It can seem virtually impossible to get our pets to lose weight – my cat Squeaker was on her weight loss diet for 4 years before seeing significant progress, most likely triggered by moving to a country with a colder climate where suddenly her body had to burn some fat to stay warm.
Although it seems dramatic, obesity in pets really is a silent killer – you don’t notice it in the way you would something like kidney disease or cancer, but there is so much research that it shortens lifespans and increases suffering. Not only can it place a lot of strain on joints and worsen arthritis, but lead to diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems. The cause of obesity is often overfeeding (not following or misunderstanding feeding guidelines, and the guilty pleasure of feeding frequent treats), combined with lack of exercise, but can also be affected by the pet’s age and neuter status.
Pets that have been spayed or neutered generally do not need as many calories and so need to have their weight monitored carefully, or be changed to a food specific to their neuter status. Squeaker gained a significant amount of weight (from 3kg to 5.5kg) after she was spayed many years ago as she was stealing food from the two other cats in the house.
After I adopted her from my brother 4 years ago, I immediately set to work in getting a weight loss plan for her. I first took her to my local vet to get a body condition score (sometimes more useful than using a weight) and a recommendation of a target weight of 3.5kg. I changed her food to Hills Feline Metabolic kibbles and used the feeding guideline to calculate how much she needed each day. Squeaker is a bit special and needed frequent small meals in order to help her feel satisfied, so I bought her an automated feeder that dispensed feedings to her 4 times a day, even when I wasn’t home.
Squeaker is a very sedentary cat and I think this is where my trouble arose – she doesn’t generally like to play much or move around, and is an indoor cat. As such, I struggled to get her to lose any weight. Admittedly, I also just told myself there was nothing more I could do than feed her a restricted diet and no treats, and left her weight loss plan at that for 3 years.
It was only that I moved to the UK and started working at Alcombe, getting suggestions from nurses, that I started to really try to get her more active. I purchased a Kong Active ball and used it for one of her 4 meals, making her push/chase the ball around for her entire meal. She actually seemed to enjoy it – one forgets that cats are hunters and usually have to expend some energy to get their meals in the wild. I also tried to think of fun ways to feed her, like putting her kibbles in an egg carton (note – do not keep using the same egg carton because it gets moldy and may or may not cause your cat to vomit….) or stapling toilet rolls into a pyramid and inserting kibbles into each one for her to fish out.
Finally, after 4 years on a very restricted diet, Squeaker has finally lost a significant amount and is now down to 4.1kg. Though this isn’t quite her target weight, it’s so much closer to what she should be. I am persevering with her strict diet, and getting her to move around more, and consulting with Ffion, my colleague and Alcombe’s current weight clinic nurse.
Though it does take time and effort to continue with her plan, it is my responsibility as her owner to make sure she is at her healthiest and happiest.