Meet Suki who we first met as a Cat’s Protection rescued cat with a broken pelvis. She was nursed back to health and her new owners were the most loving, caring and conscientious owners you would wish to meet. In fact they were so loving they demonstrated it partly be feeding Suki only ‘the best foods’!! which are often laden with palatable fats. Suki was also good at training her owners to feed her on command, every trip to the fridge usually resulted in a treat! And you can see from the picture – Suki doesn’t waste anything.
Suki, like all good cats, had regular annual health examinations, booster vaccinations and flea and worm treatments. When she came for her annual check up in January 2014 her weight had ballooned to almost 6 kg. Another problem contributing to this was that she was a house cat so didn’t get much exercise and eating became almost a hobby to relieve boredom.
Suki came to Weight Club where her owners were given lots of advice and a booklet. We gave her:
· A balanced feeding regime with regular weigh in and checks (she went on to a calorie controlled prescription diet full of all the correct nutrients for her body weight and designed to give a decent volume; satisfying hunger without the calories..
· Regular consultations with the Vet to ensure her health was maintained.
· A regular exercise regime with more play inside.
· Advice on other ways of engaging with her rather than through food.
By December 2014, less than 12 months, Suki’s weight was down to just over 4 kg, having lost an incredible 1/3 of her bodyweight and excess fat.
Definitely a Star Patient.
Obesity in Cats
Ever wonder what to do about your overweight cat? Overweight and actually obese cats outnumber cats of normal weight and are being seen more and more commonly at the Practice for various disorders. In fact, obesity in cats can predispose the cat to diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, arthritis, urinary problems, many other conditions and reduced life expectancy.
However, weight loss plans in cats needs to be approached very carefully.
A 2011 study by APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention) found that over 50 percent of cats were either obese or overweight. So what is happening that predisposes our domestic felines to a life of sedentary obesity?
The answer is multifactorial but to simplify, just remember this: any individual mammal (dog, cat, horse, human, etc.) will gain body weight if it consumes more calories than it burns as fuel for energy. That’s pretty simple, but true.
In nature, food acquisition has never been a sure thing for any creature — not for dogs, cats or humans. So food acquisition has always been accompanied by physical exertion to capture and consume the food.
It is only in recent times that the unnatural situation of food excess, readily acquired and consumed with little accompanying physical exertion, has become a way of life. We humans have figured how not to have to do all that work of capturing and cultivating to build up stores of food.
Through agricultural expertise we have learned how to grow food and raise livestock and to have those food sources readily available and in abundance … just in case we get hungry! We learned how to refrigerate, dry, preserve and store foods in large quantities that assured us we would not have to endure long and unsuccessful hunting forays nor suffer through famines.
We have also created the very same system for our domestic dogs and cats. They, as we, no longer have to hunt to survive. Indeed, we no longer even have to live outdoors.
It’s interesting that our pets have mirrored our own tendency to have trouble with weight control. The major difference, though, is that we humans have complete control over what our pets eat and how much they eat. Unless your cat is sneaking into the fridge and making ham and cheese sandwiches late at night when no one is around, the only way they get to eat is when YOU place the food in front of them.
Every vet has repeatedly heard a serious-minded cat (or dog) owner state “I know you think she’s overweight, but it isn’t from the food! She hardly eats a thing.”
Well, is the pet overweight from high calorie air? Maybe it’s the water … or from laying on that couch all the time. That’s it! The couch is making the pussy podgy, not the food.
Seriously, far too many pet owners truly believe that food intake has nothing at all to do with their pet’s weight and no amount of counseling will convince them otherwise. If that describes your position, read no further because the rest of this article is all about how to feed the proper food and in the correct quantity so that the cat will lose weight safely or maintain an optimum weight.
Any cat that is overweight should have a physical exam performed, exact weight measured and blood and urine tests run. It is vital that normal thyroid hormone levels are present and that the cat has no physical or metabolic dysfunction.
If the cat is physically normal — other than the abnormal body weight from fat deposition — then a gradual and careful weight loss program can be instituted.
FREE CHOICE FEEDING
The main reason for feline obesity (as well as obesity in other mammals) is the consumption of too much food.
What we do…
Many cats are fed “fad lib,” which means there is food available all the time and the cat eats whenever it wants. (Pretty unnatural for a true carnivore that evolved as a hunting machine!) Free choice feeding has probably been the biggest single factor contributing to feline obesity.
What we should do…
Feed two to four small portions daily and control the amounts fed so that over a period of time the cat does not gain weight. Many pet owners must downsize what they think is a “normal” portion.
Cats, unlike most mammals, have no carbohydrate-digesting enzyme called Amylase in their saliva. Humans and dogs do and actually begin the digestion of carbohydrate in the mouth. In the intestine, amylase secreted from the pancreas breaks down large carbohydrate molecules into absorbable smaller units of glucose. Cats have measurably less amylase activity than humans or dogs. Nature did not intend the kitty to be a carbohydrate consumer.
What we do…
We purchase convenient, attractively packaged and preserved foods from the supermarket or pet shop mainly because we can pour it in the bowl and forget it. Most of these foods have high levels of flour and sugar so that the kibble will stay uniform and not fall apart. They also contain lots of the wrong sorts of fat to give palatability.
A multitude of research reports have proven that diets high in protein and fat are most beneficial for carnivores. Cats cannot handle large carbohydrate loads efficiently. After a meal rich in carbohydrate the feline’s blood level of glucose tends to stay higher than normal for long periods of time. They become persistently hyperglycemic and this long term stimulus on the beta cells in the pancreas — the cells that produce insulin — renders those cells less sensitive to the blood glucose. As a result less insulin is secreted to bring down the blood sugar level. Nutritionists call this “down regulating’ of the beta cells; the insensitivity of the insulin secreting beta cells leads to what is termed “insulin resistance”. This scenario is a prelude to diabetes.
We all know how cats crave mice and birds as a food source. A natural source of nutrition for carnivores, mice and birds are a perfect diet for a cat. Did you know that a mouse or a bird is composed of only 3 to 8 percent carbohydrate? And most of that is actually from what the prey was eating and is in the prey’s digestive tract. The rest is water, a few minerals, and mostly protein and fat.
What we should do…
We must feed cats a diet with high percentages of protein and fat and low percentages of carbohydrate (grains) if we expect them to maintain optimum body weights and a proper state of nutrition. Protein is THE key nutrient in a carnivore diet. On a dry weight basis… where the percent of ingredients is determined without any water in the ration… a feline’s diet should contain 35 to 45 percent protein, 40 percent fat, and possibly just a small percentage of carbohydrate. (Remember… a true carnivore needs NO carbohydrate in the diet.) Some nutritionists suggest 25 percent carbohydrate, 50 percent protein, 25 percent fat. Vet Complex, our sole recommended diet for cats, contains all the relevant ingredients in the correct amounts.
We seem to think we need to reward our cats with food — and that’s why cat treats are so popular. Give your cat a treat for vocalizing and you have rewarded it for vocalizing, and you have just taught the cat to vocalize even more. If you MUST give cat treats to your cat, read below how to do it logically and nutritionally.
What we do…
As sensitive and caring humans, we always want to reward our kitty by providing extra special treats. Most treats for cats have high levels of carbohydrate (flower and sugars) and lots of flavor enhancers to entice the cat to eat even when it is not hungry.
Cats that annoy us with vocalizing and pretending that they are starving to death sometimes are rewarded for that annoying vocalizing by being given a treat to “keep ‘em quiet”. When we provide the treat we reinforce the vocalizing, effectively rewarding the cat for making all that racket, and essentially training the cat to make even more noise!
What we should do…
Stop feeding treats to the overweight cat. IF you think your cat NEEDS a treat, cut up little bits of cooked chicken or fish and feed as a natural protein treat… not a treat made from grains, food coloring, propylene glycol, and flavor enhancers. And NEVER feed a treat as a means of stopping a cat from vocalizing because it has the exact opposite effect and actually reinforces the cat’s vocalizing/begging behavior.
All pet foods come with Recommended Feeding instructions. Pay attention to your pet’s body weight (size) and just by simple observation decide if it is overweight. If so, don’t feed so much. The feeding guide is just that.
What we should do…
Adjust the amount fed to the cat’s body character and physical activity. If the cat looks and feels overweight, it is! You are feeding too much for that cat’s daily needs for energy for exercise or physical activity; and regardless of what the pet food label’s suggested amounts to feed are, you must feed less than that if the cat is to have a normal (healthy) body weight.
What we do…
We fill the bowls with food and water, clean the litter box, and say “See you later, Kitty, I’m off to work.” OK… let’s say that you can’t help it. You simply are not going to change the food amounts, kinds and portions you have always been feeding your overweight cat. If you are to be successful in promoting weight loss in your cat you will have to increase its’ energy (calorie) burning activities.
This is much easier to do with a dog by taking it for a walk or run, throwing a ball, swimming, etc. Good luck going for a run with your cat! Most cats spend most of their time sleeping on the couch, are left alone for long periods of time and really have nothing happening in the home that would trigger a carnivorous hunter’s interest levels. There is nothing to chase, nothing to hide from, and nothing to stalk and run down. There is nothing else to do but to take cat naps!
What we should do…
To assist in improving the kitty’s physical activity, you can add some interactive play toys to the cat’s environment. Consider adopting a friendly and playful cat from the local charities (we can put you in touch) so the solitary cat has “someone” to interact and play with. Many people believe two cats are more fun to have and more entertaining and no more trouble than a single cat. You can also buy toys that simulate an escaping prey and that really interest the cat in play behaviors. Cats can be exercised but you may need some imaginative toys and ideas to get the job done.
WHAT SHOULD YOU FEED A CAT?
Cats, unlike us humans, obtain food satisfaction less from carbohydrate than they do from protein intake. Give them a high protein mouse and they are as happy as can be. One mouse would make a good meal for an average sized cat. A typical mouse is made of 20 percent protein and 9 percent fat and lots of moisture.
And now that you know that the cat is a true carnivore, that its metabolic pathways have been set by natural evolutionary processes to efficiently utilize meat protein as a major component of the diet, you understand why a carbohydrate rich diet simply does not make sense for felines. Cats are not plant-based grazers; they are hunters of other animals and to reach an optimum state of health they must comply with what nature programmed them to be. There are no vegetarian diets for cats.
No matter what your own personal preference is regarding the ingestion of meat, by nature’s own rules the cat requires meat in its diet. One small aspect of this need for meat is the cat’s requirement for ingesting preformed Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)… preformed in another non-feline mammal.
As the cat’s owner, you have complete control over what your cat eats, how much it eats and how often it eats. Other good dry food products will demonstrate protein levels above 30 percent and fat levels above 18 percent in the Guaranteed Analysis table on the pet food label. Usually these diets are the “Growth” or “Puppy” or “Kitten” diets… and these formulations can be fed for life in a healthy individual that does not require a therapeutic diet.
If you still fear the erroneous myth about “too much protein” being “bad” for dogs and cats or that protein “causes” kidney damage, you really need some facts. The myth about protein causing kidney trouble was extrapolated from research done on rodents many decades ago; the myth developed a life of its own in spite of being refuted by proper research on dogs and cats.
WEIGHT LOSS DIETS
Getting an obese cat to lose weight needs to be done gradually… no crash diets allowed! Cats have a unique metabolic response to fasting and whenever a feline’s food intake is rapidly and markedly depressed, a serious and potentially fatal disorder can occur called Hepatic Lipidosis.
We have prescription diets especially designed for weight loss. Be very careful about weight loss diets recommended elsewhere!
First, let us examine your cat to make sure there isn’t underlying disease – make an appointment at the Nurses Weight Club.
Pay close attention to how much the cat is eating every day. When the cat acclimates to the improved, high protein diet (fed in small amounts frequently during the day), reweigh the cat at four-week intervals. If there is no weight loss at all, or even some weight gain, the amount of food you are allowing is simply too much.
You may be thinking in human-sized portions, not feline. Remember the mouse. Every three to four weeks reweigh your cat on the same scale each time so that accurate weight measurements are done.
Always be observant and report to your vet any time a cat stops eating for two or more days. (That’s one of the subtle problems with the “free choice” method of feeding. We often do not notice that the cat’s food dish is still full until the cat is well into a fasting mode. When cats are sick the first clinical sign is often a loss of appetite; so a non-interactive, free choice feeding protocol provides less information to us than an interactive portion controlled feeding method.) Any cat that hasn’t eaten in three days is in trouble! Seven days of fasting actually impacts the cat’s immune system.
Once you have established a feeding plan that induces gradual weight loss over a period of months the cat will reach a point where weight maintenance occurs. At this optimal weight the cat should not “look fat” nor “look skinny”. You’d be surprised how much more active and alert the cat will be at an optimum weight. You have successfully avoided the probability of diabetes, arthritis and hepatic Lipidosis. Your cat will probably live a few extra years and have a much better quality of life … and that will make you happy, too!
To get a cat to lose weight, do the following after consulting with us:
1. Have a thorough physical exam, lab tests if the vet thinks they are ncessary, and accurate weigh recorded.
2. Feed less food than you have been.
3. Feed foods high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrate.
4. Feed small portions at intervals (2x to 4x per day) rather than continuous free access/ free choice.
5. Increase the cat’s activity/exercise by enriching the cat’s environment.
6. Reweigh the cat at three to four week intervals to assess your weight loss diet’s progress.
7. Reconsider the total daily amount fed if weight gain or no weight loss is noted.
8. Once the cat is at an idea weight, adjust the total amount fed so that the cat’s body weight remains stable.