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The reason why your tabby is getting flabby

Last modified: 10/14/2012 12:00:00 AM
I don't think any of you would be shocked to hear that we have an obesity problem here in the United States. We are getting fatter and fatter, our kids are fatter and our pets are getting fatter. We can eat all the junk food that we eat, and it's our own fault, but we don't need to do it to our pets, too.

The problem of obesity has become especially common in our cats. Approximately 70 percent of adult pet cats are overweight; some of them are morbidly obese (i.e. 20-plus pounds). This leads to a number of problems, including arthritis, liver disease, diabetes and heart disease. It certainly isn't their own doing, it is ours - we are the ones who provide them with all the extra calories, usually in the form of free-choice dry food (all you can eat).

Here is a little explanation of the reasons our cats are so rotund. If it seems boring or depressing to you, please hang in there until the end because I have some very good news.

Cats are true carnivores - when given the chance they hunt and eat smaller animals - mice, birds, chipmunks, bugs, etc. These are high in protein and moisture and very low in carbohydrate. In order to catch these animals, they expend a lot of energy; in doing so they are also building muscle. So, if we let our cats outside and they did this, they probably wouldn't get very fat and they would look very lean and muscular. Cats are most often offered a bowl of dry food from which they can eat all day long, whenever they want. These dry foods are sprayed with the manufacturer's version of kitty crack (called 'animal digest'), which makes the food more tasty. These dry foods are very low in moisture, high in carbohydrates and low in protein (as compared to their natural diet). All of these factors lead to problems, not the least of which is obesity.

We also tend to neuter our cats at a young age. This causes their appetites to increase and their general metabolisms to decrease, also leading to obesity.

So, we lower our cats' metabolic rates at a young age, we keep them indoors and we feed them low protein, high carb, low moisture addictive-type food for their entire lives. Well gee - no wonder they get fat!

In order to explain a bit more about cats and their unique metabolisms, consider the following: cats need to maintain their muscle mass - this is important because preservation of lean muscle mass is key in determining the base metabolic rate and insulin resistance. So, cats on high protein diets have improved insulin sensitivity and greater energy and fat metabolism. Cats also use protein for energy, even when other energy sources, such as carbs and fats, are there. Active cats can also utilize carbs and fats for energy, but the average overfed, sedentary cat will take the carbs and fat in the diet and turn them into fat (sound familiar? - just like our TV watching computer-addicted society).

Studies have shown that the average 10-pound cat needs only about 200 calories, but they also need a certain amount of protein (45 percent of their calories should come from protein). This can not happen with the average indoor cat eating dry food. Dry foods provide a good 400 to 600 calories per cup, but they might only offer 32 percent protein or less. The results: Average owners who feed their indoor cats the average dry food will end up with big, fat cats.

The good news is that canned foods are generally much more like what a cat should be eating - high moisture, low carb and high protein. There are only 150-200 calories per 5.5-ounce can of canned cat food. So, from now on, think canned food for cats!

That's it. It's that simple, and it is super logical. The protein is there, the moisture is there, and the carbs aren't there. Give it a try. You will be pleased to know that it has also been shown that cats who are fed a canned diet will beg less than cats fed dry food.

Since feline obesity is so difficult to treat (as it is in people), it is better to try to prevent it. Here are some rules for how to do it:

1. Start your kittens off on a variety of foods, including canned foods. It has been shown that cats develop food preferences early in life - if fed only dry foods, they are likely to prefer them; if offered a variety, they will be more likely to remain flexible in their eating habits. Therefore, they will be more likely to eat a canned diet.

2. Reduce his food intake by about 20 percent when your cat is neutered, since his metabolism will slow down

3. Never offer free choice dry food.

4. Offer at least some canned food, and consider an exclusively canned diet, especially for indoor, inactive cats

5. Try to encourage your cat to exercise (I have always wanted to invent some sort of treadmill for cats). Allow access to an outdoor play area, if possible, or offer play opportunities in the home. Some cats actually like to play fetch or chase laser pointers, toys, etc.

6. Ask your vet for help if your kitty is overweight - vets can assess your pets' body condition scores and can recommend weight loss diets and can help to monitor the response to these diets. Don't forget that you should be bringing your cats to the vet at least once a year - this is one of many reasons why.

I hope that gives you food for thought (yes, that was a joke). Truly though I hope this will help keep your cats healthier in the future.


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