Almost half of all cats in the UK are overweight and it’s leading to serious health problems. Big meals, too many treats and lack of exercise are the cause, but cat owners don’t always realise their pet is overweight.
“It’s the whole Garfield thing,” says Dr Maeve Moorcroft from Pets at Home. “People think a plump cat is cute. But feline obesity is a disease.”
In fact, pet experts now describe over-feeding as the most common form of feline malnutrition. So how can you manage your cat’s weight?
Know what a healthy cat looks like
A healthy cat should have only a small amount of fat on its tummy and a visible waist, and you should be able to feel its ribs, spine and hip bones easily. Ideal weights differ between breeds, but your vet can recommend what your cat should weigh.
Be aware of the dangers
“Feline obesity leads to all sorts of serious health conditions, including heart disease, liver problems, breathing difficulties, joint stiffness and diabetes,” explains Dr Moorcroft. Extra treats and generous meals could be harming your cat’s long-term health.
Get mealtimes right
“Portion control is important,” says Dr Moorcroft. “Many owners ‘free-feed’, especially with dry food. But instead of constantly topping up the food bowl, you should read the packaging instructions and measure out the right amount.”
If your cat eats wet and dry food, the combined amount of calories per day should not exceed what’s recommended for your cat’s age and weight.
“Not all cats stop eating when they’ve had enough, and some cats need fewer calories than others,” explains Dr Moorcroft. “There are now special recipes for neutered cats, which put on weight more easily, and for indoor cats, which are relatively inactive.”
Cut down on treats
Occasional treats should come from your cat’s daily calorie allowance, and human food should be avoided. “Human treats are very calorie-rich,” says Dr Moorcroft. “A small cube of cheese for a cat is like its owner eating nine or 10 cubes.”
Play with your cat more often
In the wild, cats use short bursts of energy to hunt, jump and climb. Playing with your cat for a few minutes, several times a day, can make a huge difference. “Watch what gets your cat excited and buy some toys tailored to that type of activity,” says Dr Moorcroft. “And don’t worry if games only last a few minutes – that’s perfectly normal.”
Ask for advice
If you think your cat is obese, visit your vet for advice. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets can be effective, and there are special diets that your vet can prescribe. But do not simply “starve” your pet. “Crash diets are very dangerous,” explains Dr Moorcroft. “If a cat goes more than 12 hours without sufficient calories, its liver could be affected.”
In-store vets at Pets at Home can weigh your cat, and you can also book an appointment with a trained nutrition consultant. Alternatively you could visit a Vets4Pets practice. Helping your cat lose weight should be done safely and slowly over many months, with regular weigh-ins to check your cat’s progress.
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