Here’s how to take the best care of your tubby tabby.
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We can all agree that fat cats are big and fluffy and cute and improve classic works of art.
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They will maybe even save your soul! But, as a veterinarian, I can tell you that they’re not healthy.
Obesity in housecats is a ~growing~ trend, and it can have a real, serious impact on your cat’s health and life expectancy. So, if you want your furry friend to be happy and live longer, keep these things in mind:
1. More than half the cats in the U.S. are overweight.
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And that number is only going up. The latest survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in 2014, shows that almost 58% of all cats in the U.S. — roughly 55 million cats — are now overweight or obese.
That’s a significant increase from the 53% of cats who were obese or overweight when the surveys began in 2007. Cats are also more likely than dogs to be overweight.
2. Obesity is directly linked to lots of health problems for cats.
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Diabetes, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and certain skin conditions can all be linked to feline obesity. These are chronic diseases that require long-term medical management and can affect your cat’s quality of life.
Fat cats are also at risk of developing arthritis due to the wear and tear excess pounds put on their joints. Keeping your cat at their ideal weight makes it much less likely that they’ll develop these chronic diseases.
3. But most people who have overweight cats don’t even know it.
Cat owners seem to be, in general, unaware of their pets’ weight issues. It’s important to be able to recognize visually when your cat is above a healthy weight, rather than waiting to be told by your vet, because it’s a lot easier to prevent weight gain than to reverse it.
4. You can figure out if your cat is the right weight just by looking.
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The average domestic cat weighs between eight and twelve pounds, but that varies based on breed and gender. Some small-framed cats are barely six pounds, while a Maine Coon can reach upwards of 20 pounds.
“If you look at your cat from above, his waist should look like an hourglass where it tapers in slightly from the ribs,” Dr. Angela Witzel, veterinary nutrition specialist and Chief of the Clinical Nutrition Service at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, tells BuzzFeed Life.
“If your cat looks like a straight tube from above or has his waist expand out past the ribs, he is overweight.” Using a feline [url=http://www.wsava.org/sites/default/files/Body condition score chart cats.pdf]body condition score[/url] system can help you assess your cat’s weight without having to actually weigh him.
For a long-haired cat whose waistline is tastefully disguised by fur, get your hands on them and feel along the sides of the body. If you can feel ribs with a firm touch, your cat is in good shape. If you just feel flab, then it’s time for a diet.
5. Diet and exercise are the biggest factors causing obesity in cats.
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The biggest reasons for the rise in feline obesity that has been happening over the past few decades are lack of exercise and inappropriate diets, says Witzel. Which makes a lot of sense! The good news is that both are things you can change if you want to help your cat lose weight.
6. Cats have to worry about carbs, too.
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As carnivores, cats evolved to digest small, frequent meals that are high in protein and low in carbs — think mice, voles, and birds (in case you were wondering, there are about 30 calories in a mouse). However, the typical dry cat food diet is higher in carbohydrates than the natural diet of cats, says Witzel.
Although those carbs aren’t a problem in most cases, if your cat is chronically obese or having trouble losing weight, it might be worth talking to your veterinarian about trying a special low-carb (< 10%) diet.
7. Leaving food out all day can make your cat fat.
For a less active indoor cat, leaving the food bowl constantly full is basically giving them all-day access to a buffet table, and the pounds will inevitably pile on.
The best way to help your cat lose weight or to prevent weight gain is to feed distinct meals at specific times. At least two meals a day is fine, Dr. Debra Zoran, professor and veterinary nutritionist at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, tells BuzzFeed Life.
“But I think if you can fit in four—early morning, before you leave for work, late afternoon, and late evening—dividing their calories into four meals works even better. If your lifestyle doesn’t allow this type of schedule, then use timed meal feeders.” Just remember: if you increase the number of meals, decrease the amount of food in each meal so you aren’t adding calories to your cat’s diet.
8. If your cat acts like they’re starving, ignore them.
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Many feline diet plans fail because a cat either successfully convinces the owner that he’s starving or drives the owner crazy with begging until they give up. But as long as you’ve confirmed with a vet that you’re feeding your cat a healthy amount, it’s safe to ignore them.
“Begging is the body’s hormones telling the cat that he doesn’t want to lose weight,” says Zoran. “That is the dirty little secret about obesity — your body was built to keep what it has, so when you make it larger with more fat cells it is absolutely against its nature to lose weight.” That’s why obesity prevention is much easier than weight loss.
Witzel suggests feeding your cat in a room you don’t use often, like a guest bathroom, instead of the kitchen. That way, your cat isn’t associating a well-frequented room with meals and is less apt to drive you insane, or trip you. Or both.
9. You can encourage (or force) your cat to exercise more.If you don’t have much time to spend playing with your cat, something as simple as putting the food bowl and litter box at opposite ends of the house encourages your cat to get their daily constitutional. Or, if you have a tiny apartment, try buying cat toys that make the cat work for their food.
Making your home visually stimulating to your cat also helps. “Having access to a porch, screened area, or outside window with a bird feeder greatly helps with the stimulus of hunting,” says Zoran. This can make your cat more active and in turn burn those off some of those extra calories.
10. Sharing your own food with a cat is a bad idea.
Pusheen The Cat
Resist the urge to let them finish your cereal or lick the dinner plates clean. Aside from the added calories, human foods can wreak havoc on your cat’s gastrointestinal tract and cause irritation to the pancreas. Some, like onions and garlic, are plain toxic to cats.
And that old adage about offering a saucer of milk? Most adult cats are lactose intolerant and cow’s milk is too rich for kittens, which means it’s basically a one-way ticket to Diarrhea-ville. They also can’t taste sweetness, so they’re not going to enjoy your leftover dessert nearly as much as you would.
Cats aren’t the enthusiastic water drinkers that dogs (or humans) are. But it is important that they get enough, for their health in general and to prevent the development of some types of bladder stones.
“Humans are constantly being reminded to drink more water because our Western, processed diets can be very inadequate in providing water with the food,” says Zoran. “Dry cat food is no different.”
Wet cat food, which is roughly 85% water compared to the 5–15% water content of dry food, can also help up their intake.
12. Cats don’t usually like switching foods, but wet food can help.
Cats are known for being “monoguesic,” meaning they prefer to stick to one type of food, which can be an issue when you want to switch to a food with fewer calories. Switching to a wet or semi-moist food can help sway a picky eater.
13. Most experts now recommend canned food instead of dry.
For years, experts touted dry cat food as pre-furr-able because it helps prevent tartar buildup on teeth. The debate rages on, but experts are now advising cat owners to reach for the canned stuff, especially for older cats, because of the benefit of higher water content. Dental exams should be part of your cat’s yearly vet check-ups, and should catch and treat or manage any issues.
14. The best cat foods are the ones with more animal protein.
Cats have evolved as “obligate carnivores,” which means they rely on meat to supply essential nutrients. “Cats do need more protein in their diet than dogs and humans, but if your cat is eating a balanced commercial cat food, he should be receiving all the protein he needs,” says Witzel.
How should you pick a food? In the pet nutrition world, higher prices usually do mean higher quality because foods that contain more animal protein (and less filler) will cost the manufacturer more to make.
But don’t go by price alone. FDA labels on commercial pet foods will tell you what you need to know, although you might need a little help with interpretation. For example, by law a can labeled “tuna cat food” must contain at least 95% tuna, but a can labeled “cat food with tuna” only has to contain 3% tuna. That’s called the “with” rule.
Just make sure you know what to look for at the store, and ask your vet if you’re not sure. In general, it’s a good idea to stick with big brand names and steer clear of generic or discount brands.
15. Slow and steady weight loss is important.
If you and your vet decide your cat needs to go on a diet, incorporate changes gradually. A starvation diet is not the way to go, since sudden food deprivation in cats can result in a life-threatening liver condition called hepatic lipidosis. Fat cats that suddenly stop eating are especially prone to this disease.
16. It’s a good idea to weigh your cat regularly.
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Because weight loss in cats should happen slowly, and because a one-pound loss in a 15-pound cat is a major accomplishment (that’s 6% of their body weight), sometimes it’s hard to see results — especially if you have a longhaired cat. Buying a baby scale is one way to regularly monitor your cat’s weight.
Even if your cat isn’t fat, regular weighing is a good idea, says Zoran. “It’s very easy to think your cat is staying the same weight when in fact he has gained one to two pounds,” she says. “It is much easier to see a problem developing and change habits early than it is to wait for the vet to tell you that your cat is fat.”