Friday 18 August 2023

How do you define "cat obesity"?

When you think of the word "obesity" you think of very fat people or sometimes very fat cats (and I don't mean the human fat cat namely the greedy, alpha male smoking a cigar happy in the knowledge that they have ripped off people to make a large profit).

Just 15% above the normal

But it might surprise people that feline obesity refers to cats with a weight which is 15% above the ideal. That's not much more than 10% above the ideal. You might think that is acceptable. You might not even really notice it and I wouldn't blame you. That's because people, including me, tend to normalise weight gain. You gradually lose your bearings as to what is the correct weight both for yourself and for your companion animal. The problem creeps up on you almost invisibly sometimes.

So, a weight gain of 15% in your cat might not be noticed but a veterinarian would describe your cat as obese. And it might not surprise you that the most prevalent nutritional problem for domestic cats and dogs in Western Europe and the United States is obesity!

You may have heard about the obesity epidemic both in humans and cats and I suspect dogs as well. It affects between 10 and 20% of pet cats but that figure is probably out of date as it is constantly climbing. The figure relates to a book published in 2007. That's long enough ago for the obesity epidemic to become much worse.



The reason for cat obesity might be a medical condition and it should be ruled out before a weight loss program is started. However, in the vast majority of cases weight gain is associated with over-nutrition i.e. feeding too much. The cat is taking in an increased calorific intake or there is a reduced requirement for the body to burn up those calories. The infographic above mentions other issues.

To put it another way, the cat is either eating too much or not burning off enough calories or both. My mind immediately turns to the trend which I believe is taking place in America and in the UK to keep cats indoors full-time. This restricts activity. Cats become bored and they eat addictive foods for pleasure. This is a formula for obesity.

Health problems as a result of feline obesity

And the problems associated with obesity include:

  • Respiratory difficulties
  • decreased cardiac reserve
  • insulin resistance and the development of diabetes
  • poor response to infectious diseases
  • fatty infiltration of the liver
  • increased surgical risk due to increased risk of anaesthesia, fat necrosis, slow wound healing, technical difficulty in performing surgery and
  • feline lower urinary tract disease.

A quite comprehensive list which comes from (verbatim) NUTRITION AND WELFARE in my book The Welfare of Cats Edited by Irene Rochlitz.

Slow weight loss

Veterinarians would provide a word of warning about reducing a cat's weight. It should not be done too fast as this can lead to hepatic lipidosis which itself is a serious disease which can, unless it is turned around, lead to the death of the cat.

Clearly, for an obese cat to lose weight requires self-discipline on the part of the cat's caregiver. It's probably wise to obtain veterinary support to encourage the owner to follow dietary recommendations. This may be crucial to success on occasions.

Eating less is more effective than exercising

In respect of people becoming obese and desiring to lose weight, my personal research indicates that the strongest way to lose weight is to reduce food intake compared to doing more exercise. The latter will certainly help but the former will have a more dramatic effect and it should be a permanent change in diet for the lifetime of the person and the cat!

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