Cat caregivers have come to realize more and more that fat cats are not healthy cats. Even the Guinness record book no longer indexes extremely fat cats because of the health dangers to cats by potential contenders.
Overweight cats seem to be continuously hungry, so many of us feed them out of sympathy, a habit that can ultimately result in "killing with kindness." Over-feeding a cat may even be considered cruel, and veterinarians agree with this assessment.
Surprisingly though, overfeeding is not the whole story behind obesity in cats; the quality of the food is the main culprit. Some of the most highly-touted commercial cat foods are of poor nutritional quality, and that includes the so-called "weight management" foods. Just like the fast food industry is most concerned with "taste," so too is a large segment of the pet food industry.
Gross obesity in cats is caused by feeding your cat the wrong kind of nutrition meant for plant eaters. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they must eat muscle meat protein in order to grow and maintain normally. Animal protein foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, and rabbit are what cats eat in the wild. Meat byproducts like bone, fat, blood, and lung simply do not qualify as meat to a healthy cat.
The worst kind of food for cats is a high-carbohydrate, corn-laden dry food, rich in calories, but with less or no named meat protein. Although a cat will occasionally graze on grasses and plants to aid in digestion, a cat cannot breakdown plant material into usable nutrition. So if it grows in a field, it should not be a staple of a cat's diet.
Ideally, a cat should be fed three to four small meals a day, preferably raw or freeze-dried food or very good quality canned meat-rich food. However, many cats live in households where no one is home during the day to feed the cats. Hence, people often resort to using "free-fall" dry food feeders, which allow new food to flow into the bowl as cats eat.
Fortunately, the pet industry has recognized this problem, and now there are portion-controlled feeders as well as feeders on timers. One good option is the Smartcat Tiger diner food dish. Some models include a one-cup container, which can sit upright on top of the dome; alternatively, food can be poured through a hole in the dome. Below it is the wide portion of the food dish, which has holes around the side through which the cat can stick his paw to draw out bits of kibble to eat.
You will find very few obese cats among those that are allowed free access to the outdoors. Free-range cats get plenty of exercise climbing trees, jumping over fences, and hunting insects, but an overweight cat will probably not to be fit enough to protect itself in the great outdoors.
Indoor exercise equipment is a great solution while the cat is slimming down. With the aid of climbing towers, scratching posts, and interactive toys, cats can be happily active inside. Also, there are safely restrained outdoor alternatives, such as walking your cat on a leash, as most cats can be trained to a harness and leash quite easily. You can even build an outdoor cat enclosure as you would build a chicken coop.
Although rare, an endocrine problem might be the cause of an extremely fat cat. Hypothyroid disease can cause cats to become overweight. Fortunately, daily supplements of thyroxine from your veterinarian can cause a quick turnaround. Pay close attention to dosing as you would with any hormone treatment.
Although the following serious autoimmune conditions are not exclusive to fat cats, they are more predisposed to developing them. The same condition that causes weight imbalance can cause these other imbalances.
- Arthritis: Obesity and arthritis in cats become a self-perpetuating feedback loop. First, the extra weight on load-bearing joints turns into painful arthritis. Because of the pain when walking or jumping, the cat becomes more sedentary, burns fewer calories, and gains more weight unless its eating pattern is forced to change. Arthritis in cats can become a crippling disease, and tragically, it can usually be prevented.
- Diabetes: Feline diabetes mellitis is the most common disease that targets overweight cats and is almost always directly the result of a high carbohydrate diet, exactly the same as the main cause of diabetes in humans. Bad diets contain several species-inappropriate, hypoallergenic ingredients such as corn, wheat, and soy.
- Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease): Fatty liver disease develops when a previously overweight cat loses weight quickly, sometimes the result of untreated feline diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or simply because the cat feels unwell. Although it is potentially fatal, fatty liver disease can be turned around quickly by prompt diagnosis and treatment.
There are other conditions that could be indirectly linked to obesity as well; the excess poundage certainly puts a strain on the heart and vascular system and surely compromises a cat's quality of life.
It is never too late to help your Tubby Tom turn into a svelte, active cat again by taking the proper steps to promote a longer, healthier life.
Galgano, M., Spalla, I., Callegari, C., Patruno, M., Auriemma, E., Zanna, G., Ferro, S. and Zini, E. Primary Hypothyroidism and Thyroid Goiter in an Adult Cat. J Vet Intern Med, vol. 28, pp. 682-686, 2014.
Osteoarthritis and Obesity in Pets Go Hand in Hand (slowly). American Animal Hospital Association.
Disorders of the Pancreas in Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Obesity. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Feline Health Center.