As in humans, obesity is a major problem in cats in this country. Unfortunately, the feline obesity epidemic appears to be getting worse, rather than better. So today we’re going to discuss weight control for cats by showing what works and what doesn’t.
Many veterinarians and cat owners who have tried traditional weight loss diets that are generally high fiber/low fat, have found this approach to be frustrating, since it typically fails to achieve significant weight loss.
Another approach in treating weight control for cats centers around our understanding of their basic nutritional needs and their feeding behavior. The way we feed our cats and what we feed them tend to violate all principles of “ideal” feline nutrition.
Obesity and the Composition of the Diet: One factor that is important to consider in weight control for cats is the role of carbohydrates in the diet – not because they are directly associated with fat – but because of the effect on protein levels in the diet.
The higher the concentration of carbs in the diet, the lower the intake of protein. This leads to a lower-than-needed intake of protein for maintenance and energy. We can never forget that cats are designed to use protein and fat as energy sources and have no need for any carbs in their diet.
Traditional Weight Loss Diets Lead to Wasting Muscles: Traditional weight loss plans used for weight control for cats include feeding them a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet. However, while these diets may lead to weight loss, they do so to the loss of lean body mass, especially as cats use protein for energy.
Successful weight loss regimens require loss of fatty tissue as well as maintenance of lean body mass. Loss of lean body mass is a major contributor to weight regain as appetite is not reduced and satiety not reached.
Feeding High-Protein, Low-Carb Diet is Best: Several recent studies have evaluated use of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet – protein 45% or higher – for weight control in cats. In those studies, cats lost weight but maintained lean body mass.
Importantly, high-protein, low-carbohydrate canned diets not only resulted in sustained weight loss in these cats, but also helped reduce their urge to eat frequently. This is simply because the cats are more likely to be satisfied when feeding a canned or a raw meat diet versus a dry food with fiber.
Stop Free-Choice Feeding: An important point to remember about all diets is that calories count. You cannot “free choice” feed most indoor cats, even with high-protein, low-carb diets, because if they consume too many calories, they will become – and stay – obese. The daily allotment of food should be fed in several small meals to imitate the cat’s natural feeding strategy of hunting and catching about ten small prey animals per day.
Calculating Calories for Weight Control for Cats: One key point for obesity prevention or correction is balancing the energy intake/energy expenditure equation. In indoor cats, where exercise is reduced by the nature of the lifestyle, energy restriction becomes paramount to obesity prevention or correction.
The key point is to set a target calorie intake, make sure you are feeding a high-protein food to protect muscle mass and prevent protein malnutrition, weigh the cat monthly, and adjust the amount of food based on weight loss.
The Bottom Line for Weight Control for Cats: Energy restriction can be achieved by low-fat, high-fiber diets, but most of those diets are not high enough in protein to protect muscle. Such loss of muscle mass results in an unhealthy weight loss and a strong tendency to regain weight.
It is estimated that as many as 48% of domestic cats are overweight. Helping a cat lose weight is the most important thing you can do to ensure your cat’s long-term health and wellbeing.
If your cat is struggling with weight control, call our office today to schedule an appointment so we can address the issue and get him or her back on track.