The Flabby Feline

As a follow up to a previous post regarding obesity in dogs, I wanted to talk some about the problem as it relates to the feline. I can honestly say that I have never personally owned an overweight dog.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for all of the cats I have owned! Cats actually pose some unique challenges when it comes to weight management.  This is particularly true for the already overweight feline. Achieving weight loss in an obese cat can be extremely difficult. With cats it is absolutely critical to avoid excessive weight gain in the first place.

Most cat owners leave food available for their cats at all times. It is the exception to the rule that cats will maintain a healthy weight when allowed to free feed. In the single cat household, it may be possible to leave a portion of food available to be consumed throughout the day. Preferably, half the daily ration is placed twice daily. Cats will tend to eat less when there is less kibble in the bowl. Adjustments are made as needed to maintain a healthy body weight. In the multi cat household, there is almost always one or more cats that will consume more than their share of the available kibble. There is no ideal solution in the eyes of most cat owners because we love the convenience of free feeding.  Separating the cats may work and might even be desirable for cats that do not get along well.  The other option is to leave a small portion of dry food available to free feed. Supplement the thinner cats with a separate feeding. They should quickly consume enough canned food to meet their daily caloric requirements.

As in dogs, spaying and neutering reduces the caloric requirements for cats. I like to switch cats from kitten to adult food immediately after spay/neuter surgery. Quantities may also need to be decreased slightly. It is important to assess body condition  every 2-3 weeks and make the necessary dietary adjustments.

Keeping cats active is critical. Cats often will play extensively with another cat or dog in the home. Climbing structures, toys, and laser pointers also help  to enrich the cat’s environment and help them both mentally and physically. There are many health benefits for active, lean cats. Inactive and overweight cats are at far greater risk of developing urinary tract disease. These cats will typically have painful urination often leading to urination outside the litter box. Management of this syndrome can be frustrating and expensive. In male cats, it can lead to urinary obstruction requiring emergency medical treatment and occasionally extensive surgery to change the male’s anatomy in order to prevent repeated obstruction. Overweight cats also have a significantly greater risk of developing diabetes, arthritis, liver disease, pancreatitis and cancer.

If your cat is already significantly overweight, let us help you formulate a plan. Obese feline patients must be handled carefully during the early stages of weight loss. If they lose weight too rapidly, they can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver). This condition can be fatal. We need to monitor appetite and weight loss carefully to avoid this syndrome. However, with some planning and discipline, we can turn your flabby feline into a toned up tiger.

- Craig Wilson, DVM

Bayleaf Veterinary Hospital, Raleigh