Feeding cats and feline obesity (Proceedings)

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Feeding cats and feline obesity (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2009

Feline nutrition

Cats are obligate carnivores. This statement is news to no one, and yet we often don't recognize the importance of that statement or feed them accordingly. While cats can use carbohydrates (CHO) as a source of metabolic energy, they have no requirement for them (nor do dogs for that matter). But, more importantly, because cats evolved consuming prey (e.g. high protein, low to moderate fat, minimal carbohydrate), they are metabolically adapted for higher protein metabolism and lower CHO utilization. What does that mean metabolically and nutritionally? There are a number of specific metabolic and biochemical differences in feline physiology that are important. For those who are interested in the specific details of these metabolic and physiologic differences in the nutritional biochemistry of cats, the reader is referred to several recent reviews on this subject. This paper will discuss several important medical problems in cats that may be directly linked to, or may be specifically managed by, dietary manipulation.

Feline obesity

The primary reason for development of obesity in any animal is that they are consuming more energy than they are expending. This can occur when a cat has excessive dietary intake of calories (food or treats) or when there is a reduction in energy expenditure (reduced activity, illness or injury resulting in less exercise, etc). In indoor cats, reduced energy expenditure is a very important problem, and this is compounded by the fact that it is not easy to increase energy expenditure in cats like dogs with directed exercise. Additionally, because many cat owners prefer to feed free choice dry food, the risk of overfeeding, even in very small amounts is very high. In either case, the primary reason that weight gain occurs in cats is that they have a positive energy balance and this must be changed to affect weight loss. In both dogs and cats, neutering is an important risk factor due to the hormonal changes that occur that result in changes in levels of leptin, progestins, and other hormones that result in increased appetite, and reduced energy metabolism and metabolic rate. The key factors for prevention of obesity in neutered animals appears to be careful control of intake immediately after neutering (no free choice feeding, reduction of intake by 25% to account for the hormonal changes resulting in reduced energy needs), and close monitoring of body weight and BCS to allow adjustments in intake if needed. In addition, because feeding our cats is a social interaction, feeding and food interaction with the cat can become a daily social interaction that can become a problem resulting in overfeeding and inappropriate food intake patterns. It has been shown that in households where the owners are health conscious (conscious of diet and nutrition, who exercise regularly, and watch their own weight) they tend not to have obese pets (except where free choice feeding is used). Thus, there are clearly human behavioral and "food is love" issues that have to be considered in the development of obesity, and these must be addressed for successful weight control to be achieved.