Help Your Overweight Cat Lose Extra Pounds

Overweight cat
If you suspect that your cat is overweight, she probably is.

Our cats are getting fatter. As painful as it sounds, it’s painfully true. In a study conducted last year by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 58 percent of cats were classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians. That means more than 55 million cats are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and many forms of cancer. Excess weight is also costing cat owners untold millions in medical costs. You care about your cat; that’s why you should care about your cat’s weight.

How can I tell if my cat is overweight?

The first step in determining whether your cat is overweight is to have her evaluated by your veterinarian. Your vet will use a body condition score (BCS) combined with a weight measurement to accurately assess if your feline is too flabby. There are some easy ways for you to check your cat’s overall body condition and monitor her progress toward her body weight goals. Some simple home tests you can perform include:

  • Rib check. You should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs under a thin layer of skin. If you’re pushing through a pad of plump, your pet may be too heavy.
  • Tummy test. Does your cat’s belly sag and dip toward the floor? Cats at a healthy weight will actually have a tummy that is taut, tight, and tucked upward instead of dragging down.
  • Waist watch. When you look down at your pet from above, you should see a subtle hourglass silhouette and an obvious waistline.

If you think your cat is carrying a few extra pounds, she probably is.

What does obesity do to my cat?

Obesity is the No. 1 feline health threat. Heavier cats are prone to a number of weight-related disorders. If you need some motivation to help your cat slim down, consider obesity’s consequences:

Decreased life expectancy. Less is more when it comes to feeding your cat. Eating less has been proven to extend life expectancy and reduce the risk of certain diseases in species as diverse as worms, spiders, fish, hamsters, mice, dogs, and monkeys. (Studies in cats are lacking.) If you’re looking for your cat’s fountain of youth, it’s right there in the food bowl.

Diabetes. Increasingly, vets are diagnosing overweight cats with type 2 diabetes. Similar to humans, chubby cats are at tremendous risk for developing diabetes, requiring daily insulin injections. And diabetes has been shown to reduce a pet’s life expectancy. For many cats, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable by simply feeding the correct amount of food. What could be easier?

High blood pressure. Hypertension is a commonly overlooked disorder in cats and is known as the “silent killer” because you can’t see the damage it’s causing until it’s too late. If your cat has packed on extra pounds, your veterinarian may want to measure her blood pressure. This simple test can help detect a disease that causes sudden blindness, heart problems, and kidney failure.

Arthritis. A 2011 study by researchers in the Netherlands examined cats (more than 6 years of age) for signs of arthritis. The study concluded that while 61 percent of tested cats had radiographic (x-ray) evidence of arthritis, few pet owners recognized the signs of this degenerative disease in their cats. As a result, the study authors strongly recommend that x-rays be evaluated in older cats. Even if your cat is carrying as little as one or two extra pounds, those pounds are stressing tiny joints not designed to carry excess weight. Making matters worse, fat cells produce harmful chemicals known as adipocytokines that can damage even non-weight-bearing joints. There is no cure for feline arthritis; we can only minimize the pain.

Cancer. Excess fat has been implicated in the formation of many cancers in animals. The National Cancer Institute estimates that obesity and physical inactivity may account for 25 percent to 30 percent of the major cancers in humans, including colon cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and kidney cancer. If we use these studies as a benchmark, it’s possible that weight loss may reduce the cancer risk in pets too.

Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!