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Cats Veterinary Weight Loss Program…

It’s not just Fluff!

January is the purr-fect time to evaluate if your feline family members also need to embark on a “New Year’s Resolution Weight Loss Program.” In fact, by far the most common nutritional condition that is recognized in pet cats is problems with excessive weight gain. According to a 2012 National Pet Obesity Survey study (results available at www.petobesityprevention.com) 58.3% of US Cats are overweight or obese, that computes to approximately 43.2 MILLION overweight or obese cats.

So what is the danger in having a comfortably rotund cat? Unfortunately obesity can lead to many serious medical conditions: diabetes, feline lower urinary tract disease, idiopathic hepatic lipidosis, lameness or arthritis, constipation, cardiac disease, respiratory disease and non-allergic skin disease. Obese cats are also prone to more hygiene related problems such as matting of the fur, chronic urinary tract infections or perineal skin conditions. In the vast majority of cases, feline diabetes can be PREVENTED entirely by feeding an appropriate diet and keeping your cat at a healthy weight. Obese cats have a four-fold greater risk of becoming diabetic compared to normal weight cats.

How can you tell if your cat is in need of a weight loss program? The best thing to do is to have your cat’s weight evaluated by a veterinarian. There are many factors in deciding the ideal weight for each patient. Body shape and stature, age, sex, lifestyle and even breed factor in to a doctor’s consideration of whether your cat is obese or not. At Cats Veterinary, we use a Body Condition Score to denote if a cat’s weight is ideal. More information on this Body Condition Score can be found at www.projectpetslimdown.com. A score of 5 is the goal.

Similar to humans, a proper weight loss program should be overseen by medical professionals- this is particularly important for cats as their bodies cannot tolerate weight loss that happens too quickly. A safe weight loss program for cats results in a loss of 0.5-2% of body weight a WEEK. Slow and steady is the way to go- which can be overwhelming and frustrating for owners who are expecting a quick change into a stealth and sleek feline body physique. Cats Veterinary staff is trained to keep both owners and cats motivated and interested in attaining the ideal weight.

So your cat has been diagnosed with obesity- what is the first thing the doctor will discuss with you? Proper Diet. The nutritional needs of a cat are drastically different than dogs. Cats are strict carnivores whereas dogs are omnivores- cats NEED protein. Comprised of 23 different amino acids, proteins are often called the “building blocks” of the tissues. The cat’s body can manufacture 12 of these amino acids but the other 11 amino acids must come from dietary meat.   Cats cannot synthesize enough taurine (an essential amino acid) from other dietary precursors and need to eat animal tissues in order to attain this essential amino acid. Taurine is needed to sustain normal cardiovascular, reproductive and visual performance. If left in the wild, cats would eat a variety of small prey such as mice, rodents, birds and insects. The average mouse is about 75% water and only 3-5% carbohydrates. Why is this fact important to remember? Cats are metabolically adapted for higher metabolism of proteins and lower utilization of carbohydrates than dogs or other omnivores. Simplified, cats cannot utilize carbohydrates efficiently so therefore if fed a higher carbohydrate diet will become overweight. The easiest way to feed your cat a lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet is to feed an exclusively canned food diet.

What about exercise? Taking a cat out on a leash for a walk outside can be a dangerous and often ineffective endeavor. Unless trained and acclimated to a harness and leash from a VERY young age, cats will either become too stressed when taken outside or will “freeze” and simply not participate at all. This leaves the owner and veterinary team with creative brainstorming to get your cat moving. Each patient is different in what motivates and interests them. Some patients may respond to hunting toys or activities while others may enjoy and respond to laser pointers or “kitty obstacle courses.”

What about “counting calories?” Caloric restriction is part of an effective diet. A veterinarian will be able to assess your cat and figure their caloric needs. On average a cat that weighs 5kg (or approximately 11 pounds) will need 250kcal per day. Different brands of cat canned and dry food have different amounts of calories per cup. Cats Veterinary team is happy to educate you on choosing the best option for your cat. One of the easiest ways to encourage weight loss in your cat is to STOP feeding commercial cat treats. A typical commercially marketed cat treat can have anywhere from 2-4 calories PER treat. Most owners will offer a few (on a small handful) of treats to their cat to show affection. If your cat is fed 10 treats per day that could equal 30 calories… or 12% of the daily caloric need.
What are the challenges in designing an effective Cat Weight Loss Program?

  1. Ruling out metabolic diseases or medical conditions. Before embarking on a weight loss program it is imperative that your cat’s medical health be investigated. Routine bloodwork should be run to rule out any metabolic dysfunction or disease.
  2. Pet Food Labeling and Marketing. Pet food companies are in the business of selling their food and will spend thousands of dollars marketing to an OWNERS perceived need to feed their cat a certain food. Our veterinary staff is happy to give a non-biased and honest opinion and recommendation of a good quality food to feed your cat, no matter your budget.
  3. The household. Taking into consideration how many people are in the house and who is responsible for feeding the cat- is there good communication to make sure the cat is not getting fed more than necessary? Are multiple family members giving the cat treats? What other animals are in the house? Is there room to improve with environment enrichment to entice more exercise for the cat? Is the cat being fed people food? Are there multiple cats in the household?
  4. The Cat. Any and every cat owner can agree that each cat is a distinct individual with their own particular likes and dislikes. You can never force a cat to do anything. Change is hard for cats to adapt to, so changing their diet and normal routine takes a supreme amount of patience, understanding and flexibility. One patient may respond well and adapt to a new “diet” food while another may take months of trials of different brands and flavors of food until a compromise is met between what the cat will eat and what will encourage a weight loss.

Cats Veterinary is proud to say that Dr. Vani, Dr. Reagan and all of our licensed veterinary technicians are also Purina Certified Weight Coaches. With this team oriented approach we can assure that every effort will be made to give you and your cat the tools needed to achieve the purr-fect weight.

More online references:
For environmental enrichment: http://www.catvets.com/cat-owners/caring-for-cats/environmental-needs
Pet Obesity Information: www.petobesityprevention.com