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By Dr. Sarah Wooten
If I asked you, "What is the most common nutritional disorder seen in domestic cats today?", what do you think the answer would be? Malnutrition? Taurine deficiency? Good thoughts, but the biggest nutritional problem we see in cats today is obesity.
Obesity is a growing problem in our companion cats, literally and figuratively. It is estimated that over 50 percent of cats seen today at veterinary hospitals are overweight or obese. Obesity in cats is defined as having a body weight that is 20 percent or higher than what is considered normal for that cat’s frame. You can tell your cat is overweight by talking to your veterinarian.
Obesity is bad for cats. It reduces their quality of life and shortens their lifespan by predisposing them to all sorts of diseases, including diabetes mellitus, heart disease and painful osteoarthritis.
Why Are So Many Cats Overweight?
Hundreds of years ago, most cats were active, outdoor hunters. They were constantly on the move and only dined on high-protein, low-carbohydrate fare like grasshoppers and mice. Today, most companion cats live sedentary lives of luxury inside a home. They have little to do except sleep and eat from a cat bowl that is often full of carbohydrate-rich kibble.
Bringing cats indoors has had many positive effects, including enriching the human-animal bond, controlling the feline population, and reducing death and sickness from trauma and infections.
The downside is that indoor cats are often bored and will eat frequently because there is nothing else to do. Slowly, over time, they begin to gain weight. It is a simple equation of too many calories in and not enough calories out.
Do Not Super-Size Meals
The main problem with obesity in our feline family members is that they are eating too many calories from free feeding, which is the process of leaving food out constantly so that a cat can eat whenever he wants to. This contributes to obesity in cats because they are eating too much all the time.
Most indoor cats should only eat 270 to 290 kcal/day, which is one-half of a cup or less of most commercial cat foods. Most owners unconsciously feed their cat way more food than they need every day. Controlling portion size is an important first step to combatting feline obesity. Ask your veterinarian how much you should feed your cat daily to get the right diet for your cat.
How Can a Slow Feeder Bowl Help With Cat Weight Loss?
What do you do if your cat eats the whole meal at once in the morning and then bugs you late at night for food? Some cats like their food way too much and think that 4 a.m. is an appropriate time to tell their human how hungry they are.
If this is the case, then a slow feeder bowl might be a good solution. Slow cat feeder bowls are created in a variety of shapes designed to make it more difficult for the cat to get to their cat food. These slow feeder bowls can help reduce the amount of calories that a cat is eating by forcing the cat to eat more slowly over time.
Some slow cat feeder bowls are designed to be puzzles that your cat has to solve. This has the added bonus of providing mental stimulation, which is a wonderful way to enrich your cat’s environment and help with the boredom factor.
There are a variety of products that have varying levels of difficulty. The Northmate Green interactive cat feeder is a beginner-level slow feeder bowl. It has silicone spires that your cat has to eat around, or she can use her paws to get the food out. The Pioneer Pet Plastic portion control food dish is another beginner slow cat feeder bowl that will make your cat work for every kibble. This stimulates their mind while slowing down eating to a healthier speed.
If you have a resourceful feline, then you may want to up the challenge factor with the Trixie activity strategy game tunnel feeder or the Catit Senses 2.0 food tree cat feeder. These tools can help enrich your cat’s environment, provide some fun and entertainment to you both, and help control unhealthy weight gain.
Things to Remember About Cat Weight Loss
When it comes to cat weight loss, there are two important points to remember. First, I cannot stress the importance of portion control enough; a cat will not lose weight if she is taking in more calories than she is burning. When the food that has been allotted for the day is gone, it’s gone. No more food till the next day.
The second important point is that weight loss in cats must be a gradual process. Never ever starve a cat. Depriving your cat of food can cause hepatic lipidosis, an often fatal liver condition that develops in cats that have not been eating enough for several days. Most cats should be able to reach their weight goals in 6 to 8 months, and you can gauge their progress at home by having weekly weigh-ins.