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Obesity in cats

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Feline obesity has reached nearly epidemic proportions, according to some vets. Carolyn Pomykala and her cat, Kris, both shared something in common with millions of Americans, pets and people alike. Both needed to lose weight.

By becoming more active, Pomykala, 51, a Chicago university bookstore manager, has dropped her weight to 177 pounds from 265. And Kris, her orange tiger short-hair domestic, is working on it through some lifestyle changes.

Pomykala said they are both “going in the right direction.” Kris has a lot of company.

Colleen Currigan, DVM, of the Cat Hospital of Chicago, said, “While we do not know the real prevalence of obesity in cats, most veterinarians and nutritionists agree that it definitely is on the rise, and some even refer to the problem as ‘epidemic.’

“Obesity is generally accepted as the most common nutritional problem that we currently see in cats (and dogs). In my experience, which is dealing primarily with indoor cats, I would estimate that easily one-third or more of my patients are overweight, and many of those are obese.”

Currigan said overweight is defined as a body condition of six or seven (out of nine) and obese as a body condition of eight or nine (out of nine), based on the Purina Body Condition Chart.

“At Cat Hospital of Chicago, we start the weight management discussions very early in a cat’s life,” Currigan said. “Since we see many young cats that are overweight, it is never too early to start that discussion.”

Warning signs

Currigan said cats are considered overweight when:

  • Their ribs are not easily palpable with a moderate covering of fat
  • Their waist is not defined
  • Their abdomen is obviously rounded
  • They have a moderately large abdominal fat pad

She said cats are considered obese when:

  • Their ribs are not palpable under a heavy covering of fat
  • They have heavy fat deposits on the back, face, and/or limbs
  • The abdomen is distended with no waist
  • They have a large abdominal fat pad

What causes the problem?

Currigan said obesity in cats usually has multiple causes. As in people, low activity and high caloric consumption makes for a fat cat. She said a major source of the problem is when the cats have unrestricted amounts of food available, a feeding approach known as “free choice/free feeding.”

She said some cats have inherent or acquired low metabolism. “Many owners are surprised at how little food it actually takes to maintain the weight of a cat, even a larger or ‘big-boned’ cat, and especially if the activity level of the cat is low,” Currigan said. “Consequently, overfeeding is the primary cause of obesity in the pet cat population.”

The vet said that dogs have similar issues, but are more likely to exercise than indoor cats. “You can take a dog out and walk him an extra 10 minutes a day. It’s difficult sometimes to get a cat moving.”

Risks from extra weight

Cats, like people, face serious health risks from being overweight and obese. Currigan said these include diabetes mellitus, feline lower urinary tract disease, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), arthritis, cancer, and heart and respiratory diseases. Fat cats encounter higher risks from surgery and anesthesia. “In general, their overall quality of life is compromised and their lives are often shortened,” she said. In addition, Currigan said fat cats have grooming problems, which can result in matting and dander issues.

To read about treating and preventing the fat cat epidemic, click here. To read about exercising with your cat, click here.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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