Meet Jeffrey. In March, Jeffrey weighed 17 pounds, 1 ounce, and had a jungle pouch that he liked to show the world. When he strode across the room, that jungle pouch swung to and fro like a gelatinous pendulum, and when he rolled onto his back, he loved to ooze his extra inches sexily onto his owner’s lap. We could call Jeffrey “Everycat” in that he represents a cat we all live with now, or have lived with at some point in time: the overweight, carbohydrate-addicted, indoor cat.
One of my own cats, Frankie, looks a lot like Jeffrey. In fact, maybe they share some DNA somewhere along the line, like that 1990s game Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Frankie and Jeffrey are both neutered, large boned, indoor males. I’ve had innocently deluded clients refer to these cats as “muscular” and “meaty” when in fact, they are overweight. I myself often refer to them as “robust,” which is a nice way to softening what I say next: it’s time to calculate an accurate calorie intake and talk about how to help the Jeffrey’s and Frankie’s of the world lose weight.
Cats are obligate carnivores and have little use for carbohydrates. Feral cats that hunt and aren’t fed by humans eat very little carbohydrates. The biologically natural meal for the feline is high in protein (lots of muscle and organ meat), high in moisture, variable in minerals (calcium and phosphorus are acquired from crunching raw bones), and low in carbs (just what happens to be in the GI tract of the prey).
The feline’s ability to process and use carbohydrates has not kept pace with the evolution of the pet food industry. Over the last several decades, for purposes of cost-effectiveness, convenience, and availability, dry carbohydrate-based feline diets were developed, but the feline is not very well-adapted to use them. The cat is unable to store large quantities of glycogen in the liver, so carbohydrates are quickly converted to fat. Combine with that the extreme caloric-density of dry diets (many premium brands are 400-500 calories per cup), made readily available in a bowl, and readily eaten by the bored cat, and suddenly you have a Jeffrey or a Frankie.
Anyone who has ever tried to get a heavy cat to lose weight knows they’d have an easier time walking a walrus on a leash. But there is a very effective way to diet overweight cats: the canned food diet. Cats are your ultimate “Atkins dieters,” and canned food is your ultimate high protein, low carbohydrate diet. At the Cat Hospital of Portland, each of our vets can quickly calculate a calorie intake appropriate for your cat’s ideal weight, and then subtract about 20% of that total to compensate for both neutering and a sedentary lifestyle.
Breaking the total recommended calorie intake into two to three meals a day is a good way to ensure you monitor exactly what is, and what is not, being eaten. It’s very important to acknowledge here that some cats refuse to eat canned foods, and there is an excellent website that can help people slowly transition their cats to canned (Dr. Pierson’s www.catinfo.org). It’s also important to state that we cannot “crash diet” cats or allow them to go hungry–this is very dangerous and can lead to serious liver complications. Our vets here can discuss all of these things with you to ensure you understand exactly how to undertake a feline weight loss challenge.
Jeffrey’s owners were committed to his weight loss. They understood the ramifications of overweightedness in the cat are diabetes mellitus, arthritis, urinary disorders, constipation, anal gland impaction, and genital soiling issues. Over the course of six months, they fed Jeffrey three canned meals a day of about 3oz per meal, plus a very restricted number of dry dental treats. He ate a total of between 250-260 calories per day, and some of this food was made available in a timed feeder for their convenience.
On Saturday, Jeffrey had his first weigh in and accomplished exactly 1.5 pounds of weight loss in six months, which was about 9% of his total body weight! While this might sounds like a modest change, this is considered highly successful in the feline world.
I envy Jeffrey’s owners’ success. My own cat, Frankie, remains overweight despite my vigilance, mainly because after ten years of carb addiction, he will not eat a significant amount of canned food. For those of you with cats like Frankie, talk to me about Royal Canin Calorie Control Hi Protein. With measured feedings, I’ve kept his weight fairly stable…in other words, he won’t lose much, but neither will he gain. Never forget the staff here at Cat Hospital of Portland is always ready and willing to help you with your specific cat challenges!