Cornell Feline Health Center

Supporting Cat Health with Information and Health Studies.

Fat cats: How do management approaches measure up?

About 30-40 percent of cats are carrying around too much weight, but what are the best treatment options? In their review in a recent issue of Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports, Drs. John Loftus and Joseph Wakshlag discuss the complicated problem of obesity in cats and dogs and what the current research reveals about what can be done to help too-heavy cats. The upshot? Veterinary therapeutic weight loss diets are convenient and effective, but exercise recommendations often fall flat.

Feline obesity is on the rise, and although parallels have been drawn between this increase and increasing levels of obesity in humans, Loftus and Wakshlag point to a recent study that showed the anecdote doesn’t hold water for cats: no significant association was found between owner body mass index (BMI) and body weight in those owners’ cats. (The same was not true for dogs: BMI in dog owners is linked to body weight of their dogs.)

Owner perception, on the other hand, is definitely a contributing factor to a cat’s obesity risk. Although recognizing the fact that a cat or dog is overweight or obese is the first step for any weight loss protocol, write the authors, many owners cannot perceive that their pets are obese. In a survey in New Zealand the authors cite, underestimation of a pet’s body condition was the greatest risk factor for obesity in a cohort of cats.

Once a weight problem is recognized in a cat, it needs to be addressed. Although many diet options are available for weight loss, veterinary therapeutic weight loss diets are superior in their ease of use, effectiveness, and in nutritional balance. In a comparison of five diets by the National Research Council, therapeutic diets met more minimum nutrient requirements than did over the counter products when used for weight loss.

That’s diet. What about exercise? Although it seems sensible to recommend exercise for a chubby cat, exercise protocols for weight loss in cats haven’t been fully evaluated. Increasing activity, say the authors, is “unlikely to provide a significant benefit in most indoor cats”, largely due to a lack of compliance cat owners.