According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 58% of cats are now estimated to be overweight or obese. I’m looking at one of them, sound asleep on the bed. Of my three cats, one is overweight and one is on the cusp of being overweight. The third is lucky enough to have a Barney Fife physique.
Like most household cats in the U.S., my boys have been neutered. It’s believed that early spay/neuter is a contributing cause of feline obesity. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Understanding why your cat is pudgy is the first step toward helping him regain the healthy, fit physique of his youth.
I talked to nationally syndicated pet columnist and media personality Steve Dale about the correlation between early spay/neuter and a cat’s weight and what cat owners can do to reduce middle-aged spread in their fave felines:
MOUSEBREATH: We have an epidemic of morbidly obese cats, with at least four or five quite famously being turned in to shelters this year alone — and several of those subsequently died… so of course there are life-threatening health issues that go along with obesity.
One of my readers — who volunteers at a shelter — encountered a couple who didn’t want to neuter their cat because they were afraid he’d gain weight. What advice would you have for that couple?
STEVE DALE: I’ve not come across that. I know that cats live longer healthier lives if they’re indoor-only, and this correlates because of this: if you’re keeping your cat indoors only for that percentage of people who do that – which nowadays in America is the overwhelming majority of cat owners — you’re gonna spay or neuter no matter what your concerns are, unless you’re a cat breeder. Living with a cat who is not spayed or neutered and is indoors only is not easy… which is one reason to spay or neuter right there. They are better pets: there’s no need — or feeling the need — to roam, there’s no howling or yowling at night, there’s no mess as with the female cat in oestrus. There’s no question that, ultimately, you’re going to end up giving in and spaying or neutering your cat because it’s better for you as an owner, or you’re going to give up that cat.
But one of the real reasons spaying and neutering has become such an important factor is the overpopulation issue. Whereas with dogs this issue is more complex than it was ten years ago, with cats it’s pretty simple: we still have it, and you can potentially contribute to it if you don’t spay or neuter your cat. Even if you have an indoor-only cat, cat’s do still get out and nature will run its course.
There are health issues as well, especially for female cats who are spayed. Uterine cancer is a big deal in cats. There are things we can do to avoid obesity but there’s nothing we can do for cats who are not spayed or neutered to avoid cancers, the kind of behavior I described in cats who are intact, and overpopulation. Spaying and neutering is beneficial to both the cat owner and the cat and I have no hesitation absolutely recommending to any cat owner, unless you’re a breeder.
It would be a mistake to say that spay/neuter alone that causes obesity. It’s a complex issue and there isn’t just one explanation. There is an epidemic of obesity in cats. There are a lot of reasons for it and spay/neuter is one of them, but we don’t even know if it is the contributing factor in 100% of cats, 90% of cats … we just don’t know what that number is.
There are vets who will tell you they have clients that do everything right: they spay/neuter their cats – which is the right thing to do – they don’t feed them table treats, they play with their cats so the cats get at least some exercise, they don’t free-feed – yet still their cats are overweight. Prior to the period, maybe 35 years ago, when spay/neuter became “the thing” and everyone started doing it, you didn’t see obesity in cats. So what’s going on?
First, it’s the way we feed our cats. We don’t really do this with dogs, but for cats we leave out food all the time and we expect them to have this automatic shut-off valve which does exist in some cats, but in many if not most cats, it does not exist.
Many of us don’t have “a” cat. Statistically in this country there are 2.3 cats per household vs. about 1.6 dogs per household. That’s significant because with cats, you leave out food all the time and let them free-feed. If you have two or three or four (or more) cats, how do you know how much food each of those cats is eating? You’re not there to watch them. So, over time you can tell — those are the cats who get wider. There may be other factors involved, but free feeding certainly contributes to obesity.
Second, cats overeat because they have nothing else to do. We don’t enrich our cats’ environment enough. So if the only thing they had to do was eat, you might! But if you have other things to do you might not focus so much on food.
So what I tell people to do is enrich the environment. If you enriching the environment, your cat will move around more within in and do more things, which in turn burns more energy and increases metabolism. They’re exercising their bodies, but they’re also using their brains more.
Cats who live in an unenriched environment are more likely to have interstitial cystitis which causes painful urination, which in turn can cause the cat to urinate outside the litter box. If that happens, the cat may well be relinquished. So cats can lose their lives, ultimately, because their environments aren’t enriched.
PART 2: More on how you can enrich your cat’s environment
and other ways to keep your spayed/neutered cat at a healthy weight.
ABOUT STEVE DALE:
Pet Expert Steve Dale is the author of the twice weekly syndicated newspaper column “My Pet World” (Tribune Media Services). He’s also the host of nationally syndicated radio programs Steve Dale’s Pet World, The Pet Minute with Steve Dale; and Steve Dale’s Pet World on WLS Radio, Chicago.He’s also a contributing editor at USA Weekend.
Touted as reaching more pet owners than any other pet journalists, as a pet expert and holding passionate views, Steve’s a frequent guest on local and national radio shows. His TV appearances include The Oprah Winfrey Show; National Geographic Explorer; Pets Part of the Family, PBS; several Animal Planet Shows; Fox News Channel and CNN Headline News. He was a regular on WGN-TV, Chicago for two years, and hosted multi award winning Pet Central on WGN Radio for 12 years. He’s been quoted in publications ranging from the Los Angeles Times to USA Today to Redbook.