A Comprehensive Guide To Feline Obesity
The 4-Step Program Doesn’t Work
There is so much talk about the obesity epidemic that is now affecting our beloved housecats. While this is absolutely true, there is so much more talk about how to combat this growing problem, most of it false.
Before the invention of kibble, it was not necessary or recommended to put food down for your cat for the day. Why would your cat need food constantly? Yes, wild cats eat many small meals per day.
However, the food needs to be found, hunted, killed and then eaten. This repeated scenario takes time and energy. Unfortunately for our cats, kibble is actually a matter of convenience for us humans.
I’ll admit, I found it rather appealing when I adopted my first cat. Put down kibble, go to work, party with your friends afterwards, go home, go to bed, get up the next morning, repeat.
But we have, in essence, created miniature kibble zombies that are seemingly always at the food bowl and expanding well past their whiskers. So begins the 4 Step Program.
1. We reduce the quantity of the food and cut out all treats and extras but find they are still gaining weight.
2. We change their food to a reduced fat and/or high fiber offering. Not only do they not like it but even after they finally decide to eat it, if they do, they seem even more famished and are still gaining weight.
3. So next we feed them mealtime only, and now they are a mewing nuisance whenever we walk into the kitchen. Don’t they know they are on a diet? Do they not want to look and climb like a svelte abyssinian? And still they are gaining weight.
4. Next, we get out the interactive toys but alas, still no weight loss, although it’s hard to lose weight when you’re laying on your side haphazardly whacking at the feather with your paw.
Although the human may get some benefit from running and fetching the balls that are also whacked.
This common recommended program of weight loss for your cat will set both of you up for failure.
Diet Does Not Mean Starve
So, we know that the typical 4 Step Program doesn’t work. However, steps 1 (reducing quantity) and 4 (exercise) aren’t exactly necessary if you change steps 2 (changing food) and 3 (feeding mealtime), particularly step 2. It really all comes down to the type of food you feed your cat.
While reducing the quantity of food and feeding mealtime only can be helpful, it won’t be unless you change the type of food that is being fed. By feeding the wrong type of food while reducing the quantity, you will essentially be starving your cat.
The cat requires high levels of protein in its diet and will begin utilizing its own organs and muscle (digesting them) if given a reduced protein diet or a reduced quantity of food thereby reducing the protein load.
The majority of overweight cats are eating a free-choice dry diet. The problem is threefold: too many carbohydrates, not enough animal protein and not enough animal fat.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require certain nutrients that they cannot synthesize which are only found in meat and are able to metabolize only a small amount of carbohydrates.
Diet changes are usually recommended, these include commercial reduced-fat or high-fiber diets. However, feeding your cat a reduced fat diet is essentially the equivalent of starving your cat.
Don’t fall prey to this ideology.
Felines require animal protein and animal fat to thrive. And feeding a high fiber diet can lead to many other medical conditions such as IBS and loss of nutrients.
Dry food typically contains a minimum of 30% carbohydrates.
Cat food should ideally contain almost none! When one nutrient is decreased, the other(s) need to be increased to reach 100%. For most commercial dry foods, this means increasing the carbohydrates.
And yes, corn does contain protein, but cats are not cows. They require animal protein and fat.
Research published in 2011 states that cats ideally choose a diet consisting of:
- Not less than 52% protein content
- Not less than 36% fat content and
- Not more than 12% carbohydrate content
Moreover, cats evolved as desert creatures and as such inherently receive almost all of their water intake from their food. Most cats do not drink enough free water daily to compensate for the low water content found in dry food. Many cats would have to drink 7 – 9 ounces of water per day.
Feeding a dry high carbohydrate diet coupled with a low animal protein/fat diet leads the cat to continuously eat, trying to attain the high animal protein and fat loads it requires.
Unlike humans, cats cannot utilize carbohydrates efficiently, strictly because they do not have the enzymes to do so. And just like humans, unused carbohydrates turn to fat in the body helping to promote obesity.
Guaranteed Weight Loss for the Obligate Carnivore (Cat)
One of the biggest problems with getting cats to lose weight is realizing why they are gaining it. It is wrong to assume that it is only because they are eating too much food, particularly if fed free choice. Limiting carbohydrates is the number one weight loss and weight control tactic.
Many cats fed animal protein and animal fat with limited to no carbohydrates, may actually be fed free choice. Since their protein and fat requirements are reached, these cats will typically stop eating when sated.
Water is essential for feline health and regulation of body functions. Flushing the kidneys and bladder are also important to reduce or negate urinary crystal formation.
Cats that are placed on a wet diet consisting of high meat protein and fat and low carbohydrates will feel full and begin to lose weight. Slow steady weight loss must be adhered to, to prevent hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver).
If the cat is losing weight too fast, its body releases large amounts of fat that travels to the liver where it settles and clogs it so much that the liver no longer functions normally.
Proper weight loss occurs at about 1-2% of its body weight per week. If your cat is losing too much weight too quickly, feed more food.
Calculating Percent Body Weight
- 12 pound cat
- Convert pounds to ounces first (16oz in a pound)
- 12 pounds x 16 ounces = 192 ounces
- 1% of 192 ounces
- 192 oz x .01 = 1.92 ounces per week weight loss
- 2% of 192 ounces
- 192 oz x .02 = 3.84 ounces per week weight loss
Your 12 pound cat should not lose more than about 2-4 ounces per week.
To easily monitor your cat’s body weight purchase a baby scale from any department store. After weight loss is attained, it is a good idea to weigh your cat at least every few months to monitor his weight.
Choosing a Feline Diet for Weight Loss and Maintenance
The good thing about choosing a weight loss food for cats is that the food will be used for maintenance as well. The following is a short list of requirements for choosing a commercial cat food.
If the commercial food in question, meets the following criteria, then look for the quality of ingredients and question the company as to the source of those ingredients. (Percentages are on a dry matter basis – DMB*).
- Protein – from meat and over 45%
- Fat – from meat and over 25%
- Carbohydrates – 0% but not over 10%
- Water – at least 60% (not DMB) this excludes all dry and semi-moist foods!
- Grain-free and soy-free
Basically, the best cat food is a wet food that contains lots of meat and fat. It is as simple as that. Cat food should never contain any grain, soy, vegetables, fruits or ingredients from plant sources such as flaxseed oil.
These ingredients are poorly, if at all, used by the cat. I also recommend canned cat food that contains some organ meat such as liver or kidney (heart is considered muscle meat); many varieties contain none.
For the most part, the worst wet food is better than the best dry food. That’s how important water is to cats. Cats need water from their food.
Most cats do not drink enough water each day to make up for ingesting dry or semi-dry food and dry foods are inherently loaded with carbohydrates. However, there are some high-meat-protein dry foods on the market that can be used to transition cats to a wet only diet.
When comparing ingredient labels, look for multiple animal sources with very few plant sources.
Cats do well on poultry (chicken, duck, turkey, quail, Cornish game hens, etc.) and rabbit, prey like they would naturally hunt. Lamb, venison, pork, beef and fish can also be given.
Beef and fish may be hyper-allergenic in some cats and fish may contain high levels of heavy metals, pesticides, and toxins.
I hate recommending specific commercial brands. Ingredient panels may change, companies get bought out, manufacturing facilities move, etc.
Some brands that I have used to transition my cats to a raw diet are Wellness, Blue Buffalo, and even some of the more meaty Fancy Feast choices.
Do not discount some of the more pricey canned foods such as ZiwiPeak and Wysong as they are typically better utilized by your carnivore, so, he should eat less. In the long run, the better quality expensive foods may be cheaper than the cheap brands.
If you are considering serving a commercial raw diet, there are now, happily, many commercial brands available.
Read the labels as well, a number of the companies make one product for both dogs and cats and they often contain vegetables and fruits.
While dogs may eat vegetables and fruits (they don’t need them either) cats certainly do not benefit from these ingredients at all.
And never feed a “weight management” or “lite” dry or canned food to a cat. For the most part, they are exactly opposite of what a cat should eat, many fillers including fiber to “help a cat feel full”. Meat makes a cat full!
When you are first transitioning your cat(s), feed them as much of the new wet-high-meat-protein/low-carb food as they want. You can then start reducing the amount if they do not lose weight.
Most cats will begin to lose weight immediately even if fed free choice. Don’t forget to weigh them in at least once a week to monitor their weight loss. As your cat loses weight, he will become more active which in turn will help him lose more weight.
Any cat that is a diabetic and on insulin should be monitored carefully.
Switching your cat to this type of diet may require an insulin adjustment (lower dose) within the first day or two of the diet change and thereafter.
If this is not done properly, your cat may become hypo-glycemic which can lead to coma and death.
*Dry Matter Basis (DMB)
Dry Matter Basis removes water from the equation. When foods are considered on a dry matter basis, they can be directly compared to one another. In other words, a canned food with 78% water can now be compared to a dry food that contains 11% water.
At first glance, it appears that the dry food below has more protein than the canned food. However, the canned food on a dry matter basis contains 45% protein as opposed to the dry food which contains 40% protein, when calculated.
To quickly compare ingredients, use my Online DMB Calculator.
- Protein – 36%
- Fat – 18%
- Moisture – 11%
Protein – 10%
Fat – 5%
Moisture – 78%
Calculating the DMB (Dry Matter Basis):
Dry Food Protein = 36%
Dry Food Moisture = 11%
100% (dry and wet) – 11% (wet) = 89% dry
(36% Protein / 89% dry) x 100 = 40% Protein DMB in dry food
Canned Food Protein = 10%
Canned Food Moisture = 78%
100% (dry and wet) – 78% (wet) = 22% dry
(10% Protein / 22% dry) x 100 = 45% Protein DMB in canned food
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