As of 2014, about 55% of cats are overweight or obese. “Pet obesity remains the leading health threat to our nation’s pets.” says Association for Pet Obesity Prevention founder Dr. Ernie Ward. “We continue to see an escalation in the number of overweight cats and an explosion in the number of type 2 diabetes cases.”
As you probably already know, obesity is a huge problem in our companion cat populations - no pun intended. It predisposes cats to arthritis, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, an inability to groom properly, kidney disease, cancer, heart and lung disease, and up to 2.5 years decreased life expectancy. Despite the known risk factors associated with obesity, cat owners are often reluctant to begin a weight loss program for their cats because they think it will negatively impact their relationship and lead to unwanted behaviours, such as increased urine marking, inappropriate elimination, destructive and/or aggressive behaviours. Many cat owners feel like if they put their cat on a diet, their cat won’t be affectionate towards them anymore. However, a study published in the 2016 January/February Journal of Veterinary Behavior found exactly the opposite: cats that were put on a calorie restricted diet were actually perceived to be more affectionate with their owners.
Fifty-eight indoor similarly aged overweight cats were put on a calorie restricted diet and observed by their owners for 8 weeks. The cat owners answered questions about their cats’ behavior at 4 and 8 weeks, and the cats were weighed at those times as well. The owners were asked about changes in begging, meowing, following, and pacing before feeding, and purring, resting, using litterbox, and jumping in the owner’s lap after feeding.
Most of the cats lost weight (38 out of 58). Behavior wise, many cats displayed increased begging, following, meowing, and pacing before feeding, however, they did not start begging earlier, just more intensely.
The cats also displayed an increase in affection and after-feeding satiety with more resting contentedly in the owner’s lap, more affectionate behavior, and using their litterbox more after eating. There was little change in between the 4 week weigh-in and the 8 week weigh in except an increase in post-meal purring.
Of note, none of the truly undesirable behaviors such as urine spraying or aggression to the owner occurred with food restriction sufficiently often to warrant any statistical testing: no urine spraying was noted and aggression was only noted in 2 cats! In conclusion, the authors agreed that putting a cat on a diet caused a statistical increase in affection for the owners and did not damage the relationship between human and cat - a fact that should encourage you if your veterinarian tells you to put your kitty on a diet!
If you think your cat is overweight, schedule a check with your local veterinarian before starting a weight loss plan. Your veterinarian can make sure there are no other underlying problems, give you a goal weight to shoot for, and exact amounts of calories to feed daily. Visit The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention for more information on obesity in cats, and more tips and tricks on how to get (or keep) your cat at a healthy weight.