Fat Cats

Cats, like people, have different body types, eating habits, and life styles.  It is true that a larger framed cat will carry more weight just like “big boned” people. Healthy Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats, for example, easily weigh in at 18#.  However, many cats, particularly those that are indoor only and limited in their exercise, are overweight. This can sometimes create health problems such as arthritis, diabetes mellitus and hepatic lipidosis.

Arthritis is an aging change in the joints that can occur in cats, but will be exacerbated by one carrying too much weight. If your pet is sedentary and loves to eat then develops either knee or hip arthritis, the lack of muscle tone combined with too much weight can compromise that pet’s mobility when they become older. If your cat is overweight, talk to your veterinarian about a weight loss program. Just like people, decreased calorie intake and increased exercise is the best remedy. Some people feel feeding only canned food helps since it is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein. Lower carbohydrate diet can help with weight loss.

Diabetes Mellitus in some cats is thought to be similar to type II diabetes in people. Too much carbohydrate “exhausts” the pancreatic cells that make insulin and those cells take a vacation and stop making insulin, so cats will have high blood sugar. As a result those cats drink more water, urinate more and are very hungry while they lose weight.  Some medications, such as steroids and synthetic hormones, can increase the chances of developing Diabetes Mellitus, particularly in overweight cats. In some cases diabetes can be reversed with a high protein diet, perhaps with short term use of insulin. More often reversal is successful if insulin therapy is used.

Hepatic lipidosis is a life-threatening disease that occurs when the body moves fat to the liver after a period of fasting. Big changes in the environment - moving to a new house or a new pet - or medical conditions that cause cats not to eat, can trigger this disease which can occur after about 4 days of not taking in calories. Overweight cats are more prone to this because they have more fat to mobilize. See your veterinarian if your cat has such a hunger strike for ANY reason, more so if you cat is overweight.

Keeping your cat on the thinner side can be a challenge particularly for those of us that work long hours and struggle to exercise them.  Using a laser light, food dispensing toys and restricted calories as well as frequent weigh-ins will all help in keeping your cat healthy.

Blog Post Author: 
Merrianne Burtch, DVM, DACVIM