Feline obesity is a common problem in the UK, with an estimated 39-52% of cats being overweight or obese. Overweight cats are 10-19% heavier than their ideal weight, and obese cats >20% heavier than they should be. If your cat is carrying excessive weight then it puts them at a higher risk of developing various health conditions including diabetes mellitus, arthritis, feline cystitis and liver disease.
How do I know whether my cat is overweight?
While weighing your cat is certainly helpful, it can still be difficult to know whether they are heavier than they should be, based on their size and frame. This is where body condition scoring (BCS) is very helpful. This technique assesses the cat based on their level of fat cover in order to rate them from 1-9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being morbidly obese. Below is a helpful chart produced by International Cat Care showing how to perform body condition scoring in your cat.
By running your hands over your cat’s body, you can assess their level of fat cover over their ribs, spine and pelvis and therefore determine their ‘score’. Cats should ideally be around the middle of the range, scoring 4-5.
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Why is my cat overweight or obese?
Most cats that are overweight are simply eating too much food and not doing enough exercise! This means that they are not burning off the excess calories that they are consuming, meaning this excess energy is stored as fat. For most cats, eating less and being more active will normally result in them losing weight and therefore getting closer to their ideal body condition.
Cats tend to be less active as they get older, hence obesity is more common in cats over 2 years of age. This is one of the reasons why it is important to feed your cat a diet that is appropriate for their life stage, to ensure they are getting the correct number of calories each day.
Some cats are less able to exercise, for example due to an underlying medical condition or arthritis (which is exacerbated by obesity) – for these cats a careful diet plan is key. Please speak to one of our vets about a weight management plan for your cat.
When cats are neutered their metabolic rate decreases slightly, therefore they need a little less food each day. Neutered cats hence have a tendency to gain weight if their calorie intake is not reduced slightly after neutering.
Certain medication such as steroids can increase appetite as a side effect and can therefore predispose to weight gain.
What are the health risks of obesity for a cat?
Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of various health conditions including diabetes mellitus, arthritis, feline cystitis and liver disease. In fact, some newly diagnosed diabetic cats can go into remission if their diet is carefully managed and they lose weight – this illustrates the impact of weight on the development of this condition.
How can I help my cat lose weight?
It is important that overweight cats do not lose weight too quickly, as this can lead to a potentially fatal liver condition called hepatic lipidosis, where fat accumulates in the liver preventing it from working properly. Gradual and steady weight loss is best. Your vet can help to draw up a specific weight management plan for your cat, and regular visits to the vets can help to keep you on track with the weight loss, which can be difficult to see if you are having daily contact with your cat.
Any weight management plan is likely to include feeding measured amounts of a suitable diet together with increased exercise. There are various weight loss diets available for cats – a selection are available in our shop by following this link. These diets tend to more closely mimic the natural diet of cats in the wild, which are typically higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate. These diets can also help to reduce the risk of diabetes in cats, but need to be used with care if there is any concern about underlying kidney disease.
As well as dietary changes, cats should also be encouraged to exercise more through play (check out the interactive cat toys we have in our shop!) or using puzzle feeders.