Is your kitty a little husky? Chances are, the answer is yes! In 2018 almost two out of three pet cats in the US were overweight or obese. While we may see a well-fed cat as a sign of our love and attention, the implications of obesity on a cat’s health are serious. So let’s have a look at how to tell if your cat is at a healthy or unhealthy weight. With just a touch of preventative care, we can keep them in prime condition. And if you already have a fat cat, I’ll run you through how to turn your chunky monkey back into a lean, mean, purring machine!
There’s no hard and fast rule for how much your cat should weigh, as this will vary between animals. A general idea is that a cat 10-19% over optimal weight (7-12 pounds) is overweight, and 20%+ is obese. But age and breed are both factors in how big a cat can and should be.
A better judge of a cat’s health in terms of its weight is via a body condition scale (BCS). This is based on how much padding is on a cat’s rib cage and runs from 1 - 5. A score of 1 is for cats who are very thin, with visible ribs, spine and pelvis. 5 means your cat is obese, with no waist (viewed from above), and ribs and spine unable to be felt. A cat at a healthy weight with a score of 3 will have a clear waist and the ribs and spine easily felt, though not visible. Got all that?
Another way is to specifically ask the question at your routine veterinary check-up. They should be weighing your cat at each visit anyway, so they will have a good idea of any loss or gain. Your vet can also calculate the ideal weight for your specific cat and give you something concrete to aim for at home.
Once you have that baseline, investing in a set of digital scales to weigh your cat regularly is a good idea. It doesn’t take a lot for a cat to become overweight and it’s hard for an owner who sees them everyday to notice small incremental changes, so preventative care is best. That way, you can take quick action, rather than waiting for your next annual check-up.
There’s a myriad of health concerns that accompany obesity in cats. Overweight cats have a higher risk of developing diabetes, breathing problems, heart disease, skin conditions, osteoarthritis and lower urinary tract issues. You may not be able to see the harm in your feline putting on a few, but cats are the great pretenders! Hips, knees, shoulders and elbows of an obese cat are all put under great strain but they might not let on until it’s at a really advanced and painful stage.The basic takeaway is that overweight or obese cats can be considered to have a reduced quality of life, and a shorter life expectancy.
The good news is that there are definitely things you can do about it! If your cat is at a healthy body weight now, and you want to keep it that way, I’ve got ya. Or whether you want to help your kitty shed its ‘winter coat’, read on!
Indoor cats are more likely to be overweight, as their movement is naturally restricted more than an outdoor cat. They also don’t have as much opportunity to hunt so energy expenditure is less. Spayed or neutered cats have about a 20% lower metabolic rate than non-neutered, so if meal sizes aren’t adapted in response, this can rapidly lead to an overweight cat. Also, the surgery reduces the urge to roam, which can mean a lack of exercise. Middle-aged cats are more commonly a bit beefy. Between the ages of 2 and 10 years is when they are most likely to pack ‘em on.
Start with an awareness of your cat’s weight and BCS score, and keep it there! Electronic kitchen scales are your best friend here, as weighing your cat’s portions is the best way to ensure they stay in a healthy range. Provided measuring cups aren’t always trustworthy, and even a few extra bites of calorie-dense cat food could see the digits creep up.
Before you start your cat on a weight-loss program, you know what I’m going to say… Yup, see your vet. There may be previous health factors that should be taken into account and they’ll help you come up with a plan. When you’re given the all clear, get those scales out and religiously weigh the portions you’re giving your kitty. The all-day buffet needs to be restricted to specific amounts at measured times. Treats should be cut out, or if you really can’t resist that squishy face, account for the extra calories in the day’s intake and adjust the later feeding accordingly.
Let the little tigers hunt for their food. Puzzle feeders are great ways to make them expend energy in getting their food, and you can easily make your own at home from recycled items! Or put their food in different spots, forcing them to seek it out and move around in the process.And play, play, play! Schedule in play time like you would a coffee date and get kitty moving! Physical activity works as preventative care as well as treatment. Movement uses up those calories and promotes healthy joint movement.
While it can be tempting to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the increasingly soft cuddles from our purring pals, it may be time to take action. Just like any weight loss or maintenance plan, it will take time and discipline to see results. But a sleek, slim cat will mean a happier, healthier life for them, and longer, more interactive companionship for you. Win-win!