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The fat feline: a weighty issue (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2010

The fat feline is a problem all practitioners face. Clients often believe that a fat cat is a healthy and happy cat. They are more likely to bring the cat in for an exam due to poor appetite rather than overeating and obesity concerns. The focus of this lecture will be to discuss integrating weight management into your medical care program. The goal is to control the eating habits, diet and exercise of the cat before obesity develops (good habits, good health) and to regain control once a weight problem has developed.

     • Obesity is the accumulation of an excessive quantity of body fat. Typically, these cats weigh 20% above ideal body weight.
     • Overweight cats are 10% above ideal body weight.

An estimated 45% of all pets in the United States are overweight or obese.

An estimated 25% of all US pets are obese.

Start early.

The client relies on you to make diet recommendations based on what that kitten or cat needs. Start at a young age. Promote the diets you endorse and recommend a specific amount of food based on that cat's caloric needs. As those needs change, reevaluate the diet. Make sure you get a dietary history at each visit.

If you don't make a specific recommendation based on what you believe this cat needs, the client will make their decision based on:

     • Marketing & advertising (TV, print ads)
     • What their friend recommends
     • What is easily available at the store
     • The internet
     • Other less than reliable sources

Also discuss feeding methods:

     • Free choice: food is available to the pet at all times.
     • Time-limited feeding: Food is available to the pet for a limited time.
     • Meal feeding: A measured amount of food is available to the pet at specific meal times each day.

Don't lose track of the kitten after it is spayed or neutered. This time period is a critical growth period and is often overlooked. Many pets start developing a tendency towards obesity at this point.

Encourage weigh-ins.

Make it easy for the client to stop in with the cat and get the weight checked. Make sure this weight is recorded in the patient's chart so it can be accurately followed. Use your computer recall system to flag records of patients that have not been in recently (at least yearly if not every 6 months). Call and check on the patient. Encourage a visit – at least a weight check.

Use a body condition scoring system and record body circumference measurements at each physical examination.

Body condition scores make you commit to a number for that pet's condition based on their weight and overall appearance. The Purina system (1-9) allows for more flexibility with its wider range of numbers. The body scoring system is a well-defined program that promotes continuity among all the doctors in the practice. It is also be a good idea to record body circumference measurements (axilla, ribs, flank) as you may see changes in these areas before any changes in the body weight or body condition score.

Discuss the patient's activity level at each visit.

Become familiar with the pet's daily routine. Recommend ways to encourage activity, especially as pets get older. Sedentary pets are at higher risk of obesity. Be sure to address any pain/arthritis issues that might be limiting the pet's normal activity. Develop as exercise program for the cat. This may be as simple as placing the cat's food in high and low places around the house, making the cat hunt for the food and move around.

Educate the client about the risks of obesity.

Clients continue to believe that cats should be fat and happy. This "fat and happy" does not equal healthy, and a little education goes a long way. Help the clients learn about the health problems caused or exacerbated by obesity, as well as effects on quality of life (arthritis issues, energy level, etc). Clients are used to hearing about body weight as it related to their health – make it real regarding their own pets.