There’s an obesity epidemic. No, not that one. The obesity epidemic among our furry friends. A 2011 study found that over 50% of American pets are overweight or obese, up from 42% in 2009. And while a fat cat might look cute, the consequences are anything but.
Fat cats suffer the same problems as fat humans; heart problems, diabetes, joint pain and reduced mobility.
While your pampered pet might be living a lifestyle a millions miles removed from those of his jungle predator predecessors, anyone who’s ever seen a cat take on a daddy long legs, knows he’s still a tiger at heart.
Happy cats need to be lithe enough to climb, stalk and pounce. While overfeeding may seem kind in the moment, in the long term it’s really a form of cruelty.
Bronson The Supersized Mega Cat
Bronson made headlines this summer when he turned up at the West Michigan Humane Society in May, following the death of his elderly owner.
Weighing in at a whopping 33lbs (15kg), the overfed feline was in need surgery to remove a broken tooth but was too fat to be given anesthetic safely.
Fortunately Bronson found a loving home, when he was adopted by Mike Wilson and Megan Hanneman. He is now on a strict diet, under the directions of a vet and is flourishing with his new family.
At his most recent weigh-in on September 12 Bronson was down to 30.4lb (14.8kg) and is on his way to becoming healthy enough for surgery. His owners make sure that Bronson only consumes around 375 calories per day, which he gets in the form of wet food mixed with water.
Of course, not all fat cats end up as big as Bronson, but how can you help your cat from piling on the pounds?
1) Portion Control
In the wild cats are expert hunters who have to work hard for their next meal. And when that meals comes, it’s usually just about mouse sized.
In our homes cats tend to have food left out for them all day long and in unlimited quantity.
If you’ve ever stood in line at an all-you-can-eat buffet you know that unlimited food in unlimited quantities is hard enough for a human to refuse, let alone a cat who has pretty much zero motivation to look svelte in a bikini.
Instead of leaving food out for your feline friend all day set out food at regular intervals. Remember that a cat is just a fraction of the size of a human, and that its portions should reflect this.
Just because your cat isn’t utterly stuffed, doesn’t mean he’s starving.
2) Cut The Carbs
Unlike dogs and humans who are natural omnivores, cats are obligate predators. They are expert hunters, who have evolved to digest animal proteins and fat, not sugars. For this reason carbohydrates should only form a very minimal part of your cat’s diet.
Ideally you should feed your cat a protein-rich diet from a young age. Cats are creatures of habit and unfortunately a kitten fed exclusively on a carb-heavy kibble will develop a taste for it and may reject more appropriate food later in life.
Dry food is fine but it should have a protein content of at least 30% and fat content above 18% for an optimal feline diet.
If you are in the habit of giving your cat treats, you should stick to small pieces of chopped chicken breast or fish.
Commercial cat treats are often high in carbs and glucose, which provide empty calories but little of nutritional value for your pet.
3) Don’t Cave When Your Cats Meow
Cats are clever. They work out pretty quickly that the more they meow, the faster they get fed. But your cat isn’t mewling because it’s hungry, it’s mewling because it’s lazy.
In the wild every time a cat wants food it has to go out and hunt for it. Even the most domestic of cats will hunt silently and assuredly in suburban gardens, until it finally gets its chance to pounce on the tasty songbird snack its been eyeing up all morning.
Meanwhile back indoors, each time you feed a cat in response to its vocalisations, you are becoming an expert cat trainer. You have officially trained your cat to meow whenever it wants food.
And some cats always want food.
If you’re setting out a vet recommended amount of food for your cat (and you’re sure your cat’s not being bullied by a bigger pet eating from its bowl), you do not need to be at your pet’s beck and call.
4) Get Your Cat A Gym Membership!
Well, not literally. But if you’re keeping an indoor-only cat then your cat may well not be getting enough exercise.
Just because house cats spend most of their day curled up on the couch, doesn’t mean they’re lazy. Because your cat is a hunter not a grazer, it’s evolved to reserve its energy for intense bursts of activity. Encourage your cat to play with cat toys and if possible, consider getting a second cat to keep it company during the day.
Even older cats need a habitat in which they can keep their mind and body active.
You don’t have to turn your entire apartment into a cat Crossfit gym, but making sure your cat has places where it cat hide, play and climb can help keep your cat active which can prevent it becoming as fat as Bronson.