Cats are supposed to be active as a species. They’re natural-born hunters, and being able to run fast and jump high is part of their genetic makeup. They naturally slow down a little as they get older (as we all do), but they should spend most of their lives lean and fit. Cats are not naturally obese. Obese cats are not a healthy cats.
While it’s true that some cats, like some humans, put on weight easier than others, active steps should always be taken to remedy the problem when it occurs. Leading research says obesity is the biggest problem currently facing cats in the Western world. Not only that, it’s a problem that’s getting worse.
We won’t pretend that a fat cat isn’t a cute cat, but it’s also probably an unhappy one. Worst of all, it’s a cat that’s facing a shorter life expectancy than a cat who maintains a healthy weight. If you’ve noticed that your formerly svelte pet is on its way to becoming an obese cat, this is the information you need to know.
Fast Facts On Obese Cats
1. Obese Cats Have Shorter Life Expectancies
It’s already cruel that our cats don’t live as long as we do. Having an overweight cat makes that problem worse. An obese cat may live five fewer years than a cat which is at a regular weight. Morbidly obese cats may live up to ten years fewer. Given that the average cat only lives for somewhere between ten and fifteen years to begin with, that’s a lot of time you’re missing out on. You owe it to them – and to you – to help them look after their weight and stay with you for longer.
2. Obese Cats Are More Likely To Suffer From Joint Issues
This is just basic physics. The heavier an overweight cat is, the more of a burden is placed on its joints and musculature. An obese cat is putting pressure on ligaments, joints and tendons. Over time, that can progress into early-onset feline arthritis. Consider the elevated positions your cat likes to sit – window ledges, cupboards and so on. If an obese cat jumps down from a height, its joints absorb the impact. Carrying extra weight is more likely to damage those joints.
3. Obese Cats Are At Higher Risk Of Feline Diabetes
Diabetes can occur in cats for the same reason that Type 2 Diabetes occurs in humans – a poor diet means that the body needs more insulin than it’s able to produce. Feline diabetes is unfortunately becoming a common ailment. This is a life-shortening condition, and in extreme cases can become fatal very quickly.
4. Obese Cats Are At Higher Risk Of Urinary Tract Disease
An overweight cat will begin to experience issues in other areas of its body. One of the ways this manifests is a higher prevalence of urinary tract disease in overweight cats. This is uncomfortable and upsetting for your cat, and can also be quite messy. There are specialist cat foods which can offset this effect, but it would be better to help your cat stay at a healthy weight and avoid the issue completely.
5. Obese Cats Are At Risk Of Suffocation
This may sound dramatic, but it’s sadly true. Cats have tiny lungs. When fat builds up in the abdomen or chest of an obese cat, it reduces the space into which the lungs can inflate. That makes it difficult to breathe for an overweight cat. Worse still, a cat struggling for breath may panic, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.
Causes of Obesity In Cats
The most likely reason for a cat becoming obese is a disparity between the amount of calories that the overweight cat is ingesting, and the amount of calories that it’s burning. You could accidentally be playing a part in this. Giving your cat too many treats, or using high-calorie or low-quality cat food could be a factor. Frequent changes to your cat’s diet could play a part, too.
Other causes of obesity in cats include the following.
Hyperthyroidism is a common affliction in cats, and particularly older felines. Of all the glandular disorders that a cat can suffer, this is the most common one. The root cause is an excess of thyroxine in the bloodstream, which can in some cases be attributed to a bad diet.
While hyperthyroidism can occur in cats of any breed, either sex or any age, fewer than six percent of all cases occur in cats who are less than ten years old. The average age of a cat suffering from hyperthyroidism is twelve.
This is far rarer than hyperthyroidism, but can still sometimes cause weight gain in affected cats. It’s most likely to appear as a side effect of pancreatic cancer. Insulinoma is caused by a tumor within the pancreas, causing the organ to malfunction and produce excess insulin.
Insulin is vital in your cat’s body because it regulates the level of sugar in the blood. Without it, the blood sugar reaches dangerous levels and can create a number of side effects, including weight gain. As with hyperthyroidism, this is most likely to occur older cats, with an average age of fifteen.
This is the most unfortunate cause of obese cats. We’re told that neutering is in the best interests of our pets – and it is – but sometimes the byproduct of neutering is an overweight cat. Information from the Feline Advisory Bureau makes it clear that it’s harder for a neutered cat to maintain a healthy weight than their non-neutered peers.
There’s no way to avoid this – the neutering process impacts your cat’s metabolism, slowing it down by approximately 20%. Even if you don’t feed your cat any more than you were doing before the operation, weight gain is still possible. That means it’s not a good idea to give them too many treats as an apology for the operation!
How To Tell If You Have An Obese Cat
At the risk of stating the obvious, the easiest way to identify whether you have an overweight cat is to weigh it. While you cat do this just by putting it on the scales (assuming it will sit still for long enough for a measurement to be taken), vets have a more scientific method. A vet will examine your cat’s head, tail, ribs and lumbar area, examining each section for excess fat. The results will then be compared with the average weight for your cat’s particular breed. The ‘correct’ weight for a cat can vary depending on breed, which is why breed-specific cat food exists.
Average Cat Weight
Your cat will be diagnosed as obese if the amount of body weight it’s carrying is more than fifteen percent above the average for its breed (or the closest breed available).
As a rule of thumb, the average weight of a female short haired cat is between six pounds and ten pounds. The average weight of a male short haired cat is between ten pounds and twelve pounds. In all cases and across all breeds, male cats outweigh female cats by somewhere between two and four pounds on average. There can be a great deal of variance with larger breeds, though. A large breed such as a Maine Coon may weigh as much as eighteen pounds and still be considered as healthy. By contrast, small breeds like the Russian Blue would be considered overweight when they weigh as little as seven pounds. It’s also easier for small cats to gain weight.
Treatment For Obese Cats
The only way to treat an overweight cat is to help them lose weight through a balance of diet and exercise. That’s how we treat excess weight in humans, and therefore that’s how we treat excess weight in cats! There is special food for overweight cats (which is largely the same as food for older cats) which can help with this.
The key to helping your cat lose weight in a healthy and sustainable manner is to devise a diet plan which is suitable for the long term. We’re warned about the dangers of crash dieting in humans, and we therefore shouldn’t inflict them on our pets. It’s best advice to take obese cats to a vet so they can perform a professional assessment. They will then be able to give you an advised diet plan and schedule.
What Is The Best Food For Overweight Cats?
In broad terms, you’ll likely be recommended a diet that contains a lot of protein and fiber, but a reduced amount of fat. It may be that you’re advised to reduce your cat’s dry food intake because of the carbohydrate content that sometimes comes with it. You may also be advised to buy specialist food from a recognized provider of food for obese cats. Royal Canin is one such manufacturer.
The scientific reasoning for this is that high amounts of protein within the diet stimulate metabolism and encourage your cat to expend energy. As a bonus, it also makes your cat feel ‘full’ for longer, so they won’t snack or pester you for more food between meals. Fiber also works wonders because it triggers metabolism but doesn’t contain huge amounts of energy, so your cat expends more energy than it takes in. That makes weight loss inevitable.
The Importance Of Playtime
It’s not just about regulating your cat’s diet, though. Reducing or amending food intake is part of the battle, but your cat also has to expend energy in order to shed the pounds. That means they need encouragement to take part in physical activity. This shouldn’t be a problem for younger cats, who naturally run around anyway. Older cats may need a little stimulation to get them interested.
There are plenty of cat toys in the market which can help with this. Interactive cat furniture can help, too. There are even some variants of cat toys which don’t require any input from you, such as automatic laser lights. This is great for when you’re out of your house at work, and your cat might otherwise be sleeping at home. Automatic toys can be programmed to switch on at any time, and should make for a good home workout for your cat when you’re not around to encourage them in person.
By and large, chasing and catching games are the best forms of exercise. It’s these games that result in the most energy being expended. If you’re lucky enough to have a cat who knows how to play fetch, indulge them!
All of us want our furry friends to be around for the long term. Shortening the life expectancy of our pets by up to a third isn’t something any of us would relish. If you have a cat who’s prone to putting weight on, your focus should be not just on helping them shake off the weight, but keeping it off. That means being diligent. When your cat has lost weight, ensure you continue to weigh them on a monthly basis. If their weight goes back up, look afresh at their diet and exercise regimen. If you and your cat haven’t accidentally slipped back into old habits, book another appointment at the vet.
Thanks for stopping by and reading our advise on obese cats today. We hope you’ve found it useful. If you have, please consider sharing it among your cat loving friends. For more information on cat health and cat health aids, check out our specialist guide right here!
Hi! My name is Jamie Fallon. I run Catmart.net, an online cat health and cat behavior resource. If I’m not sat in front of my PC—and I usually am—then I’m either spending time with my cats or my other half… Whoever jumps on me or asks me for food first!