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Weighing in on Fat Cats

In most Western countries, between 6 and 40 percent of cats are overweight. The extra pounds these animals carry -- pounds of fat that affect their comfort and health -- are generally the result of plain old overeating. Loving owners give them too many meals, too much to eat at each meal, or too many snacks between meals. The problem is often worse around holidays, when everyone is tempted to overindulge. To complicate matters, many cat owners don't recognize, or refuse to acknowledge, that their pets are getting a little hefty (just as they may overlook their own weight problems).

Let's put the old stereotype of the fat, happy cat to rest. Cats, like humans, need to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can cause or worsen medical conditions your cat might have, from skin disease to heat intolerance to joint and heart problems. An overweight cat is often less able to withstand surgery or fight and recover from disease. And fat cats tend to have shorter lives than cats of average weight. Obesity is most often the result of consuming more calories than are expended, but it can also be caused by hereditary (or genetic) defects, hormonal or glandular problems, a lack of exercise, or a combination of all these things.

Weigh your cat regularly. Look for changes in body weight by standing above the cat and looking for a slight "waist" behind her ribs. Place both hands on her ribs. If your cat is the proper weight, you'll be able to feel her ribs under a slight layer of fat, but they shouldn't stick out. Also check for pouches of fat in the groin area between the hind legs and under the belly.

If your cat is overweight, take her to your veterinarian for a check-up and treatment of any medical problems that may be contributing to her obesity. Then have the veterinarian help you determine her ideal weight and a proper diet to help her reach that weight. Your veterinarian may suggest a weight control product or recommend you continue using your present cat food, but reduce the amount. Also, you should eliminate all snacks from your cat's diet and include regular exercise in her day.

To make sure the program is working, keep a weight record, consult with your veterinarian, and decrease your cat's food intake if you do not see any progress. Finally, to keep your cat at the desired weight, set up a maintenance program of continued exercise and periodic weigh-ins. Help ensure a long, healthy life for your cat by keeping her at the ideal weight for her breed, size, temperament and activity level.

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