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‘Fat cat’ is not a good thing

Posted: January 12, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 12, 2013 2:00 a.m.
An overweight cat is not a healthy cat. An overweight cat is not a healthy cat.
An overweight cat is not a healthy cat.

If your cat could make New Year’s resolutions, losing weight might be at the top of the list. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54 percent of American cats are overweight or obese.

That statistic is in line with the clients veterinarian Tracy McFarland of The Cat Doctor & Friends in Saugus sees in her practice.

“It’s more than half. Obesity is a huge problem for cats,” McFarland said. “We use a scale of one to nine. One is the thinnest cat you’ve ever seen, nine the fattest. Ideally, cats are a four or five, but most of the cats I see are a six or seven.”

Like humans, the consequences for being overweight or obese can be extreme, according to McFarland.

“Type 2 diabetes is becoming more frequent in cats from the extra weight and high-carb diets. Additionally, we see a lot of arthritis and chronic constipation from obesity. This can shorten a cat’s life span by at least one to two years,” she said.

Besides the obvious visible signs, McFarland checks for two signs that a cat’s weight has become a serious problem.

“Is a cat able to groom itself all over and can it jump easily, up and down, where it wants to go?” she said.

If not, change is definitely in order. The first step is usually to switch from high-carb, high-calorie dry food to a wet diet that emulates a cat’s natural diet.

“One mouse is about the perfect amount of calories for a cat per day. Canned food is much closer to that than dry. If a cat eats nothing but canned food, it will slim down, as long as owners follow the recommended feeding amounts,” she said.

Overfeeding by owners is a common cause of feline obesity, especially with the high-calorie content of super-premium cat food.

“A person will look at a third of a cup and think, that’s hardly any food, though it’s the recommended amount,” McFarland said.

At The Cat Doctor & Friends, cats are weighed at every visit.

“If a cat is supposed to be 10 pounds, but weighs 11 pounds and is happy, active, and stable, it’s not a crisis. If every time I examine a cat, it’s gained a few more ounces, I don’t like that trend.”

McFarland suggested cat owners invest in a digital baby scale to weight their cat every week or two. If the trend is going upward, cut back on the quantity of dry food or talk to your veterinarian about an all-wet food diet.

Cat owners can also help their felines drop weight by introducing playtime into the daily routine.

“They do need to be motivated to exercise. Cats are not going to look at you to go for a walk, like a dog would,” McFarland said. “Some cats love to play, while others have to be encouraged.”

As cats are naturally motivated by something that moves suddenly and unpredictably, like prey, a feather, teaser wand, or laser pointer all make good choices.

“Just don’t shine the light at the cat’s eyes,” McFarland said. “If you play with string, don’t leave the cat unsupervised with it. Otherwise, you may be giving vets like me extra work to remove the string through surgery.”

Another trick is to incorporate a feeding ball, such as SlimCat by Multi-Vet, into meal time. Food is inserted into the plastic pet-safe ball. Cats activate food to come out of the slots by batting it around, burning calories in the process.

“It would be like us riding a Lifecycle and getting 10 M&Ms for every mile,” McFarland said.

The Cat Doctor & Friends is located at 26055 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus. For more information, visit


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