If you find yourself wondering whether your beloved fluffy feline is a bit too fat, then it’s important to address the issue, find out for sure, and if so, focus on supporting their overall health and bringing the weight down.
It is not uncommon for older cats to gain some weight, as just like us, their metabolism slows down with age. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, almost 60% of cats in the U.S. are overweight. Carrying excess weight can cause and/or exacerbate health issues for your cat, so it’s important to notice any changes and take the necessary steps to reduce any negative impact upon their health.
How can I tell if my cat is overweight?
An easy method to get a feel for whether your cat is overweight, is to feel gently along their rib cage. A healthy cat will have minimal padding along their ribs – no thicker feeling than the skin over the back of your hand. If you find that you need to press quite firmly in order to feel your cat’s ribs, there is a good chance that they are overweight. If you can’t feel their ribs at all, they may even be obese.
Another method is to use a body condition score. Thevets.com says to stand over your cat while they too are standing, to see if you can spot a slight indentation above the hips that resembles a waistline. This may be more difficult to spot in longer-haired cats: “If their sides bulge out instead of taper in, then it’s likely that they are indeed on the tubby side. If you are still unsure, it is best to make a visit to the vets so that your cat can be weighed and have their overall health and body condition assessed.”
What causes weight gain in cats?
Like humans, the most common cause of weight gain in cats is a combination of too much feeding and not enough exercise. This can easily come about accidentally, as pet parents innocently fail to notice their cat’s gradual decrease in activity as they age. Also, older cats have different nutritional needs than younger ones, and continuing on with their same diet through to middle age can be a sure-fire recipe for gaining weight. This is another good reason to visit the vets if your cat has put a lot of weight on, as they can help you to better understand what your cat’s current needs are.
How does extra weight impact my cat?
Again, like humans, being overweight can actually have a negative psychological effect on cats. Whilst they may not spend time dwelling on it in front of the mirror, overweight cats may avoid engaging in a healthy amount of normal cat behaviors, such as grooming and playing. This can then lead to other health issues such as urinary tract infections and skin problems. These changes can also be a sign of anxiety or depression. Equally however, according to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, overeating in response to stress or negative emotional states is a behavior proven in animals, so your cat’s overeating may well be to comfort their feelings of anxiety or depression.
Cats are also at greater risk of developing diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and joint pain, as chronic inflammation can negatively impact overall health.
Is my cat at risk of gaining too much weight?
Certainly if your cat is getting older or is unwell, it’s important to closely monitor their weight, activity levels and appetite, ensuring that you are feeding the appropriate diet for their age and stage of life. Some cats are at more risk of becoming overweight than others. Indoor cats are at higher risk, as are any that get less exercise for other reasons. The group with the highest likelihood is neutered male cats. Cats who have access to food all day are also at greater risk.
How can I help my cat to lose weight?
Once you have established that your cat is overweight, you need to address the reasons why and act accordingly.
- Visit the vet – It’s important to rule out any underlying health issues that could be causing your cat’s weight gain. Once you have ruled out any disease, your vet can help you to create a healthy meal plan and a target weight to work towards
- Control their food intake – It can be dangerous to drastically cut the amount of food you provide your kitty, so it’s safer to support them to lose weight gradually by feeding them a weight control cat food. Alternatively, your vet may even prescribe a therapeutic weight-loss food, but that is only in more extreme cases. Remember to always transition gradually to a new kind of food to give their tummies a chance to adjust.
- Increase their activity levels – It isn’t always easy to get a cat to move more, certainly not as simple as taking a dog for an extra walk or two. Thankfully, cats don’t actually need a great deal of exercise to stay fit and healthy. Depending upon their breed and age, a 15 minute play session twice per day may be all they need. Investing in a fun indoor cat tree can be a great way to encourage them to move more, too.
Recognizing that your cat may be overweight is half the battle. So long as you follow up on these instincts, get them checked out and formulate a plan, your kitty will be back to optimal health in no time!