As an adoption centre we are seeing increasing numbers of overweight and obese cats being brought in for rehoming. Many owners are unaware of the harm that overfeeding, or feeding an inappropriate diet, can do to their pets. It can be a long process to get them back to a healthy weight, and this is particularly difficult in the centre environment where they have less freedom of movement and get less exercise than they would in the home. We can keep them on a restricted diet, but they often become frustrated in the pen environment, and need lots to do to distract them from thinking about food! So how can owners prevent their cats from becoming overweight in the first place?
Cats are carnivores, and need a balanced diet with the correct amount of nutrients, as well as regular exercise and opportunity to display their natural behaviours in order to maintain a healthy weight. They have a much higher protein requirement than other mammals so meat is an essential part of their diet (cats should not be kept on a ‘vegetarian’ diet). However, this does not mean they should only be fed wet food. The easiest way to ensure they get the right balance of protein, vitamins and minerals; and to keep their teeth in good condition, is to feed them on a ‘complete’ dry food diet, with good quality wet food a few times a week.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do choose a good quality complete pet food
Do provide fresh water and change it daily
Do follow the feeding guidelines on the packaging, and weigh your cat regularly to ensure they are getting the right amount of food for their size
Do ensure your cat gets regular exercise. This can be playing in the garden, playing with toys or other cats, hunting etc. and can be encouraged using puzzle feeder balls so they have to work for their food!
Do Not overfeed – too much food is just as harmful as too many treats and can lead to obesity which can cause many other health problems
Do Not give supplements unless recommended by the vet – these can cause a dietary imbalance and may be harmful
Do Not give cats dog food – the balance of nutrients is not suitable for a cats dietary needs.
Do Not give cats milk – many cats are lactose intolerant and can get a bad belly from it, and it is very high in calories
Do Not give cats ‘people food’ – even a small treat can be a huge amount of calories to a cat!
This chart demonstrates how much a ‘small treat’ can mean in terms of a cat’s daily calories.
Obesity in cats is very serious. It stops them being able to carry out natural behaviours such as playing, hunting, and grooming as well as being a risk factor for many other health problems! This can include liver disease, diabetes, skin conditions, joint pain and urinary problems.
Indoor cats are particularly prone to obesity because they tend to get less exercise than those which go exploring and hunting in the great outdoors! It is important to provide indoor cats with lots of stimulation in the form of toys, scratching posts, puzzle feeders, etc. and to be very strict and avoid overfeeding so that they maintain a good weight.
Cats are defined as overweight when they are 15% over the ideal body weight, and obese at 30% over the ideal body weight. Ideally you should be able to feel your cat’s ribs easily when you stroke the body lightly, and should be able to see a clear waistline when you look at them from above.
This chart shows how a cat’s body condition can be measured.
If you think your cat is overweight, it is always best to consult a vet so they can advise you on the best way to control their calorie intake, and increase their exercise. This will usually involve a special low calorie diet, weighing or measuring food before it is given, and things like puzzle feeders or interactive toys to encourage more exercise. Overweight cats should never be put on a ‘crash diet’ or starved, as this can be very harmful. Instead the best way is a gradual reduction – it can take up to a year for a severely overweight cat to reach its ideal body weight. But the health benefits to your cat will make it all worth it, and they will thank you for it J
For more information please read the Essential Guide on Feeding and Obesity which can be found here: http://www.cats.org.uk/uploads/documents/cat-care-leaflets-2013/EG04_Feeding_and_obesity.pdf