Obesity is an accumulation of excess body fat which can negatively impact a cat’s health and longevity. Many of us sadly do not realise when our cat is overweight, often both feeding too much at mealtimes and giving too many treats (possibly to alleviate the guilt associated with leaving the cats all day whilst going to work). Obese cats are those that are at least 20 percent heavier than their optimum weight, with a cat who is 10-19 percent heavier being classed as overweight. Long-term studies suggest that obesity may shorten a cats life expectancy and makes them more susceptible to disease.
Some cats may be more predisposed to obesity, these being:
- Middle age or senior cats – when their activity levels naturally decline
- Domestic cats – over purebred cats
- Male cat’s vs females
- Anxious, nervous, or living with emotional or physical stress
- Spayed/castrated cats – this reduces their energy requirement, but their appetite may increase
- Indoor cats
- Cats suffering from stress – emotional, physical or both
Obesity puts pressure on the cat’s joints and internal system, leading to a variety of health risks, including arthritis. Obese cats are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and have a compromised immune system; they are more prone to urinary stones. Cardiovascular and respiratory systems are also affected by obesity, leading to heart problems, and breathing complications. They may become glucose intolerant and develop non-allergic skin conditions. Feline urinary disease is another condition that may develop in obese cats along with hepatic lipidosis (which comes with a fatal risk).
All these health implications naturally impact upon the behaviour of the cat. As we will know from when we ourselves feel unwell, cats also become more ill-tempered, snappy, and irritable when they are not in good health; they may also become withdrawn, bored, and depressed. Obesity will make it harder for them to groom themselves, so they may develop skin conditions which will further compromise their wellbeing. As they will also not be able to play and move around in an agile way when overweight, this can impact on their emotional health as an overweight cat is unable to react as quickly when they need to, leaving them feeling anxious and distressed. Physical inactivity, indoor confinement (which may lead to depression and extended periods of sleeping) can all lead to an increase in obesity, with the main contributing factor being over-feeding combined with a lack of mental and physical stimulation (Martin, G., Rand, J.S., 2004).
Martin, G., Rand, J.S., (2004) ‘Feline Obesity: Causes, Consequences and Management’ Available from: https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?meta=&pId=11181&id=3852204