f you need a forklift to lift up your cat, then yes your cat is overweight. But feline obesity is no laughing matter.
Feeding your cat lots of yummy food and treats may be a purrfect way to show how much you love him, but those growing 'cuddly' bits can lead your beloved feline to have arthritis, diabetes, liver failure and even death at a young age.
Cat obesity is a growing concern around the world as international studies over the past two decades have shown an increasing prevalence of overweight and obese cats, ranging from 25 to 40 per cent, according to Dr Linda Fleeman, former lecturer in nutrition and small animal medicine and who now runs Animals Diabetes Australia, a diabetes-specific clinic for dogs and cats in Victoria.
In fact, a 2011 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention
(APOP), which aims to promote awareness of pet obesity, found 55 per cent of cats in the United States to be classified as overweight or obese by their vet. Furthermore, 15 per cent of characterised their cat as 'normal weight' when it was actually overweight or obese.
"These studies show that owners underestimate their cat's level of obesity. So the statistics are very likely an underestimation because of the owner's inability to recognise their pet is overweight," says Dr Fleeman. "It's the concept of the 'middle age bulge'; people and animals become overweight during middle age. It's the six to eight-year-old cats that are really putting on the weight."
What Causes Obesity and Why Is it So Bad?
The most common cause of obesity is overfeeding -- if your cat does not burn the calories consumed, he will put on weight. Furthermore, as cats age, their metabolic rate naturally slows down and they become less active (sometimes with painful joints).
Overweight or obese cats then become high risk for a number of diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis, skin problems and life-threatening hepatic lipidosis (liver disease) .
"There's no question that cats that are overweight and obese are more likely to have diabetes," says Dr Fleeman. "And by the time they get their diabetes, they have often lost weight. One of most common reasons cats are not able to achieve remission from diabetes is because they have gained weight and became overweight or obese."
How Do You Tell Your Cat Is Fat?
There is no standard weight for cats, says Dr Fleeman, because every breed and individual cat is different, coming in all different shapes and sizes.
You can get a rough idea by simply feeling along the side of your cat. Can you feel the individual ribs? Can you see an hourglass figure waist when you stand over your cat? In that case, your cat is most likely not overweight.
Two body condition systems exist to assess a cat's (or dog's) body condition: a 9 point body condition scoring system and a 5 point body condition scoring system.
In a 9 point body condition scoring system
- • A body score of 1 means the cat is extremely thin (possibly emaciated).
- • A body score of 4 or 5 equals normal/ideal weight.
- • A body score of 9 means the pet is obese.
To perform the rating, your vet will feel your cat's ribs, which should have a slight amount of fat over them. If the ribs are visible, your cat is too thin (body score of 1 or 2). If your vet can't feel the ribs at all, your cat is overweight or obese (body score of 7 or 9).
A 5 point body condition scoring system
is equivalent to the 9 point scale, just not as detailed.
- • A body score of 1 means the cat is extremely thin (possibly emaciated)
- • A body score of 3 equals normal/ideal weight
- • A body score of 5 means the pet is obese
If the ribs are visible, your cat is too thin (body score of 1). If your vet can't feel the ribs at all, your cat is overweight or obese (body score 5).
The Waltham S.H.A.P.E.™
(Size, Health and Physical Evaluation) Guide for Cats can also be used to evaluate a cat's body condition. Waltham S.H.A.P.E. is a flow-diagram based system (also available for dogs) created by the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, a leading scientific authority in pet nutrition and wellbeing based in England.
S.H.A.P.E. uses similar visual and palpable characteristics as existing scoring systems. You simply follow the questions whilst examining your cat and end up with a S.H.A.P.E. score, which will be a letter between A and G.
What To Do About Obesity?
If you think your cat is overweight, consult your vet to discuss a weight reduction and management program suitable for your cat.
It's important to address the common feeding practices of cat owners today, says Dr Fleeman, explaining that cat owners tend to leave dry food out for their cat to nibble on as they want it and give wet food as meals.
"This idea that cats be locked in the house with an endless supply of food to eat, it's not surprising they would become overweight," she says. "Cats should be fed meals twice a day and receive food like dogs do - eat all of their food within 15 minutes. And it's quite normal for cats not to eat anything else until their next meal time."
Eating meals twice a day without snacking in between increases cats' enjoyment and interaction with their owners, says Dr Fleeman. "Unfortunately, it's just not in our culture to feed cats in this way. If we did, there would be less overweight cats."