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Pet Nutrition Articles
How to Feed a Fat Feline
By Darcy Lockman
Last January, Ingrid Duthie's favorite pants became very
uncomfortable. Holiday parties led to extra calories, along
with less time at the gym, for the 40-year-old Detroit native.
She wasn't surprised she'd put on a few additional pounds,
but she was taken aback when she noticed some extra girth
on her 6-year-old cat, Felix, too. "I was probably more aware
of Felix's belly since I was thinking a lot about my own, but
I'd always thought of him as skinny, since he was very thin
as a kitten," she remembers.
At Felix's annual checkup the following month, his
veterinarian confirmed that Duthie's small-boned feline had
added two pounds in the last year -- increasing his weight by
more than 20 percent. He prescribed the following
treatment: fewer calories, more calorie-burning. Below,
veterinarian Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary
Specialists, weighs in on how cats acquire tubby tummies
and how you can help to reverse the damage.
Why Cats Get Fat
According to Dr. Joyce, obesity in domestic felines has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. This is
accompanied by health problems all too familiar to Americans: diabetes, arthritis and even premature
death. But unlike dogs and humans, underlying health issues usually do not cause obesity in cats,
according to Dr. Joyce. "In dogs we'll see hypothyroidism, but it almost never happens in cats," she
says, explaining that this condition slows down an individual's metabolism. Hyperthyroidism, which
causes just the opposite to occur, is far more common among felines.
So what does make Fluffy fat? Lifestyle. "Overweight cats are that way because of overfeeding and
lack of exercise," she says. "Some cats are good at regulating their food intake, but others are not. If
too much food is made available to them, they will eat it." Indoor cats generally don't have much
stimulation in their environment -- they aren't stalking, chasing, jumping. Indoor cats are safe from
trauma, which is obviously critical to their well-being, but they also sit a lot.
How Cats Get Thin
"Weight loss diets have the most successful outcomes," says Dr. Joyce. This includes both a
commercial weight loss formula and portion control. "I recommend wet food, but only because it
seems easier for owners to regulate how much they are feeding. Also, it's eaten in one shot, so if
there are two cats in the household, there is less chance for the fatter cat to eat the skinnier cat's
portion." Dr. Joyce also recommends strictly limiting treats and eliminating table scraps altogether. A
food containing the amino acid L-carnitine may also be beneficial, as it helps to burn fat while
maintaining lean muscle mass.
Though a gym membership may not be in your kitty's future, exercise should be on the menu. But be
prepared. Getting Fluffy moving may take a dedicated and creative owner. "See what your cat
responds to," Dr. Joyce says. "Some enjoy chasing a laser light, which you can operate from the
couch. You can put a cat on a harness and an extendable leash and let it run around an enclosed yard
with you. Make your cat work for its food -- take the bowl and ask it to follow you around the house
to get it." If adopting a kitten is an option, a younger companion's eagerness to play and chase may
also get your adult cat off the couch.
Enlisting Professional Help
Unlike dogs and humans, cats cannot tolerate severe calorie restriction. Consult your veterinarian about
acceptable portion sizes for weight loss in order to avoid fatty liver syndrome, a serious condition
affecting the liver that results when cats do not consume enough calories. Adds Dr. Joyce, "Fatty liver
syndrome is also something to be aware of if you introduce a new cat into the home. The first cat
may go on a hunger strike, to act out, which can seriously endanger its liver functioning." She
suggests monitoring the first cat's food intake closely while the felines become acquainted.
As for Duthie and Felix, both continue to struggle with their weight. "I lost the five pounds I put on
last Christmas, but now it's that post-holiday time of year again, so I'm being careful," Duthie says. "I'm
careful with Felix, too, but progress is slow. It's been ten months after I started him on a diet, and
he's only halfway to his goal weight. He still has another pound to lose!"
Darcy Lockman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications
such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone.