Weighing In On Feline Obesity

white cat making an "ew" face at a carrot

Through grocery store tabloids and TV commercials inundating us with new fad diets it seems that we, as humans, are constantly focusing on our weight.

But what about when it comes to where our feline friends fall on the scales?

Dr. Ashley Navarrette, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers insight on how to manage your cat’s weight.

To determine a cat’s “healthy weight” veterinarians perform body condition scoring (BCS) as part of any physical examination.

“When evaluating body condition on a cat, veterinarians look and feel to determine the fat coverage on a patient and assign them a number on a scale –generally 1-9 –,” Navarrette said. “An ideal body condition ranges from a BCS 4-6 with a score of 5 being ideal. We start to get concerned when cats are a BCS 7 and above, which is where we start to label a patient as overweight and progressing toward obese (8 and 9).”

“Thankfully, most people can weigh their cats at home using the trick of weighing themselves first, weighing themselves and the cat, and then doing some simple math,” she said. “I recommend owners routinely check their cat’s weight at least once a month to catch any upward or downward trends early.”

Because patients typically only see their veterinarian one to two times a year, Navarrette says “it is heavily (no pun intended) the responsibility of the owner to keep their pet at an appropriate weight.”

Owners should begin working with their veterinarians on a healthy eating plan as early as kitten stage, as a healthy feline diet will vary depending on their age and health status. Their veterinarian can also help determine proper calorie requirements.

“Generally, we recommend a higher protein diet that is appropriately balanced and contains all necessary nutrients for an apparently healthy adult feline,” she said. “We also recommend decreasing calorie intake by 25-30% after spaying or neutering.”

Some owners may believe that a couple of extra pounds isn’t a big deal; however, Navarrette warns that that “fat and happy” does not exist.

“While your pet may seem content being overweight, their body systems are being affected by the excess fat tissue and even so much as a pound overweight can make a big difference to a cat,” she said. “Cats that are overweight and obese tend to be less social and less active. We also tend to see decreased grooming because they simply cannot reach due to their size.”

Being mindful of your pet’s weight also is important because obesity can quickly lead to a poor quality of life, such as a lack of motor skills for our feline friends. It can also lead to Type II Diabetes Mellitus, orthopedic issues such as osteoarthritis, and urinary issues such as an increased risk for feline lower urinary tract disease.

Fortunately, there are several things pet owners can do to help manage their cat’s weight, including scheduling mealtimes.

In some cases, your veterinarian may also suggest transitioning your cat to an over-the-counter or a prescription weight-loss diet; these foods are traditionally higher in protein and fiber than other cat foods.

However, transitioning from one food to another can be a more difficult task than it sounds.

“Cats like what they like and hate what they hate” Navarrette said. “Often cats become accustomed to a particular diet, and you may have to trial various diets before your cat accepts one.”

Switching foods also should be done slowly over the course of seven to ten days to help prevent possible gastrointestinal issues. If any issues arise during this process, Navarrette advises owners to contact a veterinarian to talk about their concerns.

Finally, when managing your cat’s weight, integrating exercise into their everyday life through indoor cat trees, interactive toys or cat perches can stimulate their metabolism.

“As with any weight loss journey, whether that be feline or other pets, this is a marathon and not a sprint. Weight loss will take time; patience and consistency are key to this process,” Navarrette said. “Check-ups may need to be as frequent as every six to eight weeks to monitor progress and make necessary modifications.”

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to vmbs-editor@tamu.edu.

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