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Obesity in Cats and How to Put a Cat on a Diet

16 min read


Free Choice Feeding


The main reason for feline obesity (as well as obesity in other mammals) is the consumption of too much food. Deny it all you want but it is a fact.


What we do…
Many cats are fed "free choice," which means there is food available all the time and the cat eats whenever it wants. (Pretty unnatural for a true carnivore that evolved as a hunting machine!) Free choice feeding has probably been the biggest single factor contributing to feline obesity.


What we should do…
Feed two to four small portions daily and control the amounts fed so that over a period of time the cat does not gain weight. Many pet owners must downsize what theythink is a "normal" portion. A meal for a 175-pound human might weigh 16 to 24 ounces. A seven-pound cat weighs 1/25 of the 175-pound human.


So a cat’s meal should proportionally be about 1/25 of a human meal. That comes out to between 0.6 and 1.0 ounce of food per meal for a seven-pound cat… about the same weight as a mouse. Cat owners must stop thinking in terms of "cups of food" and start thinking in terms of ounces of food.




Cats, unlike most mammals, have no carbohydrate-digesting enzyme called Amylase in their saliva. Humans and dogs do and actually begin the digestion of carbohydrate in the mouth. In the intestine, amylase secreted from the pancreas breaks down large carbohydrate molecules into absorbable smaller units of glucose. Cats have measurably less amylase activity than humans or dogs. Nature did not intend the kitty to be a carbohydrate consumer.


What we do…
We purchase convenient, attractively packaged and preserved dry foods mainly because we can pour it in the bowl and forget it. Dry pet food must have higher levels of flour and sugar than canned foods so that the kibble will stay uniform and not fall apart. Spoiling doesn’t readily occur because of the preservatives so the kitty can eat whenever it wants and we don’t have to prepare cat meals very often. Unfortunately, especially with dry diets, because of the metabolic biochemistry that converts the high carbohydrate content in almost all of today’s commercial cat foods into stored fat, the cat is really at risk for weight gain.


What we should do…
Feed a diet consistent with the nature of a true carnivore… a meat based diet. An ideal feline diet will have a high protein level in the 35 to 45 percent range on a dry matter basis (meaning the percent in the diet when the water has been removed) and moderate fat content with a low percentage of carbohydrate (grains).


A multitude of research reports have proven that diets high in protein and fat are most beneficial for carnivores. Cats cannot handle large carbohydrate loads efficiently. After a meal rich in carbohydrate the feline’s blood level of glucose tends to stay higher than normal for long periods of time. They become persistently hyperglycemic and this long term stimulus on the beta cells in the pancreas -- the cells that produce insulin -- renders those cells less sensitive to the blood glucose. As a result less insulin is secreted to bring down the blood sugar level. Nutritionists call this “down regulating’ of the beta cells; the insensitivity of the insulin secreting beta cells leads to what is termed “insulin resistance”. This scenario is a prelude to diabetes.



We all know how cats crave mice and birds as a food source. A natural source of nutrition for carnivores, mice and birds are a perfect diet for a cat. Did you know that a mouse or a bird is composed of only 3 to 8 percent carbohydrate? And most of that is actually from what the prey was eating and is in the prey's digestive tract. The rest is water, a few minerals, and mostly protein and fat.


What we do...
Many of us purchase dry cat foods, some with food coloring to make it look like meat and with flour and sugars and preservatives. We buy these dry foods partly because they state that it is COMPLETE and BALANCED for cats and because it is convenient for us to pour a few days' worth of food into a bowl for the kitty to eat whenever it wants. Unfortunately, most dry cat food brands are relatively low in protein... especially the less expensive brands that state a grain such as corn as the first (major) ingredient.


Another associated problem is the myth that we often feed our cats (and dogs) too much protein. This indefensible myth... that protein causes kidney problems... is totally unfounded and has caused more dogs and cats to suffer from poor diets than just about any other cause. Go here to see reasons why this myth is just that... a myth with no scientific affirmation.)


What we should do...
We must feed cats a diet with high percentages of protein and fat and low percentages of carbohydrate (grains) if we expect them to maintain optimum body weights and a proper state of nutrition. Protein is THE key nutrient in a carnivore diet. On a dry weight basis... where the percent of ingredients is determined without any water in the ration... a feline's diet should contain 35 to 45 percent protein, 40 percent fat, and possibly just a small percentage of carbohydrate. (Remember... a true carnivore needs NO carbohydrate in the diet.) Some nutritionists suggest 25 percent carbohydrate, 50 percent protein, 25 percent fat.


Cat Treats


We seem to think we need to reward our cats with food -- and that's why cat treats are so popular. Nearly every cat caretaker has relented, too, when our cat has begun to vocalize, roam restlessly and seem to "need something". This is normal interactive behavior for a cat and has no relationship to the cat being hungry! But we perceive the kitty to be hungry so we give it a treat as a snack. And most cat treats are specially flavored to be irresistible to cats, otherwise they wouldn't sell well and there'd be no profit for the manufacturer.


Give your cat a treat for vocalizing and you have rewarded it for vocalizing, and you have just taught the cat to vocalize even more. If you MUST give cat treats to your cat, read below how to do it logically and nutritionally.


What we do…
As sensitive and caring humans, we always want to reward our kitty by providing extra special treats. Most treats for cats have high levels of carbohydrate (flower and sugars) and lots of flavor enhancers to entice the cat to eat even when it is not hungry.


Cats that annoy us with vocalizing and pretending that they are starving to death sometimes are rewarded for that annoying vocalizing by being given a treat to “keep ‘em quiet”. When we provide the treat we reinforce the vocalizing, effectively rewarding the cat for making all that racket, and essentially training the cat to make even more noise!


What we should do…
Stop feeding treats to the overweight cat. IF you think your cat NEEDS a treat, cut up little bits of cooked chicken or fish and feed as a natural protein treat… not a treat made from grains, food coloring, propylene glycol, and flavor enhancers. And NEVER feed a treat as a means of stopping a cat from vocalizing because it has the exact opposite effect and actually reinforces the cat’s vocalizing/begging behavior.