roam have been repeated over and over again. Cars, people, dogs, disease all pose a threat to outdoor cats. So we certainly don't want to discourage cat owners from keeping their cats safe indoors. However, the downside of this is that cats are becoming more sedentary and this is reflected in the growing number on the scales. There are several solutions to this.
Get kitty moving. Cat enclosures are a great compromise for cats, they enable your cat to enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors (sun, smells, watching the world go by), but they are safe.
Enclosures can range from a small deck or balcony to positively palatial. If space permits, provide your cat with multiple ledges to climb up on.
If you don't have the space for an enclosure your cat can still get his daily activity outdoors on a harness. Not all cats will respond to a harness, but many do. Particularly those who have been introduced to one early on.
Designate 10 - 15 minutes twice a day to playing with your cat. There are a number of different types of cat toy on the market. Wand toys and lasers (be careful not to point it in your cat's eyes) are particularly good to get your cat exercising. It's a great way to increase your cat's activity level and spend time bonding.
We need to tailor the amount of food our cats eat to their age and lifestyle. A sedentary cat is not going to need to eat as much as a cat who is roaming outside, just as an athlete would need to consume more calories than a couch potato.
Another issue is that for the past 20 years or so, we have been encouraged to feed our cats dry food. There are two problems with this. Firstly, dry food is high in carbohydrates. Cats should naturally have a diet which is high in protein. Think about what cats would eat in the wild. Small rodents and birds, which consist of muscle, organs, bones and a tiny amount of grains in the stomachs of their prey. Carbohydrates are stored as fat, whereas protein and fat are used for energy. Dry food is convenient to feed. Most of us are very busy people. Dry food allows us to fill up their bowl with far more food than they actually need and allow our cats to eat when they are hungry. This can work for some cats, but others will tend to over eat if they are given the chance.
The solution to this is to feed your cat a high protein, wet diet two to three times a day. This may be good quality canned food or a home made diet of raw meat.
What not to do:
- Don't give your cat treats, table scraps and don't free feed your cat.
- Don't feel sorry for your cat as he begs for more food. Think about the bigger picture, his future health.
- Unless he's a kitten, your cat should only be given water to drink.
- Only one person should feed the cat, that way the cat won't inadvertently be fed twice. We have a cat who tries to tell my daughter he's not been fed his breakfast when he has.
- If he does beg you for more food, try distracting him with play, or groom him or even some fresh water.
- Leave food down for 20 minutes, any uneaten food should then be removed.
How do I know if my cat is overweight?
It is easy to determine if your cat is overweight or underweight by feeling the body.
- The underweight cat will have easily palpable ribs, spine, and hips. There will be an obvious abdominal tuck.
- The cat within the healthy weight range will have ribs which can be felt, but with a slight fat covering. As you stand above your cat, he should go in just behind the shoulders and again, just in front of the hind legs.
- The overweight cat will have ribs which are not palpable, large stores of sub-cutaneous fat, no waist.
How much should I feed my cat?
According to DVM, the best way to calculate your cat's daily requirements is to use this simple formula. This calculates your cat's RER (resting energy requirements) which is the amount of energy (in calories) expended in a day without any activity, it is similar to basal metabolic requirements.
Once you have calculated your cat's RER, the formula then shows how to calculate your cat's DER (daily energy requirements) which is a number of calories your cat should eat.
Calculate your cat's resting energy requirements:
30 x your cat's body weight in kilos (1 kg = 2.2 lbs) + 70.
So, let's look at some examples below.
Now you have your RER (resting energy requirements), you need to calculate your cat's DER (daily energy requirements). To do this, you take your cat's resting energy requirements and then apply the following formula.
Calculate your cat's daily energy requirements:
Now to calculate the DER (daily energy requirements):
A pregnant and lactating female should be allowed to eat as much food as she likes to stay healthy. Pregnancy and lactation use a huge amount of the female's resources and she should be fed to accommodate these extra needs.
A word of caution
Weight loss in cats can be dangerous if it is too rapid. Cats can develop a condition known as hepatic lipidosis in which develops when a cat becomes anorexic (stops eating) or reduces the amount of food he eats. The body begins to use fat as fuel, which is sent to the liver to be processed into lipoproteins. However the cat's liver is not very good at processing fat and it begins to accumulate in the liver cells (hepatocytes), overwhelming it and interfering with its ability to function properly.
All weight loss should be carefully monitored by a veterinarian to make sure it is done safely and slowly. See your veterinarian if your cat displays any of the following symptoms.
- Loss of appetite
- Drooling (due to nausea)
- Yellow mucus membranes
It may take several months for your cat to lose weight (depending on how much he needs to lose). Be patient and remember you are doing this for your cat. Both your cat and your wallet will thank you.