Mews & Views

Mews & Views -- A blog for cat lovers everywhere with a focus on the low-income pet cats of northern and central New Mexico.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dieting Your Cat? Proceed With Caution

Angel came to our Older Cats Program when she was
16 years old.  Her obesity had led to uncontrollable
 diabetes and other pancratic problems which made
 her life and her care very challenging. 
The recent death of the 2-year old, 39 pound cat “Meow” in the Santa Fe Humane Society Shelter highlights the feline obesity problem in this country.    Our pampered feline friends are often overweight – largely a product of too much food and too little activity – the tradeoff of giving up their outdoor life to have a roof over their head and 3 squares a day as indoor-only pets -- a change that has occurred only over the last 60 years – since the invention of kitty litter. 

Before then, cats lived outdoors largely as wildlife relying on what they could catch to survive -- which was typically a few rodents a day – and some days even less than that.    These rodents – typically mice – were the perfect feline diet – high in protein, low in fat with zero carbs – and because the cat had to catch the mouse --- they provided a source of exercise as well.    

Cat food –as we know it today – became available about the same time as kitty litter – in the 1950’s.    Purina had developed an extrusion process to produce dry cat  food – and to make that process work – as well as cost effective -- a large amount of starch was added to the cat’s diet – typically corn.    And the only exercise the cat gets from eating it, is the short walk from the couch to the kitchen, where many caregivers leave a large bowl of food out for the cat to munch on at will -- trusting the cat will know when they've had enough. 

For cats prevention of obesity is much easier – and safer -- than dieting.  Here are some simple guidelines to help keep your cat fit:
1.      Always feed cat-specific food according to the label on your food package.  Feed only the amount recommended by the manufacturer.  You may be surprised by how little food the cat is intended to eat and may be unintentionally overfeeding. 

2.      Feed grain-free foods with meat as the first ingredient – these are closer to the cat’s natural diet and should be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. 

3.       Exercise your cat for 15-20 minutes daily.  Use interactive toys like Da Bird – or if your cat will tolerate a harness and leash -- take him for a daily walk outdoors.

4.       Track your cat’s weight monthly – invest in a baby scale -- or simply hold the cat while you’re on your scale and subtract your weight from the total.    A cat’s weight – going up or down – is usually a cause for concern.  Knowing what your cat’s normal weight is will help identify illness before other signs appear and will help you monitor their diet to keep them healthy and trim.
If your cat is already obese – that is beyond being “kitten plump” -- dieting may be necessary.   If so, consult with your vet before starting a diet and proceed with caution.   Overweight cats can easily become anorexic or develop fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) if you try to quickly drop their weight.    This can result in liver failure and ultimately death – and can happen very quickly without you being aware until it’s too late.