Monday, October 11, 2010

Obesity in Pets: My Cat's Weight Loss Journey

I recently read a post on Wet Nose Guide that caught my attention.

Obesity in Dogs Shortens Lives

Avoid feeding your dog table scraps & treats every other hour. According to a recent study by The People’s Dispensary For Sick Animals, 50% of British dogs will die because their owners over fed them. That’s an alarmingly high rate! We want our dogs living long healthy lives. If you feel your pooch is packing on the pounds, then schedule an appointment with your vet, where they can prescribe the right proportion of dog food for her size & breed. Then start a daily exercise regiment that includes walks, playing fetch & hours of free fun in dog parks. Don’t shorten your dog’s life by giving into her begging.

Obesity is a serious concern for both cats and dogs. I know this firsthand. This is my cat Molly.
Molly is 11 years old and I have had her since she was a month old. She may look like a large cat now...weighing in at just over 15lbs. But she WAS 20lbs.
She has been overweight her entire life. I had tried so many diets and methods to help her drop the pounds, but nothing was working . The real issue was ME. I was unable to make the long term commitment needed for a pet to lose weight. As a young single woman living alone, there would be times that I would go out of town or just be out and about. This was usually when Molly would be "free fed" and would fall of her diet.
For Molly to lose weight, she needed to be on a diet for YEARS, not months like many of us. I would use the math that if Molly was a 200 lb woman, than every pound she looses, is like loosing TEN lbs for us. We all know that 10lbs can take some time! :-) Then add that she is a CAT. I cannot make her do aerobics or get on the treadmill! Her weight lose has to come almost exclusively from her diet.

I want to tell you what I tried and what ended up working for me. Every pet is different, and I am not a vet so I am not offering a "plan", but this is what worked for Molly. I met with our vet first who advised that her goal should be to reach 14lbs.

For YEARS, I fed Molly dry food. It was easy and it was convenient. In the beginning, she was just free fed. This is how I grew up feeding my cats and as a single 20something year old, it was easy. Ever since Molly was about 1 or 2 years old, she was big. She was overweight as soon as she was an adult. As a young kitten I fed her only the best. She was my first cat and I fed her the pricey wet food. But at some point this stopped. In my mind I thought, "I grew up with our cats eating Purina. I am 20 and I am poor and this cat can eat grocery store food." For some cats I really do think this is fine. I am not an expert but I don't think that all cats need to have the expensive food. I do not think owners who can only afford store brands are mistreating their pets. When I was growing up, we fed our dogs and cats "grocery store food". We lived in the country and all of our animals were happy and healthy. I have learned a lot more about pet food and animal health over the recent years, but am still not sure what my opinion is on the entire matter. None of my other cats ever became fat like Molly, while they all had the same diet.
The point is, what works for other cats, did not work for Molly. She was a big girl from day 1 and it seems like she has been on diets her entire life. But once again, the problem was me. I bet she could have lost weight years ago if I had started doing what I do now. But the problem is that what makes it work now, is my husband. Finally the key was meeting my husband, and living with another person who could manage the feeding when I was not home. That and making the switch to wet food.
At first I bought an automated feeder and the expensive dry food from the pet store. This seemed to make the most sense. It would measure the amount and I would buy her only the best food. After months and month of her food being precisely measured, and nights filled with meowing for more food, (this has never stopped. haha!) I started a new method. She had lost a little weight, maybe a pound while using the automated feeder, but I had read about how she may lose weight more effectively when eating wet food. I had also read that the pets may feel more full when they are on a wet food only diet. Molly is a cat who is always hungry and always begging for food. I wanted her to lose weight and be healthy, but I didn't want to her feel miserable.

Dogs and cats are eating A LOT of carbohydrates when they are eating dry food. That is mainly all that dry food is. If you feed them wet food, they get protein. I cannot walk Molly and she is not able to use carbs for energy. my research also told me that carbs will not be as filling. She will feel fuller for longer if she is fed wet food instead of dry food.
We made the switch to wet food and this is what we have been doing for the past 3 years. It was a process of weighing her every week and adjusting the amounts. The IMPORTANT thing to remember is you do not want a fat cat to lose weight TOO QUICKLY.

"When starting a weight reduction program, your veterinarian can help you determine a realistic weight goal and timeline. It is important to understand how long the process may take. In general, a good goal to aim for is 1-2% of the body weight per week. We do not want the cat to lose weight too fast, since rapid weight loss increases the likelihood the weight will come back after the weight reduction diet is stopped. In addition, in some cats, rapid weight loss can result in severe liver disease and even failure due to
hepatic lipidosis."

So when you put your pet on a diet it is VERY important to weigh your pet frequently. If they are losing weight too quickly, then you need to feed them more. We had to change her feedings at least 5 times over the past 3 years. We started by weighing her every week but now we weigh her once a month. We had times when she was losing weight, and then after a few months she would plateau. We would take a little more food away and she would lose a bit more. We also had times when she lost a little too quickly and we gave her more food. The key is that we were constantly weighing her so we felt safe that she would not become ill from "underfeeding". We could also keep a close eye on what was working and what was not.

Molly was 20lbs and as of last week she weighed 15.6. This has taken us THREE YEARS on a constant diet. When we are not home, we have James' father come over and feed her the wet food. No longer am I alone and leaving bowls of food down when I need to leave town. The key was commitment. You have to make a long term commitment to something that feels like it's not showing results for a long time. It took at least 6 months before Molly began to lose weight. It is so easy to want to see results. It was putting in effort and a lot more money and it was hard to stick with it. But once I passed the point of seeing her lose weight, it finally hit me; "She CAN lose weight!".

We are the caregivers of our animals. We are the only one who can help them to avoid health problems. I know it can be hard. It took me years and years....but it finally is paying off. I assumed Molly would have developed diabetes by now, but she has not. Part of me hopes that we may have avoided this because of her weight loss. If Molly did it....your pet can too! It just takes time and patience, but I think we all agree that our furry loved ones are worth it!


  1. Thanks for writing about this! I'm sl glad your cute kitty is doing better. :)

  2. Wow- great job! Our poor old beagle was 62 lbs at her largest (that's more than twice what she should have been), all because my mom and sister refused to stop feeding her table scraps, or walk her. All the diet food in the world didn't help. The only thing that ever caused her to lose weight was when her health failed right before we had to put her down. It was very sad. People think it's "nice" to feed their dog scraps, but it really hurts them in the long run. The only "people food" we give our dogs are fruits and vegetables that we know are ok for them, and go figure - they LOVE it! Great post - hopefully it spreads awareness about this huge (no pun intended) problem!

  3. It looks like you have done a great job getting your cat "into shape". My mom is constantly struggling with her dog's weight. It's largely exercise - my mom routinely walks the dog all fall, summer, spring, but she doesn't walk her in the winter. My mom's afraid of falling and getting hurt. So Yogi's weight fluctuates all winter. It's all food - how do you convince a hungry dog to eat less in the winter then in the summer? I know it's an excuse ... but you touched on it when you said how hard it is!

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