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Why Do Cats Get Fat?

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The internet is going crazy over chunky cats, but as loving cat parents, we know that health is above cuteness when it comes to our little fluffy friends. And while some might believe it’s natural for a cat to be curvy since all they do is sleep all day, others think that cats are becoming couch potatoes because of humans.

But what’s the real reason behind this issue?

Why do cats get fat? Cats that are less active tend to be overweight, but poor-quality food and underlying health problems can also contribute to weight gain. While dry diets that have more carbohydrates are often blamed, total calories in vs total calories burned is the most important factor to consider. 

Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why cats get fat, the risks of feline obesity, and the ways you can deal with it. But before we get into that, let’s make sure we know exactly what “fat” means for a cat.

What Should A Cat Weigh?

A healthy cat can come in a variety of sizes and weights, but unfortunately, feline obesity has been on the rise for the last few years. McDaniel, VMD, and a lecturer in clinical sciences warn that “probably 50% of cats seen at veterinary clinics these days are overweight, if not obese.”

But finding a specific number to describe the ideal weight can be difficult for cats, especially with so many breeds and diversity between felines. That’s why veterinarians and other professionals use a standard system called the body condition score instead of assigning a specific weight expectation to a cat.

According to the most commonly used body condition charts, cats with an ideal weight have “ribs are palpable, but with minimal fat covering. There should be a noticeable waist behind the ribs, a slight abdominal tuck with no fat pad.”

The overweight cat on the other hand has ribs that are much more difficult to see and several additional fat deposits that will vary based on how overweight the cat is. Most people know a fat cat when they see one, but charts like these can help professionals speak the same language about what an overweight cat really looks like.

Finally, another study has shown that your cat’s fur condition can be another sign of obesity. “If they have greasy patches of hair, matted fur, or flaky skin, they may be overweight and unable to clean that area of their body.”

Why Do Cats Get Fat?

Realizing that your kitty has put on weight might be the first step towards improving their health, but it’s also important to understand the reasons behind this change for a successful recovery.

1. Lack Of Exercise

Cats need playtime and as cat parents, this responsibility falls on us! Just like dogs needs regular walks, our cats need regular interactive play! Not only is this good for the mental health of our cats, but it also helps our feline friends burn more calories- which means less fat.

A lack of exercise is tied with too much eating as the number one reason why our cats get fat and addressing both of these issues will help the vast majority of cats.

Some people might blame the lack of playful interactions on their cat and assume that their feline friend is a bit lazy. In some cases, cats are giving us the signal and even going so far as bringing us their toys but we’re not always getting the picture! As with humans, this can lead to discouragement and inactivity. Then again you might need to dig deeper into what motivates your “lazy” kitty to get off the couch and play.

The key to a successful game session is figuring out what makes their pupils dilate with excitement and their butts wiggle! Is it a feathery toy on a stick, a mouse, or a ball? According to Debra Horwitz, DVM, from VCA Hospitals cats and kittens “often prefer small objects that can easily be moved with their paws or grasped in the mouth.” She also warns to, “avoid objects that are so small that they could be ingested and cause intestinal blockage.”

If bouncy toys don’t do it for your cat try a puzzle feeder that your cat can roll around in order to get their food, not only do they promote activity, but mental stimulation as well. Installing a cat tree is another way to help your cat be more fit. With toys or low-calorie treats, you could motivate your cat to climb, while by placing a tall cat tree in front of a window you might find them going all the way to the top to get a better view of the outside and the passing birds.

If a cat tree works for your cat try creating an agility course that doesn’t have to cost a thing! “Use various household items to create a small obstacle course in your home, then use a highly desirable toy or treat to lure your cat over, under, and through various obstacles in order to promote activity.”

Check out these creative cat parents and the amazing toilet paper events they made for their cats!

You can also make your cat more active during feeding time by placing the food bowl on an elevated surface or dividing it into small portions and placing it in different areas around the house. You can also introduce a super simple food puzzle, like this one on Amazon, to make your cat do little work before they eat. There are dozens of food distribution toys out there and even if your cat isn’t excited about balls there’s probably a toy that already matches their playstyle.

Being a busy cat parent myself, I know that life can make it difficult to find time to engage in physical activities with our kitties but dedicating a portion of our time to our feline companions is the least we can do. Dr. Jonathon Lidbury suggests that playing with our cats also benefits cat owners.

He explains that not only do cats, “Offer companionship, which is especially beneficial to people who are socially isolated, due to various reasons, but they also offer stress relief and light exercise if you play with them.” So, instead of thinking of it as a chore, think of it as a fun escape from reality with your fluffy familiar!

2. High Caloric Intake

One of the main reasons your kitty might be putting on weight is of course overeating. There are a few reasons why your kitty is consuming more food than it should and one of the most common ones is having unlimited access to it. While some cats certainly handle free access to food, others simply can’t.

Having a constantly full bowl and filling it the moment it empties can make it difficult to keep track of the required daily portions, and no matter how good your cat’s food brand is, it still doesn’t mean they can eat as much of it as they want.

Then again, if your kitty is free to go outside, they might be getting food from another source. They could be roaming through trash, hunting for birds or the most common explanation could be your friendly neighbor. Even if you’re following the right instructions and giving your kitty the proper portions, if they’re offered an extra bowl of food elsewhere chances are, they’ll take it.

Being more mindful of the portions your kitty eats, you might also realize that you’ve been unintentionally spoiling your cat with treats. Because they can be small in portion and given out throughout the day, for good behavior or after a few persistent meows, it’s easy to lose track of how many treats they’ve been given. And while they come from a place of love the result can be dangerous

And if you’re giving your cat people food, then it’s time to stop! Realize that your little cat is just a fraction of your size so what might be a small amount of food for you could be almost an entire day of calories for your cat.

A great way to address this issue is by measuring how much your cat eats in a day, cat food and treats alike. This way your cat’s veterinarian will have a clear picture of your cat’s daily food intake and they’ll be able to create a safe and effective weight loss program!

Don’t starve your kitty, but make gradual changes. Proper nutrition, as well as hydration, is important and with wet food, your kitty will get important nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and it’s also highly digestible

3. Pregnancy

This might seem like an impossible explanation for some. Maybe you think your cat is too young, or never made it outdoors. But according to the MSD Veterinary Manual, “the queen (female cat) can enter her first heat as young as 4 months of age, and she generally has 2 or 3 cycles during the breeding season, typically February to October.”

While that’s probably surprising to some cat parents, cats are driven to find as many mates as possible relatively early in life- at least from our perspective. So even if your young cat has only made it out of the house for a short time, there’s a chance that instead of being fat your cat is actually pregnant.

Since cat pregnancy can last from 58 to 70 days and according to studies, “a healthy, well-fed queen will experience steady weight gain throughout the pregnancy,” it’s possible to mistake this physical change with simple weight gain.

The easiest way to not only prevent pregnancy but also help your female cat live a longer, healthier life is to make sure they’re spayed! In many areas across the world, you can get a low-cost or completely free surgery for your cat and PetSmart has a great resource for finding clinics near you.

For more information, read our article on the topic is a cat pregnant or just fat.

4. Stress-eating

Cats are stress-prone creatures and their anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, one of them being overeating. Recent changes to your cat’s environment can cause anxiety and even depression.

If for example, you’ve adopted another cat your kitty might begin to stress eat in an effort to ensure that the new cat won’t take away his food. If you’ve been away from home for long hours or on holidays your cat might find solace in the oversized portions of food you’ve been living behind.

While an automatic feeder might help with the portions, over-eating might just be one of the signs that they’re stressed. Staying in one room all day, excessive meowing, overgrooming, as well as lethargy or aggression can be great indicators that there’s something wrong.

That’s why dealing with your cat’s stress should be your priority. It won’t only ensure that they won’t gain any unhealthy weight, but that they’re also living their best life!

5. Spaying And Neutering

Some might believe that their cat’s weight gain is caused by spaying/neutering, but this isn’t exactly true. While it might decrease your cat’s metabolism and it could lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, this procedure still isn’t enough to cause such major changes in their body.

Krista Williams, BSc, DVM explains that “if you monitor their body condition and make appropriate adjustments to their nutrition and lifestyle – including regular exercise time – you can prevent this weight gain.”

Cats are on average spayed and neutered when they’re 5 to 6 months old which means that they’re not kittens anymore and as energetic as they once were. Living indoors can further affect their motivation to explore, thus, decreasing their activity.

So, before you think of blaming spaying and neutering you must realize that there are many other more serious factors that can cause weight gain. This procedure is also important for your kitty’s health and the Humane Society of the United States states that neutered/spayed cats have a longer life span and the risk of certain types of cancers is reduced.

Cats also tend to be more aggressive when they’re out to find a mate and neutering/spaying your kitty should reduce their natural instincts and the urge to fight. It also reduces the chances of them running away from home as well as the birth of stray kittens. If you’ve got a cat in heat, you can find a list of low-cost spay/neuter clinics across the globe thanks to PetSmart by clicking here.

What Are The Risk Factors For Obesity In Cats?

Knowing why your kitty is gaining weight is vital, but it’s also important to know the risks obesity poses and the serious problems it can cause whether they’re short-term or long-term.

Reduced Quality Of Life

A study that was done by Kendy T. Teng, of the Sydney School of Veterinary Science, showed that cat parents with a relaxed attitude toward their cat’s weight were more likely to have fatter cats. No surprises there.

But this attitude of neutrality or favoritism towards overweight cats is quite dangerous and it can result in a reduced quality of life for the poor kitty. The weight can stress their joints, tendons, and ligaments, as well as causing arthritic changes.

This pain can stop your cat from climbing their cat tree, jumping up and down from high places, and could result in a couch potato attitude. The extra weight can also put pressure on the lungs, making breathing a difficult task and further keeping them from being active. This can lead to boredom, stress, and depression where problematic toilet behaviors can easily fester.

That’s why to keep your kitty pain-free mentally and physically we’re also responsible for their growing pouch!

Health Issues

Obesity in cats can be caused by a serious health condition, but it can also cause an illness in return. That’s why it’s crucial that you don’t ignore your cat’s weight even if it seems that it’s still at an early stage. Diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory issues, and heart disease are some of the illnesses caused by obesity.

Studies also have shown that “in people, cats, and dogs, obesity is associated with an increased prevalence of certain types of cancer, and with a shortened life span.”

While most of us realize that a healthy lifestyle will reduce the possible illnesses our cat can develop, it’s also important to note that older overweight cats will have even more odds of becoming ill. The findings that have been published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association point out that “We do have concerns with obesity in middle age because we know that can lead to diseases for cats, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and cancer.”

Surgical Risks

Finally, your cat’s weight can lead to complications during surgery, and can even lead to death. Obesity can affect your cat’s lung, heart, and kidney function, affecting the way your cat will metabolize anesthetic drugs, and potentially lead to an overdose.

During the procedure, the vet no matter how good they might be might find it difficult to reach the target. And even if everything goes smoothly, the recovery might be more difficult because of the extra weight and cause further issues during the healing process.

How To Manage Your Cat’s Weight In A Multi-Cat Household

It can already be difficult to keep an eye on one cat, so when it comes to a household with multiple cats, things can get even more confusing. Since our feline companions all have unique personalities and different needs, they can also react differently to a bowl constantly filled with food.

When I brought my first cat into my home, I was a complete newbie. I kept the food bowl full all day and my cat would nibble on it throughout the day. He never ate more than he needed and was at a perfect weight.

This experience really made me think that having a cat is a piece of cake, and while it can be, my second cat taught me that there also can be a few challenges. This little rascal wouldn’t stop until the bowl was empty leaving my other cat hungry and his belly too full for his own good.

So, I knew I had to do my research and set a few rules. I made sure to feed them separately, and followed the appropriate portions recommended by my vet. I minimized the number of treats a gave them and I dedicated more time to play sessions.

If you have the same problem, where one of your cats is insatiable and you find that feeding them separately isn’t feasible then you could try this very cool microchip-based feeder on Amazon. This feeder will make sure that all your cats are adequately fed and thanks to the chip recognition technology no one will be able to steal food from each other ever again!

Should I Consult A Veterinarian Before Starting A Weight Loss Plan?

The most important part of being a cat parent is making sure that you take your kitty for regular check-ups and those should also include weighing your cat. With regular visits, you and your vet will be able to keep your cat’s health and weight under control and most importantly your vet will have more information at hand in order to create a suitable weight loss plan.

A good veterinarian will ask you some important and detailed questions about your cat’s diet, exercise, and general wellbeing. They will perform a thorough physical examination, and depending on your kitty’s condition they’ll do some blood and laboratory tests. In case your kitty needs treatment, you should listen to your vet and follow their instructions.

Since cats are good at hiding their pain and discomfort, seeing them putting on weight should be enough to visit your local pet clinic. It’s important to know that you can always ask for a second opinion from a different veterinarian, or you could visit a specialized pet weight clinic if it’s available in your area.

Closing Thoughts

Being a cat parent comes with loads of perks, but it also comes with many responsibilities, and their weight is part of that.

There’s no shame in realizing that your kitty has put on weight, the most important thing is to seek advice from your vet, and stick to the plan of action you’ve been given.

Don’t forget to show your cat that you love them with lots of games instead of treats!

Now it’s your turn to tell us if you’ve ever wondered why do cats get fat and did you ever have to deal with your cat’s insatiable food cravings?

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