News from CAT:

Fat Cats Aren’t Healthy Cats

My family and friends asked me recently why my two cats have sagging fat belly pouches? What am I doing wrong to cause my own cats to look like that? My answer was: “I don’t know”. Recently I attended two seminars back to back relating to obese cats. This is what I learned.

How many of you have cats that are overweight or obese? In the United States, 15% to 35% of cats are overweight to obese. If a cat is 20% or more above their ideal weight they are considered obese. The average cat should weigh between 9-11 pounds. To give you an example, a 9 pound cat that gains 2 pounds is considered obese. Obesity in cats increases the risk of diabetes and hepatic lipidosis (liver disease) and is associated with increased incidences of conditions like lower urinary tract disease and osteoarthritis. Sadly, 90% of cats age 12 and older have arthritis. Added weight on a cat in this age group can be very debilitating, not to mention, more painful.

New studies show the loss of muscle mass and the gaining of fat occurring in aging cats is due to several factors. Mainly it is caused by metabolism changes after being spayed or neutered, their inactivity as indoor cats and being allowed to free feed on dry food only that does not contain enough protein or moisture. These cats generally have the low swinging pouch bellies with muscle mass loss along the shoulders and spine.

This can be improved by adding canned food to their diets. The brands of canned foods recommended are the ones made by Hills, Purina, Iams and Proctor & Gamble due to their long standing history, research and reliable food sources. Dry food most often is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what cats need. Cats are true carnivores which means they must consume animals that are rich in protein and fat to meet their needs. The mouse is the perfect cat meal because of its size and nutrient content. One mouse is about 30 to 40 calories and has all the vital nutrients a true carnivore needs. By no means am I suggesting a raw meat diet or a mouse diet, for that matter. I am merely stating that cats require a high protein, low carbohydrate and moderately low fat diet which means low calorie.

Cats require protein as an energy source, even when fat and carbohydrates are available. Muscle mass needs to be preserved to control obesity and to maintain better insulin resistance. This is done by increasing protein intake while reducing calorie intake. There are very limited choices to accomplish this in dry cat food. A dry food diet only does not resemble that of a natural, true carnivore. Therefore, it is in the cats best interest to ADD canned cat foods to their diets. Labels still need to be read when purchasing canned cat foods to ensure they are in fact a higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate and moderately lower fat food.

Regarding the stopping of free feeding of dry foods to cats, I realize this is against all “normal” feeding practices. Most owners free feed their cats just as I have been doing. That is why this is such an important topic. It is the opposite of what we’ve all been doing, therefore it will require a significant change in mindset. In other words, it will not be easy but necessary for maintaining and/or reducing our cats’ weight collectively.

Cats that are on a dry food diet only are not consuming near enough water. I’m convinced this is why so many cats go into renal failure later in life. Making these changes may prevent or at least lessen the instances of this. I have gathered from personal experience and other cat experts that cats prefer their water bowls full to the rim with very fresh cold water. Therefore I suggest changing their water a minimum of 2 times a day using a clean bowl each time.

Exercise is another factor. It may sound funny, talking about exercising your cat, but it is important for them to be more active whenever possible. Spayed and neutered indoor cats are generally too sedentary. If at all possible, cats should be given access to a PROTECTED (meaning enclosed) outdoor area, where they can have some outdoor stimulus of play and yes, exercise. If an outdoor PROTECTED area is not feasible, the cat should be given LOTS of indoor climbing areas such as ramps, stairways, tall multi-leveled cat tree type scratching posts, etc. Cats NEED to climb. They also NEED to perch up high and have a view from up above. It is in their nature. It is who they are. If you build it, they will climb.

Play and activity are essential in the life of an indoor cat in order for them to have a healthy lifestyle. Being active will increase muscle mass and reduce the risk of obesity among other possible ailments. In addition it reduces stress and can help prevent behavioral problems. Set aside at least 5 minutes one to two times a day to interactively play with your cat. Initiate them to run, chase and hunt.

Regarding feeding, the target goal for an average sized 11 pound cat is 200 calories per day. Keep in mind the targeted amount of calories varies depending on several factors. These factors include whether this is a maintenance diet or a weight loss diet and what the ideal weight of the cat needs to be. The key is to know how many calories you are currently feeding so you can know where to go from there. Other factors include the size of the cat(some breeds are bigger than others), age, health and, of course, activity level of the cat. Some cats will require a little more than 200 calories a day while others may require a little less depending on the factors listed above. Since the goal is to ADD canned food to the dry diet this 200 calories per day must be calculated from both the dry and canned food combined. And since we no longer want to “free-feed”, the 200 calories for the day must be divided into 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day. We may have confused “free-feeding” with the fact that cats need to eat several times a day but only a tiny amount, about the size of a mouse as mentioned before, at each meal.

Another idea is to put the food bowl in different places throughout the house, changing the location often to initiate their hunting instincts. Cats need to exercise not only for their physical well being but for their mental well being too. The key is balancing their energy (food) intake to their energy (exercise) expenditure. Implementing preventative measures is always easier than trying to reverse a health problem.

I know this is an entirely new approach and a lot of people do not like the hassle factor, messiness, smell, etc.. of canned cat food but it is in the cat’s best interest for their overall health. Another new concept to consider is cats need different flavors and textures in their diet. Obviously, it is preferred to introduce this concept as kittens but a slow gradual introduction in older cats is still recommended. The goal is to vary their diet at an early age so they will not grow up preferring only dry food or only wet food. Both should be incorporated into their daily lives to ensure that your feline friends have a happy and healthy life!

– Colleen “Cat” Rutherford

Nestlé Purina Veterinary Symposium 2013 Feline nutrition: Understanding how to feed cats for obesity prevention and weight management, by Debra L. Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM 

Dallas County Veterinary Medical Association, Inc. 2013: PANDORA SYNDROME – Managing Idiopathic(Interstitial)Cystitis in cats(FIC) for successful outcomes and diagnosis and management of initial and recurrent Urinary Tract Infections, by Dennis J. Chew, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM (Internal Medicine)

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