All animals have an ideal weight that they should maintain for good health. The ideal weight differs from one species to the next and depends on other factors, such as breed, gender, and size. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to avoid many health problems, but this is sometimes easier said than done. One animal that can have trouble losing weight and keeping the weight off is cats, and this is becoming a big issue. According to VCA, obesity is the most preventable disease in cats in North America, yet between 30 and 35 percent of felines in this part of the world are classed as obese, and around 50 percent are overweight. Therefore, this is an extremely common problem.
As this is such a serious problem among felines, there have been many studies into cat obesity. These have researched the reasons cats become obese, the impact of obesity, and the best ways to reduce obesity. NPR reports that one study that has taken place has been led by researchers at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. This year-long study focused on how to keep indoor cats at a healthy weight and reduce obesity. One of the cats who took part in this study was Miko, who is owned by Erin Shibley and Chirag Rathod. Miko, whose full name is Miko Angelo, is an indoor cat living in Blacksburg, Virginia. Shibley describes her cat as a vacuum eater as he inhales his food. As soon as he smells her cooking for herself and Rathod, he assumes that it is his mealtime, too.
While taking part in the study, Miko was put on a special diet that involved him eating low-calorie, high-nutrition food. He also had to have weekly check-ins with Dr. Lauren Dodd, a resident in clinical nutrition at the college. Miko was chosen for the study as he was a perfect candidate. He does not suffer from any illnesses, and he is a little overweight. Rathod admits that the reason that Miko was overweight is that they have not rationed his food. Shibley agrees with this, and also explains that they would share whatever they were eating with Miko, rather than limiting him to cat food only. Once Miko was taking part in the study, they had to stop this behavior. When he came to them expecting food, they were not allowed to give him any. This was something that Shibley found difficult as she felt she was denying the cat something he enjoyed.
One of the reasons why indoor cats have such difficulty keeping off the weight is that they do not have the same opportunities for climbing, running, and other exercises as outdoor cats. Another reason is self-regulation when it comes to eating. While some cats can self-regulate what they eat so they only eat what they need nutritionally, others will eat any food that is available. Even if a cat receives help to lose weight, it is difficult for them to keep it off. The focus of the Virginia-Maryland study, which was sponsored by Purina, was finding the best ways to help indoor cats to keep off the weight after they had lost weight.
Clinical nutrition professor Megan Shepherd is aware of the struggles between owners and their pets, and she knows that it is the pets who usually win. Pet owners often give in to their cats, thus making it difficult for the cat to maintain their weight loss. Shepherd describes the culture of associating food with love as being one of the reasons that pet owners find it so difficult to not overfeed their pets. The first stage of the study involved Shepherd rating the cats on a bodyweight scale. A cat that is emaciated is given a score of one. At the other end of the scale, an obese cat is classified as a nine. Shepherd notes that there are many cats that even extend beyond the scale, so she has to classify them as a nine-plus.
Shibley and Rathod estimate that Miko would score a seven on the ratings, as they realized he was overweight. They were very shocked when they realized that he was rated as a nine. They described this as being a sobering realization. His high rating meant that it was important to help him lose weight so that he could avoid health problems in the future. According to Vet Street, obesity can increase the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. It can also reduce a cat’s lifespan and cause them problems with their joints.
The first step for Miko and the other overweight cats was to stop their all-day snacking. Shepherd suggests giving them some vegetables to restrict their calorie intake. She commented that one of the biggest things they had learned during the study is that cats should include vegetables in their diet. Dr. Lauren Dodd notes that the connection between the cat and their owner is also a vital part in successful weight loss. She talks about one of the pet owners in the study who went on a diet in support of her pet. She also needed to lose weight, so it was something that benefited both the woman and her cat. The woman lost 20 pounds during the study.
A few months after the study, the researchers checked on Miko to see how he was doing with the program and if he was managing to keep off the weight. He has done reasonably well since the study ended, and he is still at a healthy weight. However, Shibley admits that she has found it hard not to give in to the cat. She says that when he looks ate her with his big eyes, he looks so cute that she sometimes gives him the occasional treat of salmon. Hopefully, he will continue to maintain the weight loss despite the occasional treat.