Advice from the Experts

Help your cat beat the battle of the bulge

02/15/2013
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By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services


Loads of Americans have developed spare tires around their middles, and so have many of our pets. Cats are particularly portly; about 55 percent of tabbies are tubby, says the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Some suggest this is a conservative number.

According to the Banfield Pet Hospital 2012 State of Pet Health Report, there's been a whopping 90 percent rise in overweight and obese cats since 2007. Yet, nearly 70 percent of cat owners say their purring pal is purr-fectly svelte. Cats don't become hefty overnight, so some owners just can't tell; without visiting a veterinarian, they have no idea what their pet weights. Other owners have a skewed idea of what cats should look like, thinking tubby is cute. Still other owners are simply in denial.

In any case, the rise of portly cats has become epidemic, and the impact is undeniable. Diabetes and arthritis have never been so prevalent in cats. In fact, behavior problems -- which can lead to euthanasia -- may be more common in overweight cats. For example, weight gain may contribute to arthritis, so it hurts kitty to step into the litter box or walk up/down the stairs leading to the box. Some pudgy cats can barely fit into a litter box. As a result, some have accidents and are relinquished to shelters or simply left outdoors to fend for themselves.

Some cancers are associated with obesity, and a lack of mental and physical exercise may heighten the probability of cognitive dysfunction (dementia) in older cats. Obese cats also have difficulty grooming themselves.

So, why are there so many tubby tabbies today? There are several explanations:

1. Spay/neuter: More cats than ever are being spayed or neutered (about 90 percent), which is good. However, there's a consequence to these procedures, which is seldom discussed. Cats who've been "fixed" do experience a drop in energy needs, yet tend to be hungrier. As a result, they have a tendency to beg for table food, or even cat food, often "training" their people to give it to them. This eventually becomes a vicious cycle: The cats pack on pounds as their metabolism slows, making exercise less likely, further boosting weight gain.

2. Free feeding: Leaving food out 24/7 in multi-cat homes makes it impossible for owners to keep track of which cat has eaten what. Cats do train us very well as their automatic food dispensers.

3. Indoors only: Studies show outdoor cats spend about 17 percent of their time traveling/hunting. Indoor-only cats are safer, but do spend far more time napping.

So, what to do? Exercise isn't only important for dogs and people. Use an interactive toy to engage your kitty. Hide food treats in puzzle balls and toys around the house when you're not home so your little lion can "hunt." Enrich your cat's environment by providing toys and lots of places to climb and scratch. Note: Toys can be as simple as an empty box or plastic cap from a milk bottle.

Some indoor cats enjoy walking outside on a leash and harness. "Catios" are the cat's meow -- a trend in New York City and elsewhere whereby patios and porches are enclosed, keeping felines in and potential predators out. Learn more about enriching your pet's environment in a free handout from Dr. Tony Buffington's Indoor Pet Initiative: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/

For spayed/neutered cats yet to win the battle of the bulge, there's good news. The new Spayed/Neutered cat food from Royal Canin provides a unique blend of appetite-curbing fibers, and the donut-shaped kibble slows down cats' eating, (There's a Spayed/Neutered diet available for kittens to senior cats.)

Remember that a year in a cat's life is equivalent to about four or six human years. Make sure your pet sees a veterinarian at least once a year for preventive care, which includes being weighed. Owners are often unaware their cat has become plump. Veterinarians are the best source of advice on weight loss. Beware: Crash diets may cause fatty liver disease, which can be fatal.

Diabetes can be difficult for pet owners to recognize (another reason for veterinary visits). Diabetic cats do require insulin, such as ProZinc, specifically created for cats. It turns out that with exercise and a high protein/low carbohydrate diet, weight loss may follow, and some cats then go into remission.

Through diet and scheduled feedings, even spayed/neutered cats may not be so determined to eat. And for those who are already rotund, veterinarians can create a plan to enhance your cat's quality of life, and maybe even extend the pet's life.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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