Feline obesity is all too common and it comes with serious and detrimental health problems. Keeping cats at a healthy weight is important for their health and well-being. Some people associate food as love for their cat. Does this sound familiar? Some cat parents feel guilty because they are gone all day at work, so they leave lots of dry cat food out to make up for being gone. You may have read somewhere to free feed or maybe do it because everyone you know with a cat is free feeding. Overfeeding greatly increases your cat’s risk of weight-related disorders, which are costly as well as emotionally and physically painful. The cat in the photo here is dangerously overweight. Sadly for them, fat cats have become the “norm.” There are fat cats in cartoons, social media emoticons, and photos all over the internet. When I volunteer at cat adoption centers, some people would come looking for a “fat cat like Garfield.” I think “Garfield” the cartoon cat may have been the start of this feline obesity being okay, cute, adorable and funny. But fat cats are no joking matter.
It’s Not Normal or Natural
Being overweight is not “normal” or natural for a cat’s physique, and it’s uncomfortable for them. As carnivores, they are naturally very lean and muscular, built for hunting. Unfortunately, much of the commercial cat food leads to their dangerous excess weight. You may not even consider your cat to be overweight. For reference, one lb. of excess fat on a cat is equivalent to 40 lbs. on a human! Feline obesity has become such a problem veterinarians see in their clinics that veterinary universities are doing studies to address the issue, and the magazine Cat Fancy writes regular articles on the subject. A study done in 2011 and published in 2012–the Banfield State of Health Study on dogs and cats–showed a 90% increase in overweight cats in the past 5 years before the study. Interestingly, the statistics closely mimic that of the human population–55% of cats are overweight and 28% of those are obese.
It’s Not Fun
Even if we think they are “fat and happy,” being overweight is not fun for a cat. By instinct, cats run and play (i.e. they practice hunting and hunt). When they are overweight, they feel lazy and sluggish and it’s difficult to play and run. They start to have joint pain from the stress on their little joints. And lack of activity makes them lazier, creating a lazy-weight gain cycle.
Risks of Excess Fat
Risks of being an overweight cat are highly increased chances of:
- kidney disease and failure
- painful arthritis
- urinary tract infections and crystal formation (sludge) that cause blockages which can kill a cat
- inability for an obese cat to groom the back end after urinating, leading to skin scalding and bacterial infections
- in extremely overweight cats, difficulty or even inability to groom any part of their body, which leads to the health of their skin and fur declining and emotional frustration
See this feline body condition chart to determine if your cat is too fat for her own good
NOTE: Some female cats develop hanging skin after being spayed, so they won’t have the visible slight belly tuck. This loose skin is different than hanging fat. From above, she will still have the waist line behind the rib cage.
Number one cause of excess weight and feline obesity is dry cat food
Are you waiting for some good news? There is good news. Helping your cat achieve a healthy weight is really quite simple and just requires a bit of patience and tough love on your part. The number one cause of cats getting overweight and obese is dry cat food (kibble), primarily if they are free fed. Please DO NOT free feed your cat. Dry cat food is not REAL cat food. It’s the human equivalent to junk food. Dry cat food is manufactured for the convenience of humans. Dry cat food will keep your cat alive and surviving, yes, I cannot argue that. But it is truly not real cat food, it is not natural for them, and it does not help them be in thriving health. Dry cat food is very addicting, as the manufacturers spray it with flavor enhancers (animal digest) to entice cats. If they did not do this, the food would smell and taste awful due to its ingredients and heavy processing.
Cats are obligate carnivores
“Obligate” means cats need pure muscle meat, are designed to eat pure meat, and require moisture from their food to thrive. Adding water to dry food is not the same. Feeding cats dry food withholds from them what they need and require. I used to feed my cats dry food, until I realized how vitally important their dietary needs are for thriving health. Also consider that because dry cat food is not high enough in the kind of protein and moisture cats require, they will not feel satisfied and nourished. They may eat and eat more and more, trying to get the nourishment their anatomy requires.
My cat won’t eat canned food or raw meat…
Something I frequently hear from cat parents is “My cat won’t eat canned food (or raw meat).” One such story comes from a family who adopted a kitten from me that I rescued, fostered and fed raw meat. I had not seen the kitten for 10 months. I saw her when she just turned one year old when I was going to pet sit for them. They told me before I arrived that “she is so big when she stretches out, and her head is so small.”
When I walked into the house and saw the young cat, I gasped. She is at a number 8 on the chart above. This is why her head appeared so small in relation to her body. When they adopted the kitten, they asked my advice on what, how much, and when to feed a growing kitten. But, they chose to free fed her because they “read it somewhere on the internet to do that.” (My recommendations certainly went unheard.) Being left alone all day, sometimes for 12 hours, boredom probably played a part in her overeating. (And I will probably never again adopt a single kitten out to a family that is gone all day. There is such a high risk of boredom for the cat, and eating helps satisfy the loneliness, much like a person might do.)
They fed her canned food and free fed dry while they were gone all day at work because she was still a kitten, and kittens need four meals per day. But then she refused to eat the canned, so they quickly gave up and fed her only dry cat food. A little tough love would have kept her from becoming addicted to the dry food. Dry food is convenient for humans but does not make it the right or best food to feed a cat. One day, they realized “she is kinda fat.” They took her to the vet, who said the cat is at least 2 lbs. overweight. (Remember: 1 lb. of excess fat on a cat is equivalent to 40 lbs. in a human, which made this poor kitty 80 lbs overweight in human weight!)
As I attempted to play with her during pet sitting, when she ran her back legs splayed out–something they did not do when I fostered her as a kitten. She was hindered by a big blob of belly fat swinging back and forth. She could only run and jump for approximately 15 seconds. Then she flopped on the floor out of breath. And she was only one year old! They told me that they had just recently stopped free feeding her because the veterinarian said she must lose weight.
Dry food causes feline obesity and it won’t help your cat lose weight
If it caused the excess fat in the first place, it won’t help your cat lose much fat. He may lose a little if you stop free feeding and decrease the quantity fed, but your cat will not lose all the fat. His muscles will still be mushy feeling–not lean and muscular as he should be. The cause of the mushy feeling is this. They require meat protein and fat for energy, not vegetable, grain or bean protein–common ingredients in dry cat food. Dry cat food is too low in meat protein. For the required energy a cat needs, the cat’s body steals protein from muscles breaking them down, resulting in that mushy feeling. The carbohydrates in the vegetables, beans and/or grains turn into fat tissue, which accumulates over the years.
Tigers and Lions
You know how tigers and lions look? Lean and muscular. On the chart above, a “4” or “5.” That is where you want your cat. Canned food and/or raw meat and exercise will get your cat to a healthy weight, strong lean muscles and optimal health. Some cats will switch over easily. Many will not. Especially if they have been on dry food most their life, and if they are older. They can become addicted — carbohydrate junkies — even at an early age. You’ll be required to take on the parent role and use tough love. Neither of you will die during the transition, even though your cat may act like it. Many cat parents will give in and give up. Want help to make the transition easier for both of you? My Thrive Programs support you both to “Banish the Bag” and help your cat achieve a healthy weight. Start now here.
For my recommended list of the healthiest, best canned cat foods, read here.
If you know anyone with a cat who is at risk of eating too much for her or his own good, please share this article with them. It could be a matter of life or death for their cat.