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The Dangers of Feline Obesity

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Cats are known for lounging around most of the day, being lazy and getting fat. An overweight cat is often considered “normal,” and we may chuckle at the sight of a tubby cat waddling around the house. But allowing our cats to become overweight is actually a serious problem. Feline obesity can lead to a great number of health risks in cats and is easily prevented.

Cats often become overweight because they are consuming more calories than they are burning throughout the day. A combination of overeating, being given too many treats and not getting enough exercise is usually to blame for a cat gaining too much weight too quickly.

However, in some cases, obesity can stem from another health problem like hypothyroidism. If you notice your cat gaining more and more weight, take it into a vet for a complete workup to determine whether a health issue or a lifestyle issue is to blame and how to fix it.

Risks associated with feline obesity

Aside from a general decreased quality of life associated with the inability to move around easily and overall discomfort, severely overweight cats may be at risk for more serious health problems.

  • Diabetes: Overweight cats are often fed a carbohydrate-rich diet of dry kibble when their bodies are not really designed to handle high carb loads. This causes blood glucose levels to elevate and stay high for longer, interrupting the natural production of insulin and potentially leading to feline diabetes.
  • Arthritis: Obese cats are much more likely to develop arthritis in their limbs because of all the extra weight their joints have to bear. The added pressure on the legs can become extremely painful for cats, which, in turn, causes them to avoid running and jumping, leading to even more weight gain.
  • Cardiovascular problems: Overweight cats might develop high blood pressure, which can cause damage to the heart and cardiovascular system.

If your cat is overweight and begins displaying signs of poor health such as a loss in appetite, problems with urination or defecation, lethargy, increased vocalization or unusual fear or aggression, take it to the vet to have it examined for one of these conditions.

Helping your cat lose some weight

Obese cats will need help losing the weight they’ve gained over the years, and it won’t always be easy. You will need to work with your cat and implement some changes to help it maintain a healthy weight moving forward.

Here are some ways to help your cat shed its excess weight in a healthy way.

  • Encourage exercise: Movement is critical for cats to burn calories throughout the day. You could try taking your cat for walks outside if it’s adventurous. If it prefers to stay inside, you can encourage more running and jumping by playing with feather toys and balls your cat likes to chase. Provide your cat with stimulating cat trees to encourage it to leap, jump and explore its surroundings more.
  • Avoid free choice feeding: Many cat owners prefer to free choice feed their cats because it is extremely convenient to place a bowl of food out each day and let the cat eat at its leisure. However, free choice feeding can easily allow cats to overeat because a bowl of food is constantly waiting for them. It also prevents pet parents from understanding exactly how much food their cat is consuming each day and from noticing changes in appetite. Instead, you should feed your cat three to four small meals a day, each being carefully measured to account for a daily diet.
  • Feed a meat-based diet: Cats are carnivores, and a diet full of carbohydrates is not what their bodies are designed to digest. Dry food packed with sugars and flour are not as easy to break down for cats as protein-rich foods are, and the carbs are often stored as extra fat. For this reason, the excess carbs may cause your kitty to gain weight. Speak with your vet and ask about changing your cat’s diet to something with more protein and fewer carbs.
  • Cut back on treats: Our cats love treats, and we’re usually all too happy to reward them with an extra one or two throughout the day simply for being lovable and cute. But treats often contain high levels of carbohydrates and still contain calories, so giving too many treats can lead to unsafe levels of consumption. Only give treats for good behavior or during training and always give them sparingly.

It’s important to not put your cat on a diet before speaking to a veterinarian. Your vet has the proper expertise and understanding of feline health to recognize when a cat needs to lose or gain weight and what the best method of implementing that is.

Without speaking to a professional, you could end up hurting your cat by accident and putting its health in more danger than before. Also, never put your cat on a crash diet. Changes in food intake need to happen gradually.

Meet Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford

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