How to Convince Someone Their Cat is Fat!
Obesity is a touchy subject, and accusing someones pet of being overweight is fraught with challenges. If you can recognize the situation but another family member can not, there is a better way to convince them their pet needs to lose weight.
Only by working together will the end result be a slimmer, happier and healthy individual.
My soon-to-be brother-in-law has two British Short-hairs. I know this breed is more chunky looking than others, but one of his cats is clearly way obese. They are only 2 years old and I can only see it getting worse from here on. Brother-in-law feeds them 4 times per day (basically still kitten amounts) and the fat one finishes off everything the skinnier one doesn't eat. What can I say to encourage him to put the poor cat on a diet? I've said things before but he denies that the cat is fat, calling him cute and saying it is normal for the breed. - Soobin
The Cat Obesity Rate
Soobin, your brother in law is not alone! Obesity and being overweight is a huge problem in our pet cat and dog population.
In the US alone, 60% of cats are classed as overweight or obese. That's really huge and worth repeating - 3 out of every 5 cats are either overweight or obese. Despite this, 80% of pet owners think that their pet is a healthy weight.
This clearly means that there are a lot of cats out there who are overweight or obese, and yet their owners don't appreciate them suffering from this disease.
Recognizing Obesity As a Problem
Pet owners are simply not recognizing that there is a problem in the first place. And this is despite their cat even being almost twice as heavy as they should be in some cases I’ve seen.
This is a problem.
In my experience, unless a pet owner recognizes that their cat (or dog) is overweight and accepts that this is a problem, then there is actually little chance of them taking any action to correct the situation.
Helping your pet be the healthiest version of themselves takes time and commitment, two resources that require motivation to rectify the underlying problem.
If someone simply believes their cat to be big-boned, despite advice or evidence to the contrary, then no amount of pestering is going to get them to commit to a change in feeding practices and focus on weight management. Unless of course you can get their opinion to change.
“Normal” does not mean Healthy
With 60% of cats being overweight, the reality is that being overweight is the new “normal”. It really is the case that the vast majority of cats that people are seeing are overweight. Over time, I believe this has skewed our perception of what a healthy cat should look like.
We make the assumption that normal=healthy, and so have started to think of being overweight as healthy and the way a cat is supposed to be.
The flip side to this is that I've had clients come to me and my consult room saying, "I'm just bringing my cat in for a checkup because people keep telling me they're too skinny and unhealthy,".
In fact these “skinny” cats and dogs are typically the picture of health!
They are lean, well-muscled, and exactly what a dog or a cat should look like. But again, because we are so used to seeing overweight animals, people are saying that they are underweight. In some situations, owners have even been accused of neglect, which couldn't be further from the truth.
With all this in mind, my first piece of advice is to try and get somebody to accept that their pet is overweight and that action needs to be taken.
While doing this, It is absolutely vital not to judge or come across as accusatory.
Don't go into a conversation all-guns-blazing saying "you're doing a really bad job”, “it's all your fault”, “can’t you see what your doing to your pet”, or “Look at what you've done to them". You get the idea.
All this will do is trigger a completely understandable super defensive mode. No-one likes to be told they’ve done the wrong thing or that something bad is all their fault. If this is what they are hearing, even if you’re not saying these exact words, they will immediately become defensive rather than curious or conversational.
A defensive person is not going to be accepting anything that you say. They are going to stop listening and you are going to fall out. No good is going to come from this situation.
Instead, we really need to be accepting of the fact that having an overweight dog or cat is a really common and a really easy situation to get into. Weight gain has a tendency to sneak up on us, and if we are seeing our cat every day, it is actually an easy situation to miss.
We also need to remember that a dog or cat being too heavy is generally due to a misplaced love, rather than neglect.
Giving treats, extra snacks, tidbits, and portions of our own food is the way that many of us show our affection towards our dog or cat.
Be aware that this obesity and this weight comes from a place of love rather than a place of neglect.
Genetics and Weight Gain
We need to accept that environment and genetics also play a role, too. In some cases, having an overweight pet may actually be out of the owner's hands.
The classic example of this is the Labrador. Certain lines of Labradors have a genetic mutation that makes them more likely to beg for food, pay attention at mealtimes, and scavenge for scraps. As a result, they are really prone to overeating and the end result of this is that they get fat.
They really can blame their genes.
Environment also plays an important role.
The reality is that household income, owner age, frequency of treats and amount of exercise can all significantly impact the likelihood of obesity being a problem. Sadly too, awareness about the health risks associated with pet obesity is also significantly less in people in lower income brackets. An issue that is mirrored in the human obesity crisis.
The reality is that pet owners with less money and those who are less able to exercise their pet (and yes, we can encourage cats to exercise too!) are more likely to own a dog or cat that suffers from weight problems.
Body Condition Score
One way to get any pet owner to recognize the weight status of their cat or dog is to get them to body condition score their pet themselves.
A body condition score is a technique used to assess whether an animal is too thin, too fat, or just right. The beauty is that it helps assess for ideal body weight regardless of the size of their body, how long their legs are, the size of their frame, or how big that bones are!
Carrying out a body condition score on a cat is as simple as answering three questions:
Can you feel their ribs?
Is there a clear waist from above?
Is there a fat-pad between the back legs?
Can You Feel Your Cat’s Ribs?
If your cat is an ideal weight, there should be minimal fat covering. You shouldn't need to apply any pressure and when running your fingers from front to back and you should feel the ribs gently trickle under your fingers.
If you have to apply a little bit of pressure and there is a little bit of sponginess, then this is a sign that there your cat is likely overweight.
If you can't feel the ribs, or you have to use a lot of pressure to feel them, then your cat is certainly overweight. In fact, they are likely to be obese.
Is There a Clear Waist From Above?
Looking at your cat from above, they should have an hourglass figure. They should be wider at the ribs and, as you run your hands down their side towards their tail, they should have a tuck-in in their abdomen before getting wider again over the hips.
If your cat’s sides are becoming square then they are becoming overweight if they are round. If they are more like a balloon and wider in the waist and in their belly, then that means that they are overweight.
Is There a Fat Pad?
The last question is a question that’s specifically for cat owners: is there a fat pad?
Cats will generally collect excess fat between their back leg to form what is known as a fat pad. As well as a rounding of the abdomen caused by an increase in internal fat, there is often a fat wobble what you might consider to be loose skin between the back legs.
You will see this wobbling from side to side in a fat cat.
If you put your hand between your cat's back legs when they are standing up and you can get a hand of something wobbly, then this lets you know that they have a fat pad, and by default that they are overweight.
So if you have a family member or a friend who's got an overweight animal but they are struggling to accept this, advise them to run through these questions and condition score their cat themselves. You could also instead compare their cat to charts produced by well respected international veterinary bodies.
The Risks and Expenses of Obesity
My final step to try and initiate action would be to highlight both the dangers and the expense of having an overweight cat.
This is a condition that impacts both cat and owner!
This strategy is going to be beneficial if your friend or family member recognizes that their pet is overweight but either doesn’t actually care or doesn’t feel it’s a problem that’s important enough to be concerned with.
Highlight the dangers to their cat, and highlight the expense of having an overweight cat:
Obese cats are over four times more likely to suffer from diabetes.
Obese cats are twice as likely to suffer from skin disease.
Overweight cats are five times more likely to suffer from arthritis and lameness.
Overweight cats have an increased anesthetic risk.
Obese cats are at an increased risk of fatty liver disease, a fatal condition brought on by a few days of not eating.
Ultimately, being overweight or obese reduces both quality of life and life expectancy.
Many of these are also long term conditions that will need treatment for the rest of a cat’s life. Clearly then, cost can add up.
Financial impact is one thing. But what about the impact to your lifestyle if you need to medicate your cat once or twice a day? At the same time every day? The requirement to treat a cat can certainly impact an owner’s quality of life too!
Clearly then, there is a significant benefit to getting a cat down to their healthy weight, especially while they are young and any potential harm has yet to materialize. Reversing obesity could cancel out any previous damage it might have caused.
Even if a cat has already been diagnosed with arthritis, or they are suffering from diabetes, weight loss is going to make managing these diseases so much easier. Weight loss at any stage of life is going to be beneficial.
My final suggestion would be to see if your local veterinary clinic runs any weight checks or weight loss clinics.
Weight loss is hard ( although a weight loss plan like this will help). Even for the most highly motivated pet owner.
Having in-person support from other people who are passionate about what they do can provide the support, encouragement, and motivation needed to succeed.
Prevent Weight Rebounding
Weight management is a process that never really ends. Once your pet gets down to their healthy weight, steps then need to be taken to not just maintain this. We also need to prevent them piling on the pounds again. A situation that is unfortunately all too common.
We stop focusing on weight, portion size slowly creeps up, more and more treats are reintroduced, exercise slackens off, and before you know it your pet is back at square one.
Having your local veterinary team as cheerleaders, as well as also providing some accountability incentive, can massively increase your chances of being successful in the first instance. And also then maintaining this success.
The end result is a cat who is both healthier and happier!
The above is a transcript taken from the Call the Vet podcast.
If you would like me to answer any question you have about your pet’s health, simply fill in this form and I’ll try and get you the information that you need. It’s that simple!