Just as obesity among adults and children in the United States has become a growing concern, obesity in our feline friends is dramatically on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control, 33% of American males and 35% of American females are significantly overweight or obese. Recent veterinary studies show that 40 – 50% of our cats as similarly overweight or obese. Unlike overweight people, where lifestyle plays a major role, in the cat, obesity is an endocrine disorder triggered by commercial diets. The cat has unique metabolic reasons why they become obese, in addition to lifestyle, (indoor, sedentary, neutered, free access to food).
Just as with humans, obesity has been linked to diabetes mellitus, lameness, cardiac disease, skin disorders, surgical and anesthetic complications, and poor immune systems.
Cats are obligatory carnivores! In the big scheme of evolution, cats have been domesticated a very short time. Their metabolism is still protein dependent and while they can metabolize carbohydrates, cats eating high carbohydrate diets tend to develop high insulin levels. In the carnivore diet, fat provides the most of the fuel for energy. As cats gain weight, they also develop high triglyceride and leptin levels, Most of our commercial diets have far too much carbohydrate for the cat's metabolism.
What to do to prevent weight gain
Feed your cat a more natural diet from the start. Higher protein (35 – 45%) and lower carbohydrate (grains like corn) in the diet will help your cat to burn more calories, keep the cat's hunger satisfied, keep insulin at a normal level and promote muscle protein synthesis instead of fat storage. Cats cannot be vegetarians. There are certain amino acids and vitamins that can only be obtained by ingesting the meat of another non-feline mammal (e.g. taurine, arginine, methionine, cysteine and B-12).
Putting your cat on a diet:
- Have a thorough veterinary examination, including baseline bloodwork.
- With your veterinarian, design a diet that is appropriate for your cat. In general, a diet that has appropriate protein levels, low carbohydrate levels and has 10 – 15% fewer calories than the resting energy requirement (RER) is appropriate. RER can be calculated with this formula. 30 x cat's body weight in kilograms + 70 = calories needed for maintenance of weight in the obese cat. So, if your cat weighs 20 lbs, 20 divided by 2.2 is 9 kg. 9 x 30 = 270; 270 + 70 = 340 calories for maintenance. Now, for weight loss, subtract 10% to start, so 340 – 34 = 306 calories allowed per day to start weight loss. The diet manufacturer will have caloric content of the diets available online. Divide this amount of food into 3 equal meals.
- Exercise! Increase interactive play with the cat to 10 minutes per day. Use interesting but safe toys like laser pointers, feather toys, furry mice, etc. If your cat is alone, consider adopting a playful cat to stimulate the solitary cat.
- If you cat demands treats, use cubes of baked or boiled chicken. It is protein and will satisfy his need for a midnight snack.
- Weigh your cat on a baby scale weekly and chart the progress. You should expect 1 – 2% of body weight loss per week. Weight loss that is too rapid may lead to "fatty liver".
- Finally, carnitine, which is an amino acid that enhances fat metabolism, may be supplemented at 250 mg per per day.
By recognizing the unique metabolic needs of cats, we can enhance their longevity and the quality of their lives.