Many owners are not very good at recognizing that their cats are overweight. A typical cat should weigh about 4.5kg. Michel and Scherk adapt figures from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention that scale up cat weight gain to human dimensions. For example, a cat that weighs 6.8kg – about 50% more than it should – is equivalent to a weight of 98.9kg (218lbs) for a 5’4” woman, or 115.2kg (254lbs) for a 5’9”man. Apart from using accurate scales, you should also look at the shape of your cat. The waistline should be visible, as should a tummy-tuck, and you should be able to feel the cat’s ribs.
So what should you do if your cat is overweight and obese? Portion control is obviously part of the solution. A cat that is a little overweight should have a fixed amount of regular food, while very overweight and obese cats should be fed a special weight-loss diet to ensure they still get enough nutrients. Many people use approximate measures for food, and an accurate cup measure, or weighing the food, would be better. Keeping a food diary of everything the cat eats will help you stick to your plan. Remember to include products designed for dental health, as they also have calories.
Michel and Scherk say you can continue to give your cat treats, since it makes the cat happy, but should reduce the amount of kibble to take account of calories from treats. To lose weight, a cat needs around 60-70% of the calories that it would need to maintain its weight. A substantial weight loss that does not reach normal weight will still have health benefits, so owners of very obese cats should not feel disheartened – they can still make a difference.
|Engaging in play with your cat will help it maintain a healthy weight|
The paper also points out other steps that have been found to make a difference to weight loss, such as feeding via devices that require the cat to do some work. There are several containers on the market with holes in, designed for just this purpose, or you could make your own using a plastic drink bottle. Cardboard tubes – such as from toilet roll – can be fastened together, and food placed inside so the cat has to reach its paw in. Another great suggestion is to put portions of the cat’s daily food on a small plate or in a cupcake case and hide it around the house, so the cat has to hunt for some of their food.
These ideas count as environmental enrichment for the cat, and other enrichment activities will help to increase the cat’s exercise. For example, playing an interactive game with your cat, such as getting it to chase a toy or laser light (they suggest always ending by putting the light on a toy, so the cat gets to catch something and doesn’t feel frustrated). Cats can also be encouraged to use a treadmill, or taken for walks wearing a leash and harness.
There is some evidence that owners of overweight cats have a tendency to over-humanize them. This comes from a study of 120 cat owners by Kienzle and Bergler (2006) in Germany. This study looked at cats that were not free-roaming (i.e. indoors-only or with access to an enclosed balcony/garden). Normal weight was defined as a queen under 4kg or a tom under 5kg, and overweight as over 5kg or 6kg respectively. Owners of overweight cats had a closer relationship with their cat, and were more likely to say the cat consoled and encouraged them. They were also more likely to say their cat was like a child to them. While both sets of owners talked to their cats, owners of overweight cats were more likely to talk to their cat, and to talk about topics relating to friends and family or work. Owners of overweight cats were more likely to watch their cats eat, suggesting that food played a greater role in their relationship. Owners of normal-weight cats were more likely to play with their cat.
Michel and Scherk conclude that it is important to consider the cat caregiver when discussing a cat weight loss program. They say, “The value of encouraging alternative ‘strokes’ – things that make the person feel good about their interaction with the cat, such as play and a sense of pride in achieving weight loss goals – is not to be underestimated. Positive feedback, both from the veterinary team (the outside environment) as well as self-generated by the client, is vital to the success of a weight loss program.” Their excellent paper is aimed at vets, but it contains many ideas to help the average pet-owner.
Do you keep an eye on your cat’s weight? And, do you have any tips for feline weight loss?
ReferencesKienzle E, & Bergler R (2006). Human-animal relationship of owners of normal and overweight cats. The Journal of nutrition, 136 (7 Suppl) PMID: 16772465
Michel K, & Scherk M (2012). From problem to success: feline weight loss programs that work. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 14 (5), 327-36 PMID: 22511475