Obesity in cats

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 8 out of 10 pet owners feel their pet is a “normal healthy” weight.

However, APOP also estimates that 59% of cats in the United States are, in fact, overweight or obese.Read on to learn about the common signs of obesity in cats, and find out the steps you can take to help your cat reach a healthier weight to prevent future complications.

What is obesity in cats?

Obesity is a nutritional disease which is becoming increasingly common in cats. It’s also extremely serious, and can cause your cat to develop other health problems and even decrease their lifespan. The signs of obesity in cats include:

  • Noticeable weight gain
  • A weight which is 10-20% more than the optimal weight for your cat’s age and breed, or a higher than average body condition score (BCS)
  • An unwillingness to exercise

You may not notice the weight gain if it happens over a long period of time, which is why it’s important to keep a close eye on your cat’s body condition during grooming sessions and visit your veterinarian for regular check-ups.

What are the risks of obesity in cats?

Obesity significantly increases the risk of your cat developing other serious health problems. A cat which is carrying just 1 pound of additional body weight is equivalent to us humans carrying an extra 15 pounds, so it’s easy to see how this excess weight can quickly take its toll on your pet’s health. Some of the most common health issues that can be triggered by obesity include:

  • Damage to joints and bones, including arthritis and lameness
  • Skin disorders, such as dry, flaky skin and feline acne
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Decreased immune function
  • Increased anesthetic risk
  • Problems giving birth
  • Liver disease
  • Decreased life expectancy

What causes obesity in cats?

One of the most common causes of obesity in cats is overfeeding. It can be easy to overfeed your cat, particularly if their diet is not tailored to their life stage or activity levels. While some cats lead very active lifestyles and spend lots of time outdoors, others, particularly older cats, will spend much of their lives indoors, sleeping, and simply won’t need the same number of calories to stay active and warm, so it is important to adjust your cat’s diet accordingly.

Some owners find it more convenient to leave dry food down for their cat to graze on throughout the day, or invest in self-filling bowls which automatically dispense cat food. However, both can lead to your cat consuming more calories than they need.

Feeding your cat too many treats between mealtimes can also lead to rapid weight gain, while fatty scraps of meat and other human foods will not only cause your cat’s body fat mass to increase, but could potentially be toxic to your cat and can lead to other serious health problems.

There are some underlying conditions which can cause obesity in cats, however these illnesses only make up a very small proportion of the total reported obesity cases in cats. Pay a visit to your veterinarian if you believe one of the following diseases may be responsible for your cat’s weight gain:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Insulinoma
  • Cushing’s disease (Hyperadrenocorticism)

Does neutering cause obesity in cats?

While neutering is not a direct cause of obesity in cats, the change in hormones does slow down the cat’s metabolism, meaning that they do not need as much food to sustain themselves.

As long as food intake is reduced by around 20-25% after neutering or spaying, there should be no risk of obesity. Your veterinarian can advise you on how much less you should be feeding your cat to ensure they maintain a healthy weight, but still receive all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

How can I help my cat lose weight?

If you think your cat needs to lose a few pounds, always consult your veterinarian for advice in the first instance. They’ll be able to determine whether your cat is suffering from any medical conditions which mean they are predisposed to obesity, and if so, prescribe the right course of treatment. Your veterinarian will also be able to let you know your cat’s ideal weight based on their age and build, and offer advice around how your cat can lose weight gradually, as suddenly restricting food will do more harm than good.

Your veterinarian is likely to recommend making changes to your cat’s diet. Canned food tends to be lower in calories, higher in protein and contain as much as 80% water, so it’s much better for weight loss when compared to dry food. Cat foods which are specially formulated for weight loss are also available, and they contain higher levels of protein and fiber which will help keep your cat fuller for longer.

It’s important to accurately measure the amount of food you’re feeding your cat at mealtimes using a measuring cup or scales. Refer to the label on the cat food for recommended serving sizes based on your cat’s age and size, and reduce the amount if advised to by your veterinarian. Feed your cat several small meals a day and don’t leave food down for your cat to graze on. Always transition to a new diet gradually, as suddenly changing your cat’s diet may cause stomach upsets.

As well as making changes to your cat’s diet, encouraging them to be more active will also help with weight loss. This is particularly important if you have an indoor cat, and just 10 minutes of play each day can make a big difference. Laser pointers, climbing posts and cat trees are great for encouraging your cat to run, jump and climb, while toys such as puzzle feeders will ensure your cat has to work for their treats. And if your cat doesn’t show any interest in playing with toys, you can always try using some catnip!