Category: cat care

Study Says Most US Cats Are Obese: How Do We Handle the Problem?

The subject of fat cats has come up quite a bit lately here on Pain In The Bud.

First we wrote about Barsik, the 40-pound chonkster who requires a stroller for transport because he’s too big for a carrier. On Thursday we blogged about Mikhail Galin, who hatched an elaborate plan to board his 22-pound tabby on a flight after Russian Airlines told him his feline was too fat to fly. And we’ve been following the struggles of Cinder, a 25-pound kitty who really hates treadmills.

Much to his chagrin, Buddy is in on the action too: I’ve cut back on his treats and portion size more as a preventive measure. He’s not fat, but he’s not as ripped as he thinks he is either.

So how do we deal with the feline obesity crisis? We asked Julia Lewis, DVM, who knows a thing or two about cats: Dr. Lewis graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the nation’s top veterinary school, and has 25 years’ experience working with shelters, universities and most recently in public health, where she provides wellness care to pets of the homeless on the west coast.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Pain In The Bud: A new study says more than half of all US pet cats are overweight or obese. Why are so many cats so chonky?

Dr. Lewis: We Americans like everything big: cars, houses, and unfortunately pets. Too many people equate food with love for themselves as well as their kids and pets. Yet another reason for people to have a family veterinarian that they trust is to have someone objectively tell them if their pets are in the healthy size range.

Fat Cats: M&Ms With Obstacles!
Meme imitates life.

PITB: How do cat owners react when you broach the subject?

Dr. Lewis: I’m glad I’m not in private practice. I feel uncomfortable telling people their pets are overweight because I happen to pack too many extra pounds myself. I’m nervous that when I tell pet owners their pets should lose weight, the owners will think to themselves that I should practice what I preach. (Although I try really hard to keep my own pets in decent weight so that I can practice what I preach from a professional perspective). However, when I have told people their pets can stand to lose some weight, I try to do it with humor so that the owners realize that I’m not making a judgement about them. Descriptions I’ve used to broach the subject include the pets appear Rubenesque. (One used by a particularly flamboyant resident that I had when I was a student.) I’ve also used roly-poly and fluffy. When the weight is in the severely large range, I have used round as a descriptor. Mostly, owners who realize their pets may have a problem really only want advice and that’s what I try to do for them, like I did for you when you wanted to put Buddy on calorie restriction. I also try to understand that it’s hard to lose weight, for oneself as well as their loved ones, whether two-legged or four.

PITB: What about cat owners? What’s the best way for those of us who aren’t veterinarians to determine if our cats are heavier than their ideal weight?

Dr. Lewis: Body condition is very subjective. Pets come in all sizes. This is especially true for dogs since there are such diverse breeds. Think about the extreme size and weight differences between a Chihuahua or Yorkie compared to a Great Dane or a Mastiff. Cats do have breeds, but for the most part there the size difference isn’t as extreme. Yet cats come in petite, average, and large frames. It’s not unusual for certain breeds like oriental short hairs to average only about 6 to 8 pounds and breeds like the Main Coon to average in the teens up to 25 pounds.

Cat weight chart
While healthy weights vary according to breed and size, the eye test is a good way to gauge your cat’s fitness.

That’s why it’s important to have an objective determination of body condition. Use of the body condition scoring charts puts everyone on the same page when describing a pet’s body condition.

PITB: What about fur? Does the eye test work for long-haired and extra fluffy cats?

Dr. Lewis: Beyond having a chart, owners need to be trained on how to assess their pet’s body to compare to the chart beyond just a visual measurement. Fur can interfere with accurate visual assessments of how much fat a pet may be carrying. Pet owners should have their veterinarian show them how to feel (palpate) their pets to determine how much padding beyond the fur their pets have.

PITB: Okay, so let’s say we’ve committed, we’ve talked to the veterinarian and we have a plan. How should we handle the sometimes incessant meowing and crying from a hungry cat? After all, we wouldn’t be their servants if they weren’t so persuasive.

Dr. Lewis: Dealing with pets that show their displeasure in not eating whenever and whatever they want is difficult. I have my own pets so I can really empathize. My dogs are pretty good about only eating when they’re fed but my cat is another story. But as hard as it is, ignoring them does work. I don’t react to my cat when he starts screaming. I’ve certainly not given in to him by giving him food. So, he doesn’t usually bother to yowl at me when he thinks he should be fed. My husband does give in and when my cat sees my husband, he gets incredibly vocal and demanding. So we’ve each trained the cat to give us very different behaviors. In an effort to get my cat to stop being so demanding, I’ve trained him to dance for his food. He now knows that even when we get up to feed him, he still can’t just dive right into the food, he has to do some spins. I tend to make him spin more than my husband, and that’s another reason he isn’t quite as insistent about making me feed him. One thing my cat is really good about is that he doesn’t get physical with us when he wants food. He’s just loud. If a cat does tend to get physical, owner may have to engage them in a vigorous play session before feeding to dissipate some of that pent-up frustration and energy.

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Bruno, a Russian Blue from Chicago, came into the shelter at a hefty 25 pounds. The quirky cat, who sometimes walks on his hind legs only, was adopted by a couple who put him on a diet. (Source: ABC7NY)

We’d like to thank Julia for taking the time to answer our questions and provide expert advice on a tough subject. Buddy, however, would not like to thank Julia for being complicit in the Great Treat Famine of 2019. He considers it a crime to come between a cat and his snacks.

Has your cat struggled to keep the pounds off? Tell us about it in the comments!

The Torturing: A Fowl Famine, Episode I (Buddy’s Diet)

Day 1: I meowed for treats for two hours and 37 minutes this morning, to no avail. Has Buddy the Larger suffered a stroke? This could pose serious problems for my snacking requirements.

Day 2: This must be a joke. A bad, totally-not-funny joke that’s gonna end with my teeth and claws delivering the final punchline. I WANT MY TREATS NOW.

Day 3: This new kibble is tasteless. Blue Buffalo Wilderness, my ass. More like Brown Cardboard Inside. Thank God I still get turkey. Oh, turkey, I love you.
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Day 4: It has been 93 hours, 22 minutes and 17 seconds since my last treat, a creamy, moist morsel of manufactured goodness that activated the reward pathways in my brain like only the finest kitty crack can. You got any on you, bro?

Day 5: By employing my own talents of stealth and acrobatics, I’ve discovered not only is Big Buddy withholding snacks from me, they’ve all disappeared from the snack cabinet! What horrible sorcery is this?

Day 6: Last night I helped myself to some of Big Buddy’s pasta when he left the room to refill his beverage. It’s awful, rubbery stuff topped with sauce made from tomato, that infernal vegetable. Yet I gulped it down. What’s happening to me?!

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What’s In A (Cat’s) Name?

Before I adopted Buddy, I vowed I’d be a different kind of cat dad.

Where other people gave their cats normal, mundane and even human names, I would give my kitten a spectacular moniker, one that would convey both his awesomeness and my cleverness.

If my new kitten were female, I’d name her Arya or Khaleesi. By the time I was ready to adopt, I was set on the former. For people who weren’t Game of Thrones obsessives for the past eight years, Arya Stark (pictured above) was the show’s plucky orphan and one of its most popular characters.

If my new kitten were male, I’d name him Khal Drogo after the fierce Dothraki warlord played by the musclebound Jason Momoa. But perhaps Khal Drogo wasn’t awesome enough. Maybe I needed something even more badass, like Tigron, Destroyer of Worlds, or Saberfang the Earthshaker.

Khal Drogo
Khal Drogo: Except for the huge muscles, he doesn’t have much in common with Buddy.

Then I took the soon-to-be-named Buddy home and realized those names were ridiculous. This tiny ball of fur with a pipsqueak mew couldn’t be Khal Drogo or Tigron. In fact, the first thing I called him was buddy: After I’d placed him in his brand new carrier and carefully buckled the carrier into the front passenger seat of my car, he looked at me through the bars with those big grey (at the time) eyes and cried.

“Don’t worry, buddy, we’re going to be best friends,” I assured him. “You’ll see.”

No doubt he was further traumatized and terrorized by my terrible singing voice as I queued up some tunes for the drive home.

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“Your singing voice is abominable. It should be outlawed under the Geneva Conventions.”

After some two weeks of indecision, I was hanging out with my brother one night when he asked me about my new friend.

“Ah, the cat…” I said.

“You still haven’t given him a name?” My brother was incredulous.

I had given him a name, I just hadn’t realized it yet. During those two weeks I called him buddy, with a lowercase b. A nickname. Not long after that, it became official.

My cat’s name is Buddy.

Saturday Night Travolta
“Everybody on the dance floor, shake your Buddy!”

In retrospect, it makes sense to hold off on granting a name for a while. There are a million Mittens and Socks and Shadows in the world, but how many cats have names that reflect their personality?

It turns out Buddy isn’t a particularly common cat name. It doesn’t appear at all in most popular cat name lists floating around the web, whether they’re sourced from registration, veterinary records or user-generated data.

Buddy finally makes an appearance way down on the list of cuteness.com’s most popular cat names, at #67, way behind enduring male names like Max, Charlie, Milo, Simba, Oliver, Jack, George, Loki, Jasper, Felix and Tiger.

In an article on male cat names, veterinarian Debra Primovic hits the nail on the head:

The majority of cats named Buddy are mixed breed cats owned or named by men. They are often rescued or strays brought into homes and hearts across the world. They are generally loyal and adore their owners.

A Buddy isn’t a prissy, carefully-bred show pet. He’s a Buddy.

The word buddy first came to prominence in 19th-century ‘Merica, and there are two main theories about where the name comes from. The most popular one posits “buddy” is a corruption of the word “brother,” according to Word Detective, while others trace its etymology back to “butty,” a slang-word for a comrade or co-worker among miners, pirates and others who were after “booty.”

Not booty in the modern sense, as in “Get on the dance floor and shake your booty!” but in the treasure sense, as in “Argh! Tell us where the booty be or walk the plank, we shall make ye! Now talk, scallywag!”

I like the first one because it fits: While I do feel parentally protective of my Bud, I see him more as a little brother or a best friend instead of my “child.” No disrespect meant to the people who call their cats “furbabies,” of course. It’s just how I envision our feline-human friendship.

What’s your cat’s naming story? Were you as ridiculous as I was, or did you have your heart set on something less absurd from the beginning?

Reason #246 To Keep Your Cats Indoors: Coyotes

A family in Sarasota, Florida, has learned the hard way why it’s not a good idea to allow pet cats outside without supervision:

The video shows his cat initially sitting on a chair on his patio. That’s when one coyote approaches it. The cat goes running after it.

Then seconds later, two coyotes start chasing the cat back into the porch. The coyotes are then seen dragging the cat to nearby bushes.

Vanchanka found his cat’s remains hours later after he noticed his cat was gone. He says this is the first time he has seen something like this.

“I’m horrified. I haven’t been able to go outside, only in daytime when I know for sure there won’t be any,” said Valeriya Rozin.

Rozin, who is Vanchanka’s wife, is now frightened to go outside by herself as the couple have a 2-month-old baby. To make matters worse, their other cat died Friday morning from what they say it was a broken heart.

Even small dogs are susceptible to coyote attacks, and have been prey to the ambush predators before:

Their neighbor, Avis Zoborowski, has a 16-year-old Lhasa Shi Tzu, and says she saw three coyotes roaming outside her mailbox one morning. She’s now scared to take her dog out for a walk.

“I’m afraid that by the time that I saw a coyote coming, by the time I pick her up, that dog will be right on my face. I just go out there and pray that everything will be alright,” said Zoborowski.

In my neighborhood, less than a quarter mile from my home, a brazen coyote snapped up a small dog — a toy breed — when his owner was taking him outside to do his business before bed on a summer night. I spoke my neighbor about a week after it happened, and to say she was traumatized was an understatement.

The coyote was completely unfazed by her presence — the attack was so swift and surprising, she didn’t have time to react before the leash was torn from her grip. She never found her dog.

There’s one way to make sure your cats or small dogs aren’t killed by coyotes: Keep them indoors. Indoor cats live for an average of 16 years, while outdoor cats live about 3.5 years on average, according to PetMD.

While some cat owners worry about condemning their cats to boring indoor existences, indoor life doesn’t have to be boring. Cats don’t need much to be happy: Give them attention, affection and regular interactive play time. Provide some lounging spots with good views of the outdoors and toys to play with. Let them sleep near you, where they feel safe. They’ll be more than content.