Feline obesity is an epidemic. I dare say only 10-15% of the cats I see are an ideal weight, while many are overweight and way too many are just plain obese! National statistics indicate that over 30% of cats are classified as obese and over 50% are overweight. My own cats have struggled with the “Battle of the Bulge”.
Sonny, my big orange Garfield, came to me after being dropped off for euthanasia for inappropriate urination. He had bouts of idiopathic cystitis. Basically for some reason, often stress, he would have bladder inflammation and pee out of the litter box. He was fluffy, chubby, and well adorable. Sonny was fat and as a veterinarian surely I could get him to drop the weight. My dogs were fit and trim…how hard could this be.
Why do I even care that my cats are fat?
The #1 reason I don’t want a fat cat is because I don’t want to manage a diabetic cat. Just like Type 2 diabetic persons, fat cats can develop insulin resistance and full blown diabetes. Twice daily insulin injections and the management of blood glucose curves just isn’t something I want in my life. Often with diet change and weight loss, cats can go into remission but why not prevent it. Not to mention the increased strain on joints and bones not made to carry twice the weight they should or the risk of developing a fatty liver if they should miss a meal or two.
What didn’t work…
I tried portion control and failed. I tried a variety of great well marketed cat food and fed the set amount. Well my cats thought they were starved. I remember getting an automated feeder. I was so smart! No human error! Food delivered in a set amount and on a schedule with no worry of lack of human fortitude when those demanding eyes pierced my soul. We went away for an overnight only to return to the automated feeder disassembled, the entire pound of cat food consumed, and more diarrhea in the litterbox (thankfully) then I had ever seen.
So what worked…
Well I mentioned my fear of diabetes and thought well what is recommended for diabetic cat remission….a HIGH PROTEIN/LOW CARB diet! Basically “Catkins”. Here is the thing…unlike us or dogs cats are true CARNIVORES and they eat meat.
Why does a diet high in protein and low in carbs work?
Cats evolved as hunters. Their body evolved to handle meat protein not carbohydrates (grains, peas, potatoes, etc). The average house cat would hunt about 10-12 mice per 24 hour period. You know how many calories there are in a single mouse? 30-35!!!! That’s right! There are ~100 calories in a cube of cheese and 2-3 calories per kibble of cat food! How hard does the average house cat work to eat a bowl of food…NOT VERY and it is gone in a few minutes! How hard did the hunter work for that same amount of calories via mice, birds, rodents, etc. There was hunting, stalking, jumping, covering a territory, etc.
So not only do I feed high protein and low carb but I feed multiple smaller meals and use treat balls, hiding kibble in the cat tree, etc to mimic “hunting”. Do my cats still try to steal Cheetos out of the pantry…heck yes! Carb junkies I tell ya!
As a veterinarian, I do believe in “All cats… all canned…all the time”. Cats do not consume large quantities of water and again evolved to ingest high moisture prey. Canned diets are naturally lower in carbs and higher in moisture. This not only plays a role in obesity and diabetes but in urinary and bladder issues too. Remember we can’t just look at the label comparing protein in a canned and kibble diet….we need apples to apples so they have to both be compared on a dry matter basis.
There are actually a lot of over-the-counter canned foods that are low in carbs (less than 7%). For my diabetic patients I recommend canned Purina DM (no kick-backs here) because of the success of this diet in getting my diabetic patients into remission.
I am going to be honest here…. I feed kibble…calorie dense, low moisture kibble basically for two reasons 1)I want to stay married…my hubby literally gags at the smell of canned food a mile away 2) I am lazy…if they made a supplemental baby kibble I’d by it. Throw down some kibble=easy. But I do feed the lowest carb kibble available… Purina DM dry. It is calorie dense but I have found reasonable portions, increased activity, and low carb have really got the weight off.
WANT MORE INFO…Including lists of good low carb options check out.
What I have learned with a household of cats is just like people some really struggle to maintain a lean body condition score. Are all my cats a perfect 5/9 BCS? No but I remain committed. If you have a fat cat I urge you to recognize it and make the change. Not only will your cat be healthier and more energetic, but also less likely to have the many medical issues that come hand-in-hand with obesity (and the expense of treatment and management).