Cats are not naturally fat in the wild, but their domesticated history has led to them becoming less active and also to eat more. It is natural for cats to eat when they have killed something and then go for some time before eating again, but of course in the home environment, there is food on offer all the time and often there are ‘treats’ as well.
An estimate from vets’ records is that as many as a quarter of all cats in the UK are obese and this number is rising. This is an interesting statistic, as recent government figures suggest that as many as a quarter of all UK adults are clinically obese as well – it is not healthy for cats in just the same way as it is not healthy for people and for the same reasons. The obese cat or person will suffer from more heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and liver problems. The problems that cats have in grooming themselves if they get too fat is probably the only weight related issue that they and their owners do not share directly.
How big is too big?
It isn’t really possible to devise a weight chart for cats, as the species will differ in what they should weigh and even within a species sizes will be on quite a wide sweep. Rather than weight, various other parameters should be taken into account. Can you feel your cat’s ribs? If you can’t, then it is almost certainly too fat. If your cat has an ‘apron’ which swings from its underside, this is not necessarily a sign of overweight. It could be because the cat has been pregnant, has been overweight in the past or just that it has an apron as part of its breeding. If the apron does not swing loose, but it quite solid and doesn’t flatten out when the cat lies down, your cat is fat.
Watch the cat when it is grooming. If it has problems licking its back or hind quarters in general, it is probably obese. A sure sign is when it tries very hard to like its behind, but topples over or, more likely, gives up. A sedentary cat will probably be or become overweight, but just because your cat is quite active, don’t assume that all of the other indicators do not show obesity. Some quite fat cats still like to get out and about.
Weightwatching for cats
It can be very difficult to get the weight off an overweight cat. For a start, unless your cat is a house cat, it will be able to catch food for itself, although of course the exercise involved in that will be good for it. Also, if you have more than one cat and only one is overweight, it will be difficult to put just one on a diet. Sometimes a cat can become greedy because it sees the other cats in the household as its competitors for food and so overeats to compensate. If you think this is the reason, then feeding them separately is probably the only answer. Before embarking on any diet for your cat, you must take it to the vet for an assessment as to how obese it is and what amount of food will accomplish the optimum weight loss.
If you cut the food too drastically, the cat’s metabolism will slow down, to make up for what the animal perceives as starvation conditions and so the weight loss will be slow and the cat may become deficient in vital oils and minerals. If you notice that the cat is becoming unwell or lethargic, or its coat is in bad condition, you will need to consult the vet for more dietary advice.
In this case, the willpower has to be yours. No one likes to think that their pet is miserable and if your cat is very vocal it will certainly let you know when it is hungry. If you have been used to giving your cat treats you must stop doing it, as it will become totally dependent on them and you will soon find that it is adjusting its behaviour to force you into providing them. If you have given a cat a treat for coming in at night, for not scratching the furniture and similar behaviours, you might be able to wean them off gradually by taking a few dry biscuit pieces from its daily allowance and using those. The secret is to work out how much food the cat needs for health and stick to it – when it is given and how can depend on the life style of you and your cat.
The cat isn’t losing weight on its diet
If the cat is still fat and the diet it is on is a result of a visit to the vet, the possibility of a tumour or similar problem such as a thyroid malfunction should be remote, but it should be checked. Otherwise, make sure that the cat does not have another ‘home’ where it is fed. This happens remarkably often and can cause all kinds of problems, but it is usually obvious where the cat lives full time and where it just visits for a snack. Make it clear to the other person that, while you can quite see why they like the company of your lovely pet, it is on a diet and should not be fed. Then keep the cat in for a while, to break it of the habit. Soon the cat should be the right size and much healthier for it.