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1:32 AM   December 20, 2014
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Scat, Cat Fat


Retailers can provide education and products to combat feline obesity.
By Lori Luechtefeld

Toys that hide low-calorie treats and make cats work for their snacks create opportunities for exercise. Courtesy of Multivet.)
If the lovable fat cat Garfield stepped into the real world, there’s a good chance he’d have diabetes. And as more cat owners recognize the health issues associated with feline obesity, more are seeking products to address the problem.

Dottie Laflamme, D.V.M., a veterinary nutritionist with Nestlé Purina in St. Louis, says that studies of cats presented to primary care veterinary practices have suggested that as many as one in three adult cats are overweight or obese, with that prevalence growing to as many as one in two when considering only middle-aged cats.

“So the prevalence is high,” she says. “Current recognition of the problem among owners is probably not as high.”

In-Store Awareness
Richard Garon, president of Multivet International in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, says that owners of overweight cats generally fall into two categories: those who are not bothered by their cats’ body conditions—some of whom even find their cats’ fat to be funny—and those who recognize the problem and seek solutions.

Sue Green, co-owner of the Whole Cat in Denver, says her customers seem to be in tune with the problem of feline obesity and its related health concerns. Still, she and her staff take measures to promote proper education on the issue.

For example, the store partners with a local holistic veterinarian who presents free in-store roundtable discussions one Saturday a month. These events provide Green’s customers with an opportunity to discuss heath-related issues with a professional, and questions related to diet and weight management are common themes during these discussions.

Ellen Wayker, owner of Purrsnickety in Los Gatos, Calif., says she recommends owners of overweight cats first consult their veterinarians to see if any underlying health problems are contributing to the animal’s weight problem.

She also stocks educational books that can help owners better understand feline nutrition and overall health. Her personal favorite recommendation is “The Natural Cat” by Anitra Frazier.

Eating Right

On the Side

In addition to monitoring food intake, owners of overweight cats should consider the ways in which they supplement their pets’ diets. Sue Green, co-owner of the Whole Cat in Denver, recommends cat owners consider supplementing their cats’ canned food with digestive enzymes.

“It’s something that needs to be added because the cooking process destroys the natural enzymes in the food,” she says.

In addition, she says essential fatty acids are also a key part of proper feline nutrition. She is a particular proponent of sardine and anchovy oil and shies away from recommending salmon oil to her cat customers.

“Cats tend to do fine on it, but if t hey have a history of urinary problems, I recommend they avoid salmon oil,” she says. “There have been studies that have linked salmon oil with the formation of urinary crystals in cats.”

When it comes to treats for the overweight cat, Ellen Wayker, owner of Purrsnickety in Los Gatos, Calif., recommends freeze-dried chicken and other pure meat treats. She also recommends a Pet Naturals line of cat treats that contains digestive enzymes.

“Of course, with an overweight cat, you don’t want to tempt them with too many treats,” she says.

Pat Preston, owner of the Cats Closet in Fredericksburg, Va., agrees. But for the fat cats that still require the occasional treat, she says she recommends lower-calorie options, including Kitty Kaviar, Feline Greenies and Pit’r Pats.

Not surprisingly, the first place most owners of overweight cats turn when they decide to address their cats’ problem is to the contents of their pets’ food dishes.

 “When it comes to obesity, nutrition is the key,” Green says. “With a change in diet, we’ve seen cats become more active, and then the weight comes off easily. They’ll also have better skin and coats.”

Green is an avid proponent of canned diets—especially when it comes to weight loss and maintenance in cats—and she regularly distributes copies of an article that outlines the value of canned diets to her customers.

“When a customer with an overweight cat comes in, we ask what the owner has been feeding,” she says. “Usually it’s a dry diet with lots of carbohydrates. Cats should really be on the Atkins diet—they’re obligate carnivores. So we try to get customers to switch over to canned foods. They should be feeding at least 50 percent canned food, and the more, the better.”

Green says she’s seen a dramatic difference in many cats that have been switched to canned food, with many slimming down and becoming more active within a matter of weeks or months. In one case, she notes, a customer’s cat had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. The owner switched the cat to a canned diet, the cat slimmed down and the owner never needed to resort to insulin therapy for the animal.

But Dr. Laflamme notes that combating feline obesity is not as simple as simply eliminating carbohydrates from a cat’s diet. In fact, she says, there is evidence that high-fat diets are associated with a greater risk of obesity than high-carbohydrate diets.

“When you increase the fat in foods and lower the carbohydrates, you increase the caloric density of the food,” she says. “Excess calories will be stored as fat.”

Laflamme says the key to weight loss in cats is to control the overall amount that a cat is consuming. She notes that feeding diets that are higher in protein can be beneficial for cats because such diets can stimulate a cat’s metabolism, but overall intake still needs to be controlled.

“The reality is that there is no magic bullet,” she says.

Feeding practices also factor into the equation. Pat Preston, owner of the Cats Closet in Fredericksburg, Va., says that many owners simply plop down their cats’ food and don’t make much of an effort to monitor intake.

“It can be very hard in a multi-cat household,” she says. “But if an owner has one fat cat and two skinny cats, they do need to make an effort when it comes to feeding.”

Laflamme says one way of monitoring caloric intake in a multi-cat house is to create a special feeding box whose entry way is large enough for skinny cats to enter but too small for their overweight counterparts. Within the box, owners can place higher-calorie foods the household’s overweight cats should be avoiding.

The Active Approach
In addition to controlling their cats’ calorie intake, many owners seek out products that will encourage sluggish overweight cats to become more active.

For cat owners looking to play some of the weight away, Green recommends interactive toys that require the owner to engage with the cat. Her personal favorites are feather toys, such as Da Bird by Go-Cat.

“I don’t know a cat who can resist it,” she says.

Wayker also recommends Da Bird and other pole toys to her customers who are looking to get their cats up and moving again.

“We often hear, ‘My cat doesn’t play any more. Do you have any toys for that?’” she says.

“We point them to the interactive toys where the owner and cat are playing together.”

For overweight cats in particular, Wayker also encourages owners to consider buying high cat trees that require the animals to jump and climb. 

Feline Obesity Aids

A variety of products can help cats slim down and become more active. They include:

  • Low-calorie and other weight management foods
  • Dietary weight-loss supplements for cats
  • Low-calorie treat alternatives
  • Interactive and other movement-inducing toys
  • Food-dispensing balls that encourage activity while eating
  • High cat trees to encourage overweight cats to climb
Paul Comerford, owner of Panic Mouse Inc. in Temecula, Calif., notes that not all owners have the time to spend all day playing with their cats. Thus, toys designed to entice cats to play even when they’re on their own can be helpful in the battle of the bulge.

“In order for a cat to want to get up and go, a toy must appeal to its hunter-prey instincts,” Comerford says.

Electronic cat toys with unpredictable movements—some of which feature on-off timers—can go a long way toward sparking a cat’s interest.

Garon agrees that pet owners who don’t have adequate time to play with their cats should be directed to toys that the cats will engage with on their own.

He also notes that feline weight loss is about more than nutritional changes and increased activity—it’s about behavior modification.

 “It’s a happiness thing,” he says. “Owners need to look at how they can make their cat both thinner and happier.”

Garon notes that, in nature, cats must work for their food. Thus, toys that simulate this natural requirement can enrich a cat’s overall life while helping it slim down.

Along these lines, Preston encourages owners of overweight cats to consider food balls as a means of getting their cats to burn calories while working for their food.

She also points customers to a variety of other toys that can encourage activity and engagement. Her favorites include wand toys and laser lights—or any other toy that will “get the cat off its duff and encourage it to move around a bit.”

Preston notes that not all cats are created equal when it comes to their play habits.

“Owners need to figure out their cats’ individual personalities and select toys that appeal to them,” she says. “Obese cats in particular require more encouragement to move, so owners may have to experiment with several types of toys.” <HOME>


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