Pet nutrition is a topic I am fond of. I have always believed that the foundation of pet health begins with an appropriate pet food and portion control. As humans, we struggle on a daily basis to resist incredible food temptations for ourselves. But, I would argue that pets have no choice. As pet owners, we choose for them. We choose not only what they eat, but also how much and how often. Sounds simplistic, so why are so many pets overweight?
Sometimes referred to as the “Diet Doctor,” I take my responsibility to advocate for pets, educate their owners, and prevent disease, pain and suffering seriously. So when pet obesity hit close to home (literally in my home), I became more determined to educate pet owners about proper pet nutrition.
Jobey Saad (think "sad”), the black and white cat featured in the photo with me, is one of the loves of my life. His namesake is a stand-up comic with a pale complexion and black attire who my husband and I were once entertained by. This former barn cat is one of many to find its way to Welshire Farm by hitching a ride in my husband’s coveralls.
Jobey quickly learned that food was his friend, and like all good cats, he could order his “staff” around and thus quickly became more affectionately known as “Fatty Saady.” OMG, I said to myself, I’ve become one of my clients. The icing on the cake was when my sister, a registered veterinary technician with fat kitties herself, came to visit and blurted out “Your cat is fat!” Now that I had my “come to Jesus” moment, I knew I had to practice what I preach.
“Fat Cat Syndrome,” as I call it, is a true phenomenon. Indoor cats tend to be free-fed from “troughs” that have endless supplies of high calorie/high protein food. Then, they are not expected to do anything they don’t want to other than hold down furniture and bask in sun beams. Obviously, no exercise plus unlimited food equals obesity. Throw in “bossiness” through obnoxious vocalization for food and you have the equation for a pet family feud.
Over time, we did work out an arrangement that I teach to my clients daily. I needed to make Jobey feel more secure about his diet by giving him “expectations.”
In the wild, cats are grazers. They hunt to live and their food supply is dependent on availability and determination. I knew I needed to feed Jobey often to satisfy his hunger and began feeding him five times daily at the same times every day. He figured out the schedule quickly and would only bug me as meal times approached.
I also experimented with Science Diet cat foods that satisfied his hunger with fewer calories while maintaining coat and dental health. I chose adult dry kibble, then added larger hairball control light and dental care kibbles. I was careful to pre-measure Jobey’s 24 hour food allowance (about 5/8 cup), which I then portioned out at pre-determined times. I took back control of what and when he ate, and he stopped pestering for additional feedings.
The other important part of controlling Jobey’s body weight was increasing his exercise. Enter Betsy Louise and Ruthie. Jobey loves to antagonize his fellow cat housemate, Ruthie, which then makes “Betsy the Corgi Cop” spring to action when Ruthie vociferously complains. The three ring circus begins, but the end result is exercise for all three as they dash away.
Another tip for owners of overweight cats is to make your cat work for all its food by feeding every meal via a puzzle ball (Premier’s Fun Kitty Egg Ball) that drops kibbles as the cat pushes the ball around. You can also hide food throughout the house if there are no other pets to consume it.
Increase your cat’s exercise by walking it outdoors on a harness, or playing fetch. Having a second cat to romp with is actually ideal, so much so, that I always recommend adopting cats in pairs. Laser pointers and feathers on fishing poles are great ways to encourage exercise when you don’t feel like exercising because you can recline while you direct your cat’s play.
If it is time for your “come to Jesus meeting” with your cat’s weight problem, consult your veterinarian first. Food deprivation and rapid weight loss can be harmful to your cat’s liver. And, the No. 1 disease problem in obese cats is diabetes created innocently by cat owners through overfeeding. Don’t let your cat struggle with diabetes, heart disease and/or painful joints. With guidance from your veterinarian, you, too, can take back control of your cat’s weight and well-being.
Tag line: Dr. Bonnie Jones is co-owner of Delphos Animal Hospital which she operates with her husband, Dr. John H. Jones. She was valedictorian and Outstanding Senior Clinician of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1985.