Chubby. Cute. Cuddly. Indeed, a fat cat is a sight to behold. But that cuteness can come at a cost.
Just like in humans, cats that carry excess weight are at risk of succumbing to a wide variety of diseases and disorders that can impact their health and wellbeing.
How long do obese cats live?
On average, a cat can live up to the age of 15 years. The consensus among cat health experts is that when a cat is obese, his lifespan is substantially reduced, due in large part to several health risks associated with the condition. According to studies, being obese shaves an average of five years off a cat’s life. A cat can live shorter or longer than that, depending on numerous factors like his breed, whether he lives indoors or outdoors, and if he is sterilized or not.
Fortunately, obesity is not fate. Through diet, exercise, and the perseverance of both pet and fur parents, obesity in cats can be turned around.
How do you know if a cat is obese?
Obesity is defined as the accumulation of excess fat in the body. Obese cats do not just look fat, they are considerably heavier than their peers that carry a normal weight.
Because of the extra weight he carries, an obese cat tends to be inactive, thus creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates the situation.
If a cat weighs above anywhere between 10 to 20 percent of his ideal body weight, then he is considered to be overweight. On the other hand, if he weighs more than 20 percent of his ideal weight, then he is considered obese.
Apart from weighing cats, vets may use a nine-point scoring system to determine if a cat is within the ideal weight range or not. In this system, a score of nine indicates that a feline is grossly underweight, while a score of one indicates that a cat is severely underweight. A healthy cat should have a score of 6.5 or seven.
At home, you can use the body condition score system to assess your cat’s body shape and weight and determine if he is indeed obese. To perform this test, you start by checking your pet’s ribs by running your hands on your pet’s rib cage. After that, you will need to look at your cat from above.
If your cat is obese, you cannot feel his ribs because of the thick layer of fat over these. Furthermore, his waistline is not visible when you look at your pet from above.
Feline obesity health risks
Cats are born with fat cells that can increase or decrease in size. Initially, it was believed that these cells are inactive. However, the latest studies indicate that fat cells release hormones that cause inflammation. In turn, inflammation can cause health problems. Apart from shortening a cat’s lifespan, obesity can adversely affect a cat’s health and quality of life.
What are these risks?
1. Joint problems
Carrying additional weight can put undue stress on an obese cat’s joints, ligaments, and tendons. Additionally, when a cat jumps and runs, those body parts become more susceptible to damage.
Just like in humans, cats can succumb to diabetes when they eat poorly, impacting their ability to produce the hormone known as insulin. Left unchecked, diabetes may not only shorten an obese cat’s life, it can even lead to death.
3. Urinary tract disease
Obese cats are also susceptible to feline lower urinary tract disease, an umbrella term for conditions that affect the urethra and bladder. These conditions include painful urination, frequent urination, and blood in the urine.
4. Breathing difficulties
Compared to other animals, cats have smaller lungs. And when a cat becomes obese, his lungs become restricted due to the smaller space they can move. This can translate to difficulty in breathing and even heart attacks.
Causes of obesity in cats
Although overeating is considered to be the leading cause of feline obesity, there are also a few other potential causes that fur parents need to be aware of.
1. Poor diet
More often than not, obese cats free feed instead of eating on a specific schedule. Free feeding is a practice where dry kibble is left by cat owners, allowing their pets to eat anytime they want to.
While free feeding in itself is a major contributor to obesity, the use of dry kibble can also be considered as a major contributor to the issue. Compared to wet food, dry kibble contains less protein and more carbohydrates.
Low quality of food can also contribute to obesity. When you give low quality food to your cat, your pet needs to consume more to get the nutrients that he needs. However, that can also mean that he consumes more calories.
It is also possible for cats to become obese because their humans are liberal in giving them treats. Giving a cat a couple of treats does not directly contribute to obesity. However, if you combine an unusually high amount of treats with large portions and poor quality cat food, then you have a recipe for weight gain.
Hyperthyroidism is a glandular disorder in cats that is caused by an excess amount of thyroxine in the affected cat’s blood.
The disorder can occur in almost all cats. However, older cats are at a higher risk of succumbing to it.
Insulinoma is a condition where a tumor inside the pancreas causes the organ to produce more insulin than is needed by a cat’s body.
Insulin is responsible for regulating sugar in the bloodstream. When a cat has insulinoma, he can exhibit a variety of symptoms, including weight gain.
4. Neutering or spaying
Although neutering and spaying offer numerous benefits, both can also contribute to weight gain. When a cat is spayed or neutered, his or her metabolism goes down by about 20 percent.
And when you do not pay attention to your cat’s nutrition, your cat can gain weight fast without you even being completely aware of it.
How to help a fat cat slim down
If your cat is obese, you cannot suddenly decrease his food intake. Just like in humans, a drastic reduction in food consumption can be bad for your pet.
If your pet needs to lose weight, you must work with your veterinarian in drawing up a weight loss plan for your cat. The immediate goal of this weight loss plan is to ensure that your cat burns more calories than he consumes.
This means that apart from paying attention to food quality and consumption, you should also encourage your cat to be more active than he currently is.
The first change that you will need to implement is making the switch to a different type of food, one that is formulated for obese cats. This type of cat food is full of nutrients but contains fewer calories than regular cat food. Furthermore, food for obese cats is significantly lower in fat but high in fiber and proteins.
You can give your cat snacks and treats. However, you should be mindful of the calories of these. Instead of giving your cat his usual treats, you can give him cooked strips of meat or liver.
Finally, your cat needs to follow a strict feeding schedule. Typically, vets recommend two to three meals per day. Definitely, free-feeding is out of the equation.
The other part of the weight-loss equation is exercise. Exercising will help your obese cat born more calories.
Ideally, your cat should exercise at least twice a day, with each session lasting about 15 minutes. Remember to ease your cat slowly into an exercise regimen. Start playing with him for a few minutes and then increase each session gradually.
Monitoring your cat’s progress
To ensure that your cat is making headway into his weight loss journey, it is critical to monitor his weight loss.
The easiest way to do that is to get his current weight and list that down. If you have a weighing scale at home, you can carry him before stepping on the weighing scale. After that, get your own weight. The difference between the two readings will be your cat’s current weight. Do this two to three times a month.
Alternatively, you can weigh your cat using a baby scale, if you have one.
Fat cats do not live long
There is no doubt that fat cats look adorable. But your cat’s health and wellbeing should take precedence over everything. Fortunately, you and your cat can turn things around by making significant changes to his diet and activity level. Do not take obesity lightly.
Image: istockphoto.com / Myskina6