Why is My Cat Fat?
By:Dr. Catherine Barnette
Author: Dr. Catherine Barnette
Dr. Barnette is a small animal veterinarian with 14 years of clinical experience in small animal general practice. She currently divides her time between part-time clinical practice and freelance writing, while also volunteering in her community. Her primary medical interests are preventive medicine and client education.View all 3 articles Learn about our editorial process and veterinary review board.
Updated on: 11/18/2020
If your cat is overweight, you’re in good company! The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention  estimates that approximately 60% of pet cats in the United States are overweight. Although feline obesity is a common issue, it isn’t one that should be taken lightly. Obesity can predispose cats to several significant health problems.
Like humans, all cats have different metabolisms. Some cats can eat a typical commercial diet and remain healthy, while others can eat a similar diet and become obese. Feline weight gain can be frustrating, but it isn’t insurmountable.
Why do Cats gain weight?
For a cat to maintain a healthy weight, the cat must have a calorie intake approximately equal to the number of calories burned through exercise. Cats can become overweight for two reasons: overeating (excessive calorie intake) or not exercising enough (bad calorie burn).
Obesity is common in pet cats due to their feeding habits and lifestyles. If you think about a stray or feral cat’s lifestyle, these cats typically eat small meals only as they can catch prey. If a cat can’t catch a mouse or other small animal, it can’t eat. Similarly, stray cats spend a significant amount of energy roaming outside, chasing prey or looking for cast-off food items.
Contrast this image of an outdoor cat to the lifestyle of most of our pet cats. Instead of expending energy chasing small prey, our cats often spend their days lounging on a sofa or armchair, being offered as much commercial cat food as they are willing to eat. When you think of it in this way, it isn’t difficult to understand the underlying causes of feline obesity!
Overweight Cats Health Problems
Just like humans, cats can suffer a number of adverse medical effects caused by obesity.
One potential negative effect of obesity is arthritis
This painful condition is caused by a combination of factors. First, an overweight cat puts more pressure (strain) on their joints than a cat that is at a healthy weight. Second, obesity can trigger chronic inflammation within the body, including inflammation within the joints. These two factors combine to make arthritis more common in obese cats.
Additionally, obese cats are prone to diabetes
Obesity interferes with the body’s metabolism, affecting a cat’s cells’ ability to take up insulin and process sugar normally. Diabetes can be treated with insulin injections, but it’s far easier to prevent diabetes than it is to treat it!
Overweight cats often have trouble grooming themselves
This can lead to a number of possible health impacts, including matted coats, skin infections, and urinary tract infections. If your cat is too heavy to groom herself, it’s important to pay special attention to brushing and grooming in order to ensure that she doesn’t develop infections related to poor hygiene.
READ MORE: Can Cats be Vegan?
How can weight gain in Cats be prevented?
Preventing weight gain is cats requires carefully balancing your cat’s calorie intake and calorie expenditures.
Regulating your cat’s calorie intake requires careful attention to your cat’s diet. Feed your cat measured meals of a high-quality diet. Don’t leave cat food out for your cat to eat freely, because most cats will overeat if fed in this manner. Use your cat food’s label recommendations as a starting point for feeding quantity, but realize that many cats require even less than the quantity stated on the label recommendations in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Next, ensure that your cat is getting enough exercise. Indoor cats can be encouraged to exercise in a number of ways. Some cats respond well to toys, such as balls and teaser toys (feathers on the end of a wand). If your cat is hesitant to play, consider using a puzzle feeder that requires your cat to be active in order to obtain food.
By avoiding overfeeding and providing exercise, you can prevent obesity in your cat.
RELATED ARTICLE: Cat Nutrition Guide
How to help Cat lose weight?
First, consult your veterinarian before putting your cat on a strict weight loss program. Your veterinarian can rule out underlying medical issues that may be contributing to your cat’s weight gain.
Additionally, your veterinarian can offer guidance on how to promote gradual, healthy weight loss. Your cat must lose weight slowly and gradually, instead of going on a “crash diet”. Overweight cats who experience a sudden and drastic reduction in calorie intake can develop a life-threatening liver disease called hepatic lipidosis.
Ultimately, weight loss will require balancing the same “calories in versus calories out” equation that was discussed earlier. Through a combination of gradual calorie reduction and increased exercise, your cat can likely return to a healthy weight.
- “Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.” Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 12 Nov. 2020, petobesityprevention.org/.
- Little, Susan, et al. “Feline Obesity: Dietary Therapy and beyond (Proceedings).” DVM 360, dvm360.com/view/feline-obesity-dietary-therapy-and-beyond-proceedings.
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