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Fat Cats

Causes, Hazards, and Solutions to Feline Obesity

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Picture of Red Cat Jaspurr

Picture of Red Cat Jaspurr

Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

Cat caregivers have come to realize more and more that fat cats are not healthy cats. Even the Guinness record book no longer indexes fat cats because of the health dangers to cats by potential contenders. "The last Guinness world record for the fattest cat ever recorded was Himmy from Queensland, Austrailia, who weighed 48.6 pounds!

Let's face it: grossly obese cats are no longer considered cute. Because overweight cats seem to be continuously hungry, many of us feed them out of sympathy, a habit that can ultimately result in "killing with kindness." Sarah Hartwell, of MessyBeast.com puts it more bluntly: "In my opinion, over-feeding a cat to this extent (despite veterinary advice) constitutes cruelty." Long gone are the days of Henry VIII, when obesity was akin to success, a symbol of "living the good life." Instead of being proud of our Fat Freddies, we should feel chagrin at our role in their unhealthy overweight.

Overfeeding is not the whole story behind morbid obesity in cats; the quality of the food is just as important. Unfortunately, some of the most highly-touted commercial cat foods are of poor nutritional quality, and that includes the so-called "weight management" foods.

Causes of Feline Obesity

Gross obesity in cats can be caused by any one, or more often, a combination of the following:
  • Uncontrolled High-Carb Diet
    The single worst food for cats is a high-carbohydrate, corn laden dry food, rich in calories, but short on a named meat protein. Obligate carnivores must have muscle meat protein to live, such as chicken, turkey, fish, rabbit - the sorts of food cats eat in the wild. Meat byproducts simply do not qualify. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, D.V.M., Esq., writes in her book, "Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger, Life: Felines are the quintessential "Atkins" species, for which high-carbohydrate foods are not simply irrational, they are deadly.
  • Free-Feeding Dry Food
    Ideally, a cat should be fed three to four small meals a day, preferably raw or freeze-dried food or a good quality canned. However, many cat owners are dual income, and there is no one home during the day to feed the cats. Hence, they often resort to using "free-fall" dry food feeders, which allow new food to flow into the bowl as cats eat.

    Fortunately, the pet industry has recognized this problem, and now there are portion-controlled feeders, even timed ones. My veterinarian recommends (and sells) the Smartcat Tiger Diner Food Dish. (Compare Prices) The model I have includes a one-cup container, which can sit upright on top of the dome. Alternatively, food can be poured through a hole in the dome. Below is the wide portion of the food dish, which has holes around the side, through which the cat can stick his paw to draw out bits of kibble to eat. However, this "controlled grazing" is completely ineffective with a high carbohydrate, high fiber diet. The food I am presently using is Blue Buffalo Wilderness Grain Free Dry Cat Food, Chicken Recipe (Manufacturer's Site), and all the cats enjoy it.

  • Insufficient Exercise
    You will find very few obese cats among those who are allowed free access to the outdoors. They get plenty of exercise climbing trees, jumping over fences, and running from dogs. I do not recommend allowing cats to run freely outdoors as a solution to weight problems. Fortunately, with climbing towers, scratching posts, and interactive toys, cats can be happily active inside, to help keep their weight in check and to develop and maintain sound, healthy bodies. Also, there are safe outdoor alternatives, such as walking your cat on a leash, or building an outdoor cat enclosure. Most cats can be trained to a harness and leash quite easily.
  • Hypothyroidism
    Although it is rare, hypothyroid disease can cause cats to become overweight. Fortunately, daily supplements of thyroxine can cause a quick turnaround.

Common Diseases in Obese Cats

Although these serious diseases are not exclusive to overly-fat cats, feline tubbies are more predisposed to develop them.
  • Arthritis
    Obesity and arthritis in cats become a double-edged sword. The extra weight on load-bearing joints becomes painful arthritis; because of the pain when walking or jumping, the cat becomes more sedentary, burns fewer calories, and gains more weight unless his eating pattern changes. Arthritis in cats can become a crippling disease, one which our cats simply don't deserve.
  • Diabetes
    Feline Diabetes Mellitis is the single most common disease that targets overweight cats, and is almost always directly related to diet. Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, of CatInfo.org, wrote about Feline Diabetes:

    Feeding a diabetic cat a high carbohydrate diet is analogous to pouring gasoline on a fire and wondering why you can't put the fire out.

    This rationale also applies to any of the prescription dry diabetes diets such as Purina DM, Hill's Prescription w/d and m/d, and Royal Canin DS. These diets are not only poor quality diets, they are still too high in carbohydrates and contain several species-inappropriate, hyperallergenic ingredients such as corn, wheat, and soy.

  • Hepatic Lipidosis (Fatty Liver Disease)
    Fatty liver disease develops when a previously overweight cat loses weight quickly, sometimes the result of untreated feline diabetes, hyperthyrodism, or simply because the cat feels unwell. Although it is potentially fatal, fatty liver disease can be turned around quickly by prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Several other conditions could be indirectly linked to morbidly obese cats. Certainly excess poundage puts a strain on the heart and circulatory system, and could contribute to heart problems. For cats, just as for humans, a slender body is always more healthy than a tubby one.

It is never too late to help your Tubby Tom turn into a svelte, active cat. Please give deep consideration into what you have read here, research further, and take the steps you need to help your fat cat live a longer, healthier life.

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian nor a nutrition expert. This article is meant only to give you a starting place to do your own research so you can make an informed decision, should it ever become necessary.

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