HOW TO FEED CATS
OBESITY PREVENTION FOR OUR FELINE FRIENDS
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Obesity is the number one nutritional disease in cats in the
United States. Conservative estimates suggest that more than 50% of American cats are overweight. Obesity has serious consequences including shortening the lifespan, and quality of life of our cats. Keeping our kitties lean and well muscled will help them live longer and healthier lives, prevent health issues, and keep veterinary costs down!
Some of the consequences of obesity are listed below.
- Hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver syndrome
- Hyperlipidemia (high blood fats)
- Lameness, immobility, arthritis
- Dermatologic conditions
- Anesthetic complications
- Respiratory Compromise
- Exercise intolerance
- Decreased immune function
- Increased incidence in lower urinary tract diseases
What are the causes of feline obesity?
1. Increased palatability of dry foods! American manufacturers of pet foods have done a fabulous job of making dry kibble extremely tasty. It now resembles tasty junk food loaded with carbohydrates and calories. It is so palatable that it can be difficult to get a kitty to switch to canned food. Our cats have become junk food junkies, much like many of today's teenagers. Obesity diseases such as diabetes are on the rise in
America's children and cats! So introduce young cats to canned food diets from the start, and limit the amount of dry food that you feed them. If you are attempting to change to a canned food diet in an older cat, we recommend talking to your veterinarian first, and making all diet changes gradually over a period of weeks to months.
2. Pet food advertising has convinced us that when our kitties love their meals, that they will love us too. They encourage us to over feed. Often times their feeding recommendations recommend too many calories, or do not take into account that our pets are spayed and neutered.
3. We bond to our feline friends by feeding them; we panic and feel guilty if their bowls are empty! We need to bond to our cat's through other activities, playing with them more, grooming them, etc. We need to find other ways to develop our bond with them and to enrich their lives.
4. Boredom and lack of exercise is the price we ask our kitties to pay when we house them safely indoors. We need to enrich their indoor environments to alleviate boredom and increase their activity. Please review the links from the the
Hospital website on indoor enrichment for cats for helpful tips and suggestions.
Feline Indoor Initiative
What Indoor Cats Need
Cats Just Wanna Have Fun!
5. Housecats no longer work or hunt for food as nature intended. They expend less energy. They are often couch potatoes and large meals magically appear on a platter.
6. We decrease their energy requirements by 20-25% by neutering and spaying. Neutered animals do not need to become obese! We simply have to recognize that we should reduce the amount fed after spaying and neutering.
These causes can be reversed and overcome! We have to change our own behavior as well as the behavior of our cats. We need to start new kittens and young cats out right from the very start. Obesity prevention is the goal!. Weight loss is difficult in cats, we want to have to avoid having to "diet" our cats.
We need to feed our kitties the way Mother Nature intended. In the wild, a cat hunts for food, it may sit, and survey its environment, stalk, and then a burst of energy explodes as it chases its prey. A kitty may hunt and catch, hunt and fail, then hunt and catch, until it catches 5-8 mice a day. Each mouse provides about 30 calories of high protein food. So that is about 150-240 calories per day but it is spread over the entire day into 5-8 small meals, with bursts of calorie burning energy between each meal.
In our homes many cats are simply served a large plate of high carbohydrate food that is 350 calories or more, and do very little exercise. It is easy to see how they can become overweight. A frightening example of how easy it is to get a cat overweight is that if you feed an average 10 lb cat and extra 10 kibbles of dry food every day for a year, you will likely have that cat gain an extra one pound, or 10% of its body weight per year. Keep that up for 5 years and now the cat is 5 lbs overweight from simply eating 10 extra kibbles daily!! If we allow cats to free choice feed on dry food they often consume far more than an extra 10 kibbles per day.
START WITH SOME SIMPLE STEPS TO PREVENT OBESITY
FEED PRIMARILY A CANNED FOOD DIET, feed less dry food. 100% canned food is great. If you would like to feed some dry, try to keep that portion to 1/3 of the daily intake, or at least not more than 50% dry. If you are ready to change to a more canned food diet, we recommend talking to your veterinarian first, and making all diet changes gradually over a period of weeks to months.
WHY IS CANNED FOOD SO IMPORTANT? How can it help with obesity prevention and weight control? Felines are obligate carnivores, they are meant to be meat and protein eaters! They did not evolve to be grain and cereal eaters! They are truly different than dogs and people. They need protein and a certain level of fat in their diet. Although they can eat carbohydrates, they are not designed to metabolize carbohydrates efficiently.
High carbohydrate diets (basically almost all dry foods) will promote weight gain and may cause insulin resistance in cats. In some cats this may predispose them to the development of Type Two Diabetes. Canned foods tend to be much higher in protein than dry foods. High protein diets increase cellular metabolism and the burning of calories. High protein diets will help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass during weight loss. For cats, high protein diets will increase a sense of satiety, or a feeling of fullness, much sooner than high carbohydrate diets. The moisture content of canned foods is high (most being 70-75% water) and this also contributes to a feeling of fullness and satiety.
On a volume basis, canned foods are much less calorie dense than dry food. For instance the volume of canned food in a hockey puck sized can of food has about 1/3 of the calories as an equal volume of dry food measured out in that same sized can. You cat's tummy will feel much more full after the canned food meal, and will have ingested far fewer calories, than if an equal volume of dry food was fed.
The benefits of increased water consumption from canned diets has many other health benefits as well, especially for the prevention of kidney and lower urinary tract health problems that plague so many of our feline patients. Canned foods can also benefit gastrointestinal diseases. All the way around, canned foods provide more ideal nutrition for our feline friends!
Transitioning Feline Dry Food Addicts to Canned Food This handout from VIN's Veterinary Partner offers some great tips to transition your kitty dry food addict to canned food!
STOP FREE CHOICE FEEDING! Free choice feeding high carbohydrate dry food is the number one cause of obesity. It is more than OK for your cats bowl to be empty for part of the day! Meal feed your cat! If you have a multiple cat home, feed cats with supervision, or in separate rooms, remove food bowls after 15-30 minutes. You will be relieved you have trained your cats to eat separately and by meals if your cat ever needs to be on a special veterinary therapeutic diet in the future that should not be shared with housemates.
MEASURE AMOUNTS CAREFULLY. Don't "eyeball" the amount, or use a handful or bowl full as a measurement tool. Use an 8 oz measuring cup for dry, measure canned food by fractions of a can (1/4 of a can etc.). Know what you are feeding. Keep a food diary. Look up calorie contents of your food, know how many calories per 8 oz cup, and how many calories per can. Unfortunately manufacturers rarely put calorie contents on their labels. You can often find the calorie content at the manufacturers' website, or by calling their 1-800 consumer helpline. If you cannot find the calorie content in your cat's foods, ask your veterinarian for help. Remember to include any treats or table food you offer in the daily calorie count.
WORK WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN to determine the right number of calories to feed per day. This may vary over your cat's lifetime and will change. This is why annual to semi-annual veterinary examinations are so important for our feline patients. It will allow us to reassess your cat and make new recommendations. Bring your food diary to all exam appointments. Bring the names and amounts of all diets, supplements, and treats fed. Ask for help early, before obesity is a problem!
FEED MULTIPLE SMALL MEALS. Think like Weight Watchers! Research in humans and cats has shown that calories are burned more efficiently from eating multiple small meals. Ideally feed 5-8 meals per day. This might be 3 canned meals (first thing in the morning, when you come home from work, before bed) and offer or hide 2-5 small dry meals (these dry meals may only be 10-20 kibbles of dry food) around the house for your cat to find while you are off at work or sleeping overnight.
MAKE FEEDING A TREASURE HUNT! Hide the food around the house, have kitty seek out and hunt for his meals the way Mother Nature intended. Enrich his life by giving him his job back! Take him off the unemployment line! Try food dispensing toys to make catching dry food a game! Cat's love food and treat dispensing toys! Check out Premier's FunKitty Egg-Cersizer and the FunKitty Twist & Treat.
ADJUST CALORIES WHEN NEEDED. For instance, after your cat is spayed or neutered, decrease the amount fed by 20-25% or decrease amount by 1/4 to 1/5 of the prior amount fed. As your cat matures and ages, the calorie needs may decrease each year through adulthood. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian at annual exams to see if adjustments in daily calories need to be made as your cat ages. Many cats begin to lose weight after 10-12 yrs of age and your vet may even recommend an increase as your cat enters the senior years.
KNOW YOUR CAT'S IDEAL BODY WEIGHT. Your veterinarian can help you with this. In general most cats are at their ideal body weight at about 1 year of age. Knowing what you cat weighed at one year of age is often a good estimate of ideal weight, however there can be exceptions to this rule so check with your veterinarian. Cats usually continue to gain weight each year unless adjustments in feeding are made. This is why so many middle aged cats are overweight.
KNOW YOUR CAT'S BODY CONDITON SCORE (BCS). There are two methods for this. The simplest is a 5 point scoring system where 1=Emaciated, 2=thin, 3=ideal, 4=overweight, 5=obese. Sometimes this 5 point scale simply doesn?t describe all the in between states so a 9 point scale is often used. On a 9 point scale 1 is still emaciated. 4-5 would be the range for ideal, and 9 would be obese. There is more room on the 9 point scale to describe the variations in between thin, normal, and obese. See the links on the
Hospital website for body score condition handouts with more examples. See what you think your kitty's BCS is, then ask your veterinarian where she scores your kitty to see if you have a realistic understanding of your cat's BCS. A kitty with ideal body condition should have easily palpable ribs and pelvic (hip) bones, but you should not be able to see these bones from afar. If your kitty has ribs showing he is too thin, if there is a thick layer of fat over the ribs, spine, or pelvis, he is probably overweight.
Example of 5 point Body Condition Score (BCS) System
Example of a 9 Point Body Condition Score (BCS) System
WEIGH YOUR CAT FREQUENTLY and keep a weight diary.
Hospital clients are encouraged to come in any time for weight checks using our scales, or use a baby scale at home. You can also use a regular bathroom scale, weigh yourself holding kitty, then weigh yourself alone and subtract. Keep a monthly diary of trends. If you see an upward trend, make an appointment to discuss the issue with your veterinarian. Do not wait for the once a year annual exam visit with your veterinarian for a weight check. By then, weight gain may already have happened. It is much easier to prevent obesity, than to achieve weight loss. Weight loss in our kitties is difficult! Try to avoid putting yourself and your cat through a weight loss regimen. Catch weight gain early, and before it is a problem, so you can reverse the trend with a minimum of effort and upset for your cat.
BEFORE STARTING ANY DIET CHANGE, BE SURE TO HAVE YOUR PET EXAMINED BY YOUR VETERINARIAN AND DISCUSSS SPECFIC DIET RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUR CAT.
Hospital we are your partners in the health and welfare of your kitty. Please feel free to ask us questions regarding diets and weight control issues. Work with your veterinarian to devise an obesity prevention plan. We will be happy to give you calorie estimates for specifically designed for your kitty. The more we work together, the healthier and slimmer we can keep your feline friend.
For a printable version of this handout please go to our Download Handouts Page.