Thursday, June 21, 2007

Obesity Epidemic

I saw a huge cat today. Usually we weigh cats with a baby scale in the exam room, but this guy had to be carted to the back to the big scale. We first saw him at 13 lbs, then he has been gaining a pound a year. Last year he jumped up 3 more pounds, now weighing in at 25 pounds.

He eats a prescription diet food, low in fat and high in fiber, but its fed free choice. That's kind of like getting all-you-can-eat Jenny Craig. The owner knows she is partly (mostly?) to blame, but she wants to help him change. He's gotten so big he can't properly clean himself, and his activity level is way down. (She did note that he looks slimmer when he stands up).

We ran some labwork to make sure he doesn't have any other medical problems we need to address (like type II diabetes). If it comes back normal, he is going on a strict new diet, with weigh-ins every 2 weeks. I also gave her some weight-loss strategies for her cat, like hiding the food in tiny amounts around the house to simulate hunting behavior, getting new toys and rotating them to encourage physical activity, and switching to canned, high protein food instead of carb-packed kibble.

Unfortunately, like most Americans, pets are getting really fat. This cat is a statistic - it's mostly neutered indoor male cats that get huge. Neutered and spayed dogs are equally affected. We put our pets in our houses and feed them really calorie-dense food which they don't even have to work for. We get home from a long day at work and want to watch TV, so they sit around more, too. We've taken away their jobs and their external environmental stimulation -- they are BORED and turn to food for comfort.

I think getting dogs to lose weight is actually pretty easy. Go on walks, throw the ball, play tug of war, then reduce their caloric intake (with NO TREATS!) and presto, they lose weight. Cats are a little different. You can't cajole a cat into exercise like you can a dog. You can encourage it, but they still have to think it's their idea.

Also, indoor sedentary cats have an incredibly slow metabolic rate. You can calculate their daily caloric needs, feed them 3/4 of that, and I've seen them defy you and STILL gain weight. So you reduce the chow again, and everyone complains about the paltry amount being fed.

There are no easy answers to weight loss, not even in veterinary medicine, and we don't even have all the food-emotional issues that humans struggle with. I am hopeful for this cat, though. If we can just get him down to 18 pounds, he will have a much better quality, and statistically longer quantity, of life.


Dana said...

Have you wondered why all cats named "OREO" are at least 18lbs??? Seriously--look at our patient list. We don't have one patient named Oreo that's under 18lbs unless it's a kitten. This particular Oreo looked absolutely miserable as he was lying on the table. Let's encourage people to do all the healthy stuff, but most of all, DON'T NAME YOUR CAT OREO!!!

get2eric said...

What a great article. It should be pulished.

I hope the lady does the right thing and pays attention to the diet.

I watch my little cat sized dog and. though I love to make her happy by giving her tiny human food treats, I know she needs to be slender to enjoy life better.

Fat dogs don't do well.

get2eric said...

It should be 'published too!' Sorry

ColeBugsmommy said...

Oops, you'll be seeing my fat cat on Saturday for his yearly exam. At least he isn't 22lbs. It sure is hard to excercise cats (and people).

Lisa said...

I think Dana has discovered the source of the problem!

And I hope you didn't think we were giving Bono treats back when he was over 20 lbs. He throws up anything that isn't his own food. Or is his own food. How can a cat be simultaneously fat & bulimic?

Emily said...

Wow! 25 lbs!?!

My loving, aging cat has gained 1 lb since her younger days, and I worry about that! She still tears around the house and loves to play with her laser light.

EdamameMommy said...

ha ha lisa my furry purry old lady cat is muy muy bulimic too. I think she weighs about 6 lbs because she is lighter than my newborn. I will never have an overweight pet after seeing how people food destroyed my childhood dog.

Laura said...

I had a bulemic cat that was overweight, too. Even on a restrictive diet, her belly was stretched tight. She looked like a football with legs and a tail. I'm sure there's a physiological explanation for the paradox of binge eating, bulemia and being overweight, I just don't know what it is.

Yeonwoo said...

Our problem is that we have two cats- one fat male and one normal female. They are siblings, and the male has been getting cortisone shots for allergies. As you are probably aware, that makes him eat even more...

Leigh-Ann said...

I really think dry cat food causes a lot of problems like this. Yes, it's tidy and convenient, and relatively inexpensive, but it's loaded with carbs, and it's so easy to over-feed. The portions on bags and cans always seem so excessive, too -- I actually feed half the recommended amount and my cats could still stand lose a pound or so (they all weigh about 11 pounds).

I like the idea of hiding treats for the cat to hunt. Could the treats be those little dried shrimp or fish treats that I've seen at pet stores? I'm not sure how protein affect diabetes -- would it be better or worse than kibble?

One thing that worked with an overweight cat we adopted was to make him move around to get his dinner. If I put food in his dish downstairs, I'd make him run upstairs to eat it. He actually seemed to enjoy running the stairs, and now goes up and down all day, without bribes. I guess this only works if you have stairs :)