It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of American cats may be overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. This excess weight can lead to a variety of health conditions that are reversible with weight loss.
According to experts, a cat that weighs more than 20 percent over its ideal body weight is considered obese. The problem is that it’s not always easy for owners to make this weight loss happen. Often, a temporary reduction to a cat’s diet won’t go far enough to improve her health, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research.
A gradual reduction of food
In the 18-week study, researchers from the University of Illinois utilized a diet that reduced the body weight of eight overweight cats by gradually reducing each cat’s food amount for eight consecutive weeks.
“The intent with this diet was a healthy weight loss: getting rid of fat while maintaining lean mass,” said study author Kelly Swanson, PhD, a professor of animal and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois. “The risk with rapid weight loss is hepatic lipidosis. We targeted a 1.5 percent body weight loss per week, which falls in line with the range (0.5 to 2 percent each week) suggested by the American Animal Hospital Association.”
The eight cats in the study — all neutered males — cohabitated in a large room for the duration of the study, but were fed in individual cages. After four weeks of eating a high-fiber moderate-protein diet, the cats experienced their first calorie reduction.
In week one, the cats had their food intake cut by 20 percent (the maximum amount recommended for weight loss by the American Animal Hospital Association). Each cat’s food intake was reduced further during weeks two through eight, and then remained unchanged for the remaining 10 weeks.
This persistent food reduction was the key to meeting each week’s weight loss goal, explained Dr. Swanson. “When we go on a diet ourselves, we might lose a lot of weight in the first few weeks and then hit a road block. The same thing can happen with animals. We had to keep going down, but it can be hard to convince a pet owner to do that.”— Catnip staff