1. What factors contribute to feline obesity?
The absolute biggest controllable factor is diet. Exercise plays a part, but if you’ve ever tried to exercise a cat, you know that in most cases this is not a particularly controllable variable. Sometimes just plain old overfeeding is the problem. Remember that food packages usually slightly overestimate the amount you should feed your pet. No matter how ethical the company, they are out to sell food, and they are also out to make your cat look good on their food (not a bad thing at all). Sometimes it’s less about how much and more about what kind. Cats, like people, have a very easy time gaining weight when they are on high carbohydrate diets. My first dietary recommendation for generally healthy pets that are trying to lose weight is to cut out the carbs. This means a raw, canned, or home cooked diet as all dry food needs carbohydrate to act as a binder and make it kibble shaped. Genetics and health status also play a part.
2. What factors do you take into consideration in determining what the ideal weight for a particular cat should be?
I use body condition scoring on a 9 point scale. This looks less at the pounds registered on a scale and more at how the cat’s body looks.
3. Are there commonly accepted standards with regard to weight?
Yes, there is a body condition score system that is accepted and widely used among veterinarians. When using this system it is important to always specify the number over nine (ex. 4/9) as there is another system that is on a scale of five.
4. How would a pet parent determine that their cat may be overweight?
The chart below is very helpful. Ideally I like to see pets between 4 and 5.
5. What is the best way for a pet parent to help their overweight cat achieves the ideal weight?
The absolute best way is to focus on the diet. Cats and carbs do not get along well. Cats are obligate carnivores and their bodies are designed to handle protein and fat, they are not designed to handle carbs well. Focusing on serving sizes, trying to stop free feeding, and eliminating starchy carbohydrates are incredibly helpful steps in the feline weight loss game.
6. Do you generally recommend a particular type of diet for most cats?
Yes. I recommend meat based/meat only foods across the board. Always make sure the diet you are feeding is complete and balanced (or that you are using supplements to make it so). My favorite foods for cats are meat based raw foods like RadCat or Nature’s Variety. I also like foods like Wild Calling that offer canned foods that are made of meat, vitamin/mineral supplements, and nothing else.
7. What are the pros and cons of a raw diet for cats?
For an average, healthy cat, raw food is the way to go. Cats are technically domesticated but, unlike dogs, we only started really raising them and feeding them purposefully in recent history. Until recently the vast majority of cats fed themselves entirely a diet of prey, or strongly supplemented their diet with prey animals. Many cats who have access to prey still do this, but equally as many do not or do not have access to prey. Because of our recent history of feeding cats, their digestive systems have not co-evolved with our eating habits nearly as much as dogs’ have. The require a diet that is as close to a diet of wild-caught mice as possible. The cons are that raw food requires special storage, and some cats are not fans of the texture or taste.
8. Should we feed our cats the same food we eat?
I wouldn’t recommend it. Cats don’t digest plant matter very well unless it has been very processed. It is unlikely to cause a problem in most cases, but it is not likely to be very nutritious. For example, my crazy cat loves to eat broccoli and asparagus stems, which I allow him to do, but I don’t expect that this will be anything more than dietary fiber for him.
9. Should we feed our cats dog food (canned or dry)?
No. You should never feed a cat food that is not labeled to be for cats. Dog food is not as rich as cat food and may be deficient in nutrients your cat needs. Specifically, the vast majority of dog foods do not have added taurine, an amino acid that is easily degraded by any heat processing and that is an essential nutrient for cats.
10. What should a pet parent look for when purchasing commercial dry or canned cat food?
Look for low or no carbohydrates and a meat based diet.
11. Do you have recommended diets for cats who suffer from particular diseases such as diabetes, cardiac issues, food allergies or arthritis?
I do, these diets are prescription recipes that I use with my patients. They are like the prescription diets sold by conventional veterinarians, so they are only appropriate when prescribed by a vet.
12. Do you recommend nutritional supplements for our feline companions?
It depends. If you are feeding a high quality food to the average cat they may not be necessary, but I always like to supplement processed diets with small amounts of fresh cooked or raw meats. If you are feeding a home made raw or cooked diet, supplements are essential in order to balance the food.
13. If you do recommend supplements, what types would you recommend?
For balancing I like a supplement called Hillary’s Blend. For feeding in addition to an already balanced diet I like the Animal Essentials herbal multivitamin or other whole food supplements designed to be used with an already balanced diet.
14. Do you have any favorite recipes or food/snack preparation ideas for cats that we can share with the Onpets community?
I do! My favorite treat recipe is attached. You can also dehydrate plain meat or organ meat (like making jerky, but without the spices) for cats.
Dr. Erika Halle (previously Raines) obtained her D.V.M. degree from Oregon State University. She was certified in veterinary acupuncture, traditional Chinese veterinary food medicine, and Tui-na (Chinese medical massage) by the Chi Institute in Florida and certified in veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (veterinary chiropractics) by the Healing Oasis in Wisconsin. She is happy to be practicing veterinary medicine back in her childhood home of the Willamette Valley.
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