is a serious problem for our feline friends. Many serious health
problems can result from obesity, such as arthritis, liver disease,
heart failure, and renal disease.
Prevention is key here: don't allow your cat to become overweight in
the first place. Pay attention to your kitten's growth to make sure he
does not fill out "too much." The average weight gain for a kitten is
approximately one pound per month up to 8-10 pounds.
How can you tell if your cat's too fat? You should be able to feel the
ribs easily. Even thin cats may have a little "pooch" in the belly
between the hind legs, but this should not be excessive. From above,
there should be a bit of a waist, rather than a bulge, between ribs and
While nutritionists simplify
obesity as a matter of "too many calories in and too few calories
expended," it is obviously not that simple. Obesity is a symptom of a
systemic imbalance, basically a disease state. Dieting (starving) a cat
down to his "ideal" weight does not address the cause of the problem.
Common contributors to obesity include:
a multi-cat household, when one cat goes to the food bowl, curiosity or
the competitive instinct may cause another cat to investigate and,
while she's there, take a few nibbles. Enough nibbles over time can
create a big problem!
2. Boredom also plays a
role. Cats who are home alone all day may eat just for something
pleasurable to do. Spending quality time with your cat, particularly
using play therapy sessions, will be a crucial part of a weight loss
3. Former stray cats who have had to
struggle to survive on the streets may have significant "food issues,"
and will often become overweight if food is constantly available.
I don't like to put cats on a "diet". Diets must often be severe in
order to comply with current calorie theories, and this may cause even
worse problems, such as life-threatening liver disease. Skipping a
single meal can throw a sensitive cat into a serious problem.
Free-choice feeding diet foods usually results in weight gain rather
Animals may consume excessive
amounts of a food because they can't digest it properly, there aren't
enough of certain nutrients, or some nutrients are not in a
"bioavailable" form--that is, they can't be assimilated properly. This
is a concern with some of the most inexpensive and generic foods, as
well as with some "diet" foods that contain excessive levels of fiber.
Dry food is actually where the most dangerous calories are. The feline
is uniquely adapted to get energy from protein and fat; the cat's
natural prey contains very little carbohydrate. For most cats,
carbohydrates are converted to fat, rather than be burned for energy.
Clearly, this is the opposite of where we want to go!
There are two major strategies for helping a fat cat lose weight.
Feed in timed meals.
For most cats, it's best to feed them on a timed-meal schedule. That
is, don't leave the food out all the time, but rather put the food out
for 30-45 minutes, two or three times a day. Cats figure out this
schedule quickly. Not all cats will lose weight with this change alone,
but usually you can keep them from continuing to gain. (Caution: some
medical conditions require special feeding regimens; talk to your
veterinarian before making any changes.)
Feed wet food. In general, cats
should receive at least 50 percent of their diet as wet food, either
good-quality canned foods or homemade diets. For significant, healthy
weight loss (and many other health benefits), feed 100% canned food and
get rid of the dry altogether.
Always make sure kitty is eating;
some cats are so addicted to their dry food that they will go on a
hunger strike without it. This can lead to serious health
complications. Be sure you work closely with your veterinarian when
changing diets to minimize the risk to your cat.
high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (think "Atkins") is truly
ideal for the cat. Most canned cat and kitten foods meet these
standards, but try to choose those with the least carbohydrate. You can
get a fair idea of carbohydrate content by simply subtracting all the
listed percentages on the label from 100%. About 8% carbohydrate (or
less) is best.
To minimize the stress associated with the new schedule and new food (cats hate change!), flower essences such as Stress Stopper can be very helpful. It is important that these changes be made as
stress-free as possible to prevent other health problems from occurring.
Throughout the weight management process, whatever
the results, give your cat plenty of love and attention. Play therapy
is good exercise, builds her confidence, and strengthens the bond
between the two of you. Lots of affection will help her equate love and
comfort with you--and not her food bowl.