14 – 20 January, marks Obesity Awareness Week – a week dedicated to raising awareness of human obesity. But obesity isn’t only a health issue in humans…
Overweight and obese cats are predisposed to a range of very unpleasant diseases and health conditions; diabetes, heart disease and arthritis to name but a few. There is also evidence that being overweight or obese decreases quality of life and leads to an early death in cats. For more information on the health risks associated with feline obesity click here.
Up to 52% of cats in the UK are now overweight or obese and over 60% of vets (surveyed by the British Veterinary Association) say that obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for pets. And so, this Obesity Awareness Week, we have been raising awareness of feline obesity in order to make sure that all cats achieve or remain at a healthy weight.
But how do you determine whether your cat is overweight, underweight or at a healthy weight?
Bodyweight can be used to assess whether or not a cat has gained or lost weight. However, a cat’s ideal weight depends on the age and breed of the cat. Therefore, a scale assessing the fat reserves (layers of fat covering the body) a cat has is often used. This is known as a body condition score (BCS) system.
A commonly-used BCS system grades the ‘fatness’ of the cat from 1-5, where a score of 1 is very thin, 3 is ideal and 5 is obese. An obese cat is one for which the ribs are hard to feel as they are covered by a thick layer of fat, there is a moderate to thick layer of fat covering the bony parts of the cat such as the spine and pelvis, and the cat has a bulge of fat hanging down from its stomach, which may swing as the cat moves, with no waist.
This chart shows you how to assign a BCS to your cat, so you can tell whether it is underweight, overweight, obese or just right. You should regularly monitor your cat’s BCS to make sure they remain at an ideal, healthy weight – if you notice any changes, speak to your vet, or click here for further advice.
Scheduling a routine check-up with your vet is also an effective way to get started and don’t be afraid to ask your vet whether they think your pet is at a healthy weight.
With obesity, as with many conditions, prevention is better than cure!
If your cat is overweight or obese, how do you safely achieve a healthier weight for them?
A vet can draw up a weight loss programme that combines a suitable feeding and exercise plan with careful monitoring. They may recommend a type of veterinary diet or ‘light’ diet that helps a cat lose weight. For advice on introducing a new diet click here.
Make sure that you closely monitor how much you are feeding your cat, both to keep it at a healthy weight and to help it lose weight if needed. A cat’s daily food allowance can be determined according to the cat’s weight and the feeding instructions on the food packaging. 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 or helping weight loss. Use scales as these are much more accurate than measuring cups which are sometimes provided with cat food. Dry food is very energy dense, so overfeeding even by just a few pieces of kibble a day can lead to weight gain. Because of this density, the correct amount of dry food may look small! But it will provide all the calories your cat needs to stay fit and healthy. If you are feeding a mixture of wet and dry food, adjust the amount recommended in the guidelines accordingly: for example, if you are feeding half wet food and half dry food, divide the amount recommended by the guidelines by two for both the wet and dry. Note that the feeding instructions on the packaging are guidelines only, and may need to be adjusted for your own individual cat. If you notice they are putting on more weight, reduce the amount slightly and continue to monitor.
International Cat Care has devised a feeding plan to improve the welfare of cats, which can also encourage overweight cats to lose weight. This plan recommends feeding several small portions of food a day, feeding in different locations to encourage cats to move around the house in search of food, and using puzzle feeders. Puzzle feeders are objects which must be manipulated to release food, meaning cats ‘work’ for their food, providing some exercise (as well as a being fun ‘brain teasers’ for cats). For everything you need to know about puzzle feeders, including how to make your own click here.
It is dangerous for cats to lose weight too quickly because this could lead to health problems. A gradual, steady decrease in bodyweight is ideal; losing about 1% of their overall bodyweight per week is the recommended safe weight loss, eg, if your cat weighs 6kg, a loss of no more than 60g a week is recommended. Be patient! It may take a year or even more for a severely overweight cat to reach its ideal body condition.
It is very hard to see weight loss in a cat that you are in close contact with on a daily basis, so regular visits to a vet for weigh-ins are important. Regular check-ups are also essential for keeping your cat happy and healthy.
We recognise however, that because of their unique nature and needs, taking a cat to a veterinary clinic can be very stressful, both for the cat and also the owner, which can make some owners reluctant to make a visit to the vets. The Cat Friendly Clinic programme is designed to help address these issues by creating more cat friendly veterinary clinics and so reducing the stress for cats and making veterinary visits easier for cat owners as well. To learn more about the programme and to find a Cat Friendly Clinic near you click here.