Obesity is a growing problem in our feline population. In fact, over 50% of cats seen by veterinarians are judged to be either overweight or obese. However, with the proper diet, feeding schedule and exercise regime, this does not have to be so for your cat. Here are a few ways to begin.
Many factors need to be taken into account when choosing the proper food for your cat. It is important that the diet you choose be balanced and complete. It is also best to choose a food that is designed for your cat’s life stage. For instance, kittens do better when fed a “kitten food” formulated for growth. Older cats may have slower metabolism and may do better on a senior food, which contains fewer calories but still supplies the right level of nutrients. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian for a recommendation.
Feeding your cat free choice can be problematic, especially if your cat has a tendency to overeat. Cats fed two to three smaller, measured meals daily tend to maintain their weight better than those fed free choice. Refer to the guidelines provided on the food level and measure your cat’s food accurately. One cup is 8 ounces and refers to a level cup of food (as opposed to a heaping cup.)
Remember that the guidelines provided on a pet food label are guidelines only and may need to be adjusted based on your individual cat’s body condition and activity level. Learn to evaluate your cat’s body condition. Doing so will allow you to determine whether your cat is overweight, underweight or at an ideal body weight, which in turn will help you determine the proper amount of food to be given daily.
If at an ideal body weight, you should be able to feel the ribs but not see them. There should be a slight waist evident when you look at your cat from above, if at an ideal weight. There should be flank folds present that do not jiggle or sway when your cat walks.
In an obese cat, the ribs and backbone will be difficult to feel. If there is a fold hanging down under your cat on either side that jiggles or sways when he walks, your cat is likely overweight. There may be little or no waist visible when viewed from above.
In an underweight cat, the ribs and pelvic bones will be visible. The flank folds may be absent or at least free of fat. The neck will be thin and the waist will be more prominent than normal. This may be a cat that is suffering from a chronic illness or a cat that is malnourished.
Other factors to consider include your cat’s exercise and energy level. If your cat is a “couch potato”, she will need fewer calories than an active, adventurous cat. Cats that have been spayed or neutered will have altered metabolisms as well and their diet may need to be modified after surgery to avoid excess weight gain.
If in doubt, your veterinarian is the best source of information about your cat’s diet. Your veterinarian is familiar with your individual cat and can help you determine not only which type of food is most appropriate but also at what quantity. If your cat needs to be on a weight control program, your veterinarian can help you manage your cat’s weight loss while making certain that your cat is still receiving all necessary nutrients. A starvation diet is never appropriate for a cat, even if weight loss is necessary.