Is feline obesity a problem?

Yes- obesity, defined as an excess of body weight of 30% or more, is the most common nutritional disease of domestic cats. Although the frequency varies from one country to the next, on average up to 40% of all adult cats are obese! Obesity in cats is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease, osteoarthritis, certain forms of cancer and lower urinary tract disease.

Obesity in cats is also associated with hepatic lipidosis. This is a severe and sudden form of liver failure. It typically occurs in cats that are obese and have undergone a brief period of stress which causes anorexia. The stress may be as simple as a change of house or a change in diet. When it first became recognized, hepatic lipidosis was an almost universally fatal disease in cats. Fortunately, with improved, aggressive and prolonged therapy about 80% of affected cats can now be successfully treated. However, because of the risk for this potentially fatal disease, weight loss programs for obese cats need to be undertaken gradually and always under the care of a veterinarian. never put your cat on a crash diet.

What causes obesity in cats and how should it be treated?

Many factors contribute to obesity in cats, and not all of them are clearly understood. Some are probably genetic, while others are related to diet and environment. It is important for the cat owner and veterinarian to keep these factors in mind when treating the obese feline patient. Prevention is better than treatment, but this is not always easy. Indoor cats are more prone to obesity, partly because they eat more out of boredom, but also because they have less opportunity to stay trim through exercise. Remember that everybody should run and play, including cats!

Once a cat becomes obese, the challenge for owner and veterinarian alike is to safely promote weight loss to reach optimum weight. In the long run it is better to set realistic goals for weight reduction rather than attempting to force the cat down to a normal weight. Usually a 15 - 20% reduction in weight is a good target that can easily be achieved. Rapid weight loss should be avoided, since it puts the cat at risk for development of liver disease. Weight that is lost slowly is more likely to stay lost! There are no drugs or magic pills that can be used safely or effectively. Commercial restricted-calorie and weight loss diets are available from veterinarians and provide the basis for a successful weight loss program. Controlling the amount of food offered daily is very important in any diet program. To help minimize undesirable behaviors in a cat searching for more food, small meals should be offered more frequently. Supplementing with a filling but low calorie food such as canned green beans may also be helpful. Any diet is more effective when combined with additional exercise. While it is not typically reasonable to take your cat for long walks, there are many play toys and chase games appropriate to increase your cat's activity. These also have the advantage of providing more interaction between the cat and the family, which we know provides enjoyment and is beneficial for the health of both. With some patience and extra care, obese cats can be treated safely and effectively, with the ultimate goal of prolonging a healthy, happy life!


This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest Ward, DVM © 2005 Lifelearn, Inc. Used with permission under license.

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