Stemming from their evolutionary past as an obligate carnivore, the cat has unique metabolic and nutritional needs. The term obligate carnivore refers to an animal that not only gets by, but thrives without any source of carbohydrate in its diet. The cat’s natural source of food supplies it with all the nutrients it needs, mainly protein and fat. Protein is made up of amino acids, and from these amino acids, the cat’s body is able to make glucose, a component of carbohydrates that is required for proper brain function.
Dry Food and Carbohydrates
Look at the content of any dry cat food and there is quite a difference between what cats actually need and what they are getting. Dry foods deliver about 5 times more carbohydrates than the diet they would be eating in the wild. Dry foods claiming to be ‘light’ or ‘weight management’ often alter the fat content, but do nothing to the level of carbohydrates, which will not aid in weight loss.
This is not to say that cats being fed a wet, canned diet cannot become obese. In fact, obesity is mostly due to being fed more than what is required for maintenance. Free feeding allows the animal to eat how much it wants, whenever it wants. This may sound more convenient than sticking to set meal times, but some cats cannot be trusted to stop when they are full.
Lack of Activity
Indoor cats do not burn as many calories as outdoor cats. There are also more likely to eat out of boredom. Keeping cats indoors is obviously safer because it eliminates them wandering into the street and getting hit by a car. However, indoors there is an abundance of food that they do not have to work for. Cats do not have ample opportunities to use their natural play or hunting behaviors.
Cat owners must find ways to get their cats moving and decrease boredom. Providing an array of stimulating toys and climbing furniture is one solution. It is not always necessary to spend a lot of money on fancy cat toys. A large paper bag or box will peak the interest of most cats. Playing with your cat for a few minutes throughout the day will give it the bursts of exercise that it needs. Give it access to as many rooms in the house as possible so it can roam freely.
Lower the Carbohydrates
Portion control is a big part of weight loss, but dramatically reducing the amount of food given is not the answer. This may cause the cat to scavenge to alleviate hunger and can mess with normal metabolic function. Switching to a low carbohydrate diet such as canned food is one possibility. Canned foods are high in protein and moisture, and low in carbohydrate. They more closely resemble the natural diet of cats.
As with any change in diet, the transition must be made slowly to avoid digestive upset. Begin to mix in a small portion of the new food in with the old. If all goes well, gradually increase the amount of new food over a period of a couple weeks until the switch is complete. Please consult a veterinarian for advice on weight management.
Obesity is a very dangerous condition. It increases the risk of many diseases including diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, and osteoarthritis as well as early death.