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Nutrition Nuggets
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Fat Cats and Hormones

March 15, 2013 / (2) comments

The vast majority of cats diagnosed with diabetes mellitus have what is called Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes usually goes hand in hand with obesity, and a big factor behind this relationship is insulin resistance. The pancreas is still making sufficient amounts of insulin (responsible for helping cells absorb glucose from the blood stream), but the body becomes unable to respond to the hormone effectively.

Insulin resistance develops because adipose tissue does more than just store energy in the form of fat. It is also an endocrine organ. In other words, fat secretes hormones that significantly affect the way in which a cat’s body functions, including the way in which it responds to insulin.

The concept of insulin resistance is familiar to many cat owners, but have you heard of leptin-resistance? Until recently, I hadn’t either.

Leptin is a hormone produced by adipocytes (fat cells) that plays an important role in regulating fat storage in the body. The system is like a thermostat that monitors body fat rather than heat. Greater amounts of fat secrete greater amounts of leptin; in effect the adipocytes are trying to tell the rest of the body, “We’ve got adequate reserves here. There’s no need to keep packing on the pounds.” Leptin works in the brain by activating neurons that suppress the appetite and increase energy expenditure and inhibiting neurotransmitters that have the opposite effect. Therefore when body fat increases, higher levels of leptin work to slim the cat back down.

Leptin is one of the reasons why slender cats tend to stay that way. If they start to get a little chunky, the extra fat secretes more leptin, which helps them naturally lose what they should.

This elegant system can be overwhelmed and breaks down when cats become overweight, however. Several studies have shown that despite extremely high blood leptin concentrations, obese cats will continue to overeat and gain even more weight. Similar to what happens with insulin resistance, the leptin is there but the body can no longer respond to it. Leptin resistance is probably just one of the reasons why getting overweight cats to slim down can be so frustrating.

A reasonable question is “Can giving an obese patient additional leptin help with weight loss?” Unfortunately, studies in people have not indicated that leptin administration in these situations is effective, but cats are physiologically unique, so we can still hold out hope. As far as I am aware, no research into the use of leptin in cats has been done. In the meantime, I hope that being aware of leptin resistance and the other problems that excess body fat can wreak on the body will encourage us all to watch how much food we offer our cats.

After all, it’s easier to prevent obesity than reverse it after it has altered the very way in which a cat’s body functions.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Nick G / via Shutterstock

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Comments  2

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  • Comfort Food
    03/15/2013 06:09am

    I'm convinced that the street ragamuffins that have joined my family have a "stray mentality" when it comes to food. There have been a few that never trusted the food bowl will always be filled.

    Is there any evidence to show that some cats eat just because there's food available, not because they're hungry?

  • 03/16/2013 02:49pm

    It's hard for research to answer the question "why" when it comes to motivation in animals, but I'd be willing to bet that some cat's eat because there's nothing better to do.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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