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Feeding and Exercising Your Feline “Fat Cat”

catOne of the leading health care concerns in the U.S. today is the increasing rate of obesity among children and adults.

Unfortunately, the problem applies to our pets, as well.

Dangerous numbers
Recent studies suggest that up to 40 percent of household cats are overweight. In fact, obesity is the number one nutritional disorder among cats, and puts them at risk for many health problems, including cardiovascular, respiratory and skeletal disorders.

Researchers from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that overweight cats are:

  • four-and-a-half times more likely to develop diabetes mellitus;
  • seven times more likely to require veterinary care for lameness, caused by joint diseases such as arthritis or muscle injuries;
  • three times more likely to be presented to veterinarians for non-allergic skin conditions, probably because the cats cannot reach all parts of their bodies to groom themselves properly;
  • twice as likely to die in middle age.

Most likely to be obese are neutered, apartment-dwelling, mixed-breed cats eating prescription cat food. (Some prescription diets can be high in calories, and if they are served in the same way as regular cat food, the cats will gain weight.)

Your veterinarian is the only one who should determine the ideal weight for your cat, and he/she can recommend the proper diet and exercise routine once a problem has been diagnosed. However, keeping your cat in good condition to begin with is most important.

Get kitty moving!
Exercise can keep your cat’s weight down, as well as help him avoid getting diabetes. Kathy Gaughan, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, recognizes that it can be difficult getting cats to exercise.

"Unlike dogs, cats may not be enthusiastic to go outside on a leash walk," she said. "Usually more subtle methods of encouraging exercise are necessary." Gaughan suggests using a laser pointer to shine the dot around a room, or bouncing a ball down a flight of stairs and encouraging the cat to chase it. Your local Best Friends Pet Resort also offers several fun toys to get your cat revved up and playing.

"If food is a cat’s motivation, then making the cat work for its food would be a way to get them to exercise without knowing it," Gaughan said. Strategically place small amounts of food on several plates throughout the house. This way, the cat has to move about the house, and therefore exercise, if he wants to eat.

Take care with diet change
It is imperative to consult your veterinarian before making any dietary changes for your pet. There is no body-mass index for obesity in cats, and normal weights vary for different breeds.

If your vet agrees that your cat needs to take off some weight, a good way to begin is to reduce or eliminate treats and table scraps. This step alone can result in a marked difference in your cat’s weight.

Pet health experts also recommend measuring the amount of food your pet receives, to be sure that you keep the serving size consistent.

If reducing treats is not enough, you may decrease the amount of food your cat receives, or feed fewer calories. Low-calorie pet foods are typically lower in fat and higher in fiber. These foods allow a nice-sized portion, while reducing the number of calories the pet actually receives.

Finally, be patient with your cat’s program, and remember that weight loss is a gradual process.