Feline obesity is on the rise but many cat owners are unaware of just how fat a cat actually needs to be before they are considered overweight. An overweight cat is at risk of a number of health problems so it is in our best interests to help our moggies lose those pounds!
We’ve detailed some of the main reasons cats become overweight, what health problems they might be at risk of developing and how you can help them to lose weight. Obesity is a highly underestimated condition with a simple treatment, so be sure to have a quick read of this guide and make sure your cat is a healthy cat.
The Difference Between an Overweight Cat and an Obese Cat
A shocking 39% of cats included in a recent study we considered obese. An obese cat is one whose weight is 20% or more above their ideal body weight. If we image the typical cat has an ideal weight of around 4.5kg, a mere 1kg more (which might seem like nothing to us) is enough for them to be considered medically obese!
An overweight cat has a body weight 10-19% above their ideal weight, this means as little as 450g (roughly 1lb) is enough for a cat to be considered overweight.
Is My Cat Overweight?
Owners of long-haired cats are more likely to underestimate their cat’s weight, but long-haired or not, there is a simple scale you can use to determine if your cat is over- (or under-) weight.
The Body Conditioning Score (BCS) scale is a 5 or 9 point scale with 1 being too thin and 5/9 being too fat. On the 5 point scale, an ideal score is 3, on the 9 point scale, the ideal score is 5. The score is based on a number of observations including; profile of your cat from above and the side and how visible the ribs are.
An ideal cat:
- Is well proportioned
- Can see the waist behind the ribs when observing from above or the front
- Can feel the ribs with a minimal fat covering
- Minimal fat covering the abdomen
See here for more information on body condition scoring.
Factors Putting Your Cat at Risk of Becoming Overweight
There are a number of factors that can increase the likelihood of obesity in your cat:
- Neutered Cats: Being neutered is thought to increase food intake and decrease physical activity, both of which are going to increase the likelihood of weight gain
- Feeding Frequency: Providing a constant source of food for your cat, so they can eat whenever they want has been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity – as has feeding 3 or 4 separate meals a day. Ideally, a cat should be fed multiple small meals per day.
- Breed: Mixed breed cats are believed to be at greater risk of becoming overweight as opposed to their pedigree counterparts
- Number of Cats per Household: Cats living in multi-cat households are more likely to become overweight. In some cases however, the reverse can be true as some cats will ‘bully’ the other cats and reduce the amount of food they can eat.
- Age: Middle-aged cats are at the greatest risk of becoming overweight. As a cat ages, the amount of food they need actually increases, this is why obesity is most commonly seen in middle aged cats.
- Treats: It won’t be surprising to hear that the more treats you give to your cat, the more likely they are to become overweight.
Did you know that giving a cat a glass of milk is the human equivalent of eating four hamburgers!
The Problems Faced by the Overweight Cat
As with all other species, being overweight brings with it a number of health problems. Some of the major health problems the overweight cat may have to deal with include:
- Hepatic Lipidosis - ‘Fatty liver syndrome’, this is where large amounts of fat build up around the liver
- Urinary Tract Diseases – A group of diseases that can make it painful for your cat to use the toilet and can lead to blood in the urine
- Diabetes - Just like humans and dogs, overweight cats too are at an increased risk of developing diabetes
- Skin Conditions - Being overweight can lead to the development of skin conditions such as rashes
- Lameness – An overweight cat is almost 5x as likely to become lame (unable to walk/difficulty walking)
Beating Feline Obesity
The facts are clear, an overweight cat is not a healthy cat and shockingly, a large proportion of our cats are overweight or obese. There are a number of things we can do to help though:
- Encourage activity and play
- Reduce calorie intake
- Stop feeding treats
- Don’t give human food as a treat or as a meal
- Feed 3/4 small meals a day
- Separate feeding bowls of cats in a multi-cat household
- Feed a calorie controlled diet or a similar weight controlling diet
Feeding a Calorie Controlled Diet
One of the simplest changes we can make to control our cats’ weight is feed them a calorie controlled diet and fortunately there are a number on the market. These diets have a greatly reduced calorific content but still taste appealing for your cat.
If you think your cat is overweight, then feeding one of the below diets is highly recommended:
- Hills Prescription Diet r/d
- Hills Prescription Diet m/d
- Hills Prescription Diet w/d
- Hill’s Feline Light
- Purina Veterinary Diet Obesity Management
- Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Obesity Management
- Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Satiety Support
Adapted from: Prevalence and risk factors for feline obesity in a first opinion practice in Glasgow, Scotland