Feline obesity is out of control. Here's how to get your cat back on track to a healthy figure
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When we at Pet Connection say "fat cats," we're not talking Wall Street bankers. The percentage of cats considered to be overweight (10 to 19 percent greater than ideal weight) or obese (20 percent or greater than ideal body weight) has reached a whopping 58 percent, according to a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
That makes excess weight the No. 1 nutritional disorder in cats. Carrying too many pounds is linked to a number of feline health problems. Obese cats are more likely to suffer a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis; feline urinary tract disease; diabetes; lameness; complications from anesthesia; and non-allergenic skin conditions.
What's the skinny on the increase in tubby tabbies? It may be as simple as a lack of recognition of what a healthy cat looks and feels like. A study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery in 2010 found that nearly 34 percent of owners underestimated their cats' body condition score.
Body condition scores rank cats on a 5-point scale, with 1 being emaciated, 2 thin, 3 ideal, 4 heavy and 5 grossly obese. In a hands-on test, it should be easy to feel a cat's ribs and other prominent bones using light pressure. If your cat falls into category 4 or 5, it's time to institute a kitty weight loss plan to help him regain a slim, trim figure.
Start with a veterinary exam to rule out medical problems that might be causing the weight gain. A weigh-in establishes current weight so a goal weight can be determined.
Your first thought might be to cut back on the amount of food you give, but that just leads to a cat who is hungry and unhappy. A different food may be a better option.
Feeding a diet that swaps out carbohydrates for proteins appears to be useful for weight loss, says Margie Scherk, DVM, speaking on feline weight management at the World Feline Veterinary Conference in San Diego, California, last October. And be aware that even 10 extra pieces a day of kibble formulated for normal weight maintenance can cause a cat to gain a pound in a year. Measure food and give it at regular mealtimes instead of free feeding.
Diet is a big part of helping cats lose weight, but getting them moving is important, too. You might not be able to take your cat jogging or get him to walk on a treadmill, but there are plenty of creative ways to add exercise to your pet's life and at the same time provide a more stimulating environment.
An easy way to keep him moving while you're gone during the day is to divide the amount of food he receives daily into six or seven portions. Place each portion in a small container, and hide them throughout the house. Mix up your hiding places so he has to work to find his food each day.
Interactive play is also important. Use toys to encourage him to walk and run around the house. Your cat is a predator, so focus on his love of stalking and chasing. Cats have short attention spans, so playtime of two to five minutes a few times a day is plenty. Since cats are nocturnal, you may find that he is more interested in being active after the sun goes down.
Introduce exercise gently and gradually. Cats who are overweight or obese can injure their joints if they do too much too quickly.
Most important, remember that prevention is best when it comes to obesity. Weight gain is more likely after cats turn 2 years old, so don't let them become sedentary as they mature. That's a heck of a lot easier than trying to change their eating habits or food after they have put on too many pounds.
Dog won't stop
Q: We have a 4 1/2-year-old neutered English springer spaniel who humps my mother. There are two other adults in the house, but he humps only her. Any ideas as to why this would be? -- via email
A: This is one of those embarrassing and common dog behaviors that none of us enjoys. The first thing to know is that humping is normal dog behavior. Dogs hump for three main reasons: to get attention, in play and in response to stress and anxiety.
Your dog may be seeking attention from your mother, he may be excited that she's visiting (if she doesn't live there) or she may have never let him know that it's not acceptable behavior. You need to let him know that his behavior is unacceptable, and teach him an alternative behavior for which he can be rewarded.
Dogs who hump a leg or climb on an arm to hump are often seeking attention. When people laugh, look at them or even tell them to stop, they've gotten a response for their behavior.
If this is how your dog behaves toward your mother, the best thing she can do is to remove her attention altogether. Look the other way, stand up and walk away. You can also remove him yourself. Don't yell, but in a neutral manner take him away and give him a brief timeout of one to three minutes.
The lesson for your dog is that humping puts an end to any attention he might receive. Teach him instead to sit, shake or perform some other activity in her presence. Then she can reward him for acceptable behavior. Even better, pay attention so you can distract him and ask him to perform a command or trick before he begins this unwanted behavior. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cats don't thrive
on veggie diet
-- Can cats be vegetarian or vegan? That depends on how long you want to have a cat, says Kristi Krause, DVM, a board-certified specialist in feline medicine. Cats, with their claws and teeth made for taking down and eating meat, are obligate carnivores, meaning they require certain proteins that can be obtained only from meat. Supplements don't contain enough of the essential amino acids cats need to thrive and survive. Cats who eat a diet that's not meat-based can develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies that affect bone and muscle development; an enlarged heart from lack of taurine; and vision problems.
-- Until recently, neuroscientists believed that neurons such as the eye's photoreceptor cells did not regenerate after being damaged. But new findings from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine showed that in certain forms of early canine blindness, photoreceptor cells in the retina continued to divide when puppies were between 7 and 14 weeks old. Further research will focus on genes involved in turning cells on to divide, in the hope of developing a therapy to interfere with cell death and retinal degeneration. It could eventually help not only dogs, but also people with similar disorders.
-- Rabbits are an age-old symbol of fertility, and for good reason. The furry breeding machines can produce six or more litters a year, with each litter containing five to eight kits (what baby rabbits are called). Do the math: That's at least 30 to 48 baby bunnies per year. During their breeding season, which runs from February to September, female rabbits are constantly pregnant. They can become pregnant again within 24 hours of giving birth. To prevent unwanted pregnancies, spay or neuter rabbits ASAP; they reach sexual maturity between 3 and 6 months of age. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.