Tuesday 11th October marks World Obesity Day. Many of us are aware of the human obesity epidemic that developed countries are facing, but did you know that obesity is increasing in the pet population too? Scientific research estimates that 39 - 52% of cats in the UK are now overweight and obese. Indeed, in a recent survey of over 1,600 vets across the UK by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), over 60% of vets said that obesity is now the biggest health and welfare concern for UK pets. A number of scientific studies have found that obesity is associated with a large range of diseases and health conditions in cats, such as diabetes and cancer, and ultimately can lead to an early death.
However, owners have the power to protect their cats from this entirely preventable problem, and as such help their cats to lead long, healthy and happy lives. Here we give top tips on how to keep your cat in tip-top shape.
Monitor your cat’s weight and body condition score on a regular basis to make sure that they are not piling on the pounds. A body condition score is a way of determining whether a cat is underweight, overweight or just right, by judging their body shape and fat layers via both sight and touch. For more information on how to body condition score your cat, visit our website: www.icatcare.org/advice/obesity-cats. Your vet or vet nurse can also help you to keep track of your cat’s weight.
Pay careful attention to the amount of food you are feeding. Follow the guidelines provided on the food packaging and, if feeding dry food, weigh out your cat's daily allowance each day - this will only add a couple of minutes to your feeding routine, but could add years to your cat’s life by preventing weight gain. Dry food is very energy dense, so the correct amount may look small to owners, but provides all the calories a cat needs to stay fit and healthy. If your cat is putting on weight, reduce the amount that you are feeding by a little, and continue to monitor. Try to feed your cat little and often, and use puzzle feeders when feeding. Puzzle feeders are objects that hold food and must be manipulated to release this food. They encourage cats to work to obtain food, by harnessing their natural hunting behaviour, and provide physical exercise as well as mental stimulation. Until the end of March 2017, you can read a review about puzzle feeders published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, the flagship journal of International Cat Care’s veterinary division. This provides an excellent overview of how best to introduce puzzle feeders to cats and how to overcome any potential challenges of using them. This review can be found via the following link: www.jfm.sagepub.com/content/18/9/723.full.pdf+html.
Encourage your cat to have plenty of exercise, especially if they are an indoor-only cat. Play with them on a regular basis, for example using ‘fishing rod’ toys, and provide plenty of toys around the house to encourage independent play. Cat trees and purpose-built cat shelving can encourage cats to climb and keep active.
All these factors discussed above can also help your cat to lose weight if they have become overweight or obese, although you should speak to your vet so that they can help you develop a safe and practical weight loss programme.
Many owners may be inadvertently killing their cats with kindness, by feeding too many treats, or sharing their own food with their cats. As the BVA points out, 'one human biscuit can equate to a whole packet when fed to an animal due to their smaller body size’. Remember that food does not equate to love; instead you can show your affection for your cat with a rewarding play session or a chin scratch (if they like to be stroked).
Together, we can tackle this serious health and welfare issue and so help our cats to live the best lives possible.
Photo: ©Shutterstock.com/Susan Schmitz