Obesity in Older Cats: Why it Happens and How to Control it
As your cat grows in years they may start to gain some pounds, too. All the more to love, you might think, but obesity can lead to health complications for your kitty. It's up to you to help them remain at a healthy weight.
Why older cats are at a higher risk of obesity
In general, cats enter their golden years around the age of 12. And as they do, they face a higher risk of obesity due to a slowing metabolism, inactivity and, in some cases, loss in muscle mass.
Additionally, senior cats often face arthritis and osteoarthritis, which can be contributing factors to weight gain.
Not only that, but obesity can increase their risk for several potentially compounding health concerns, including urinary tract disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, arthritis, liver disease, lameness, skin conditions, cancer, pancreatitis, GI diseases, infections and a decreased life span.
What might simply seem like a few extra pounds can actually turn into a much bigger issue. As a cat parent, you can help your cat maintain a healthy weight, even as their aging body begins to change.
How to tell if your cat is overweight
Knowing how important it is for your senior cat to maintain a healthy weight, the next step is to determine whether your cat needs to lose, gain or maintain their current weight.
Common signs that your cat is overweight include fat hanging from their abdomen (when viewed from the side), no visible waist (when viewed from above), hard-to-palpate ribs and a thick fat cover over the base of their tail.
You might also notice your cat becoming less active and struggling to jump onto their cat tree or tiring more easily during playtime.
Promoting weight loss in senior cats
If your senior cat is currently at a healthy weight, taking the right steps to help keep them there can contribute to their overall wellbeing. On the other hand, if you recognize that your cat needs to lose weight, you can take steps to help them regain a healthy body condition.
Schedule regular vet visits
Once a cat has reached seniorhood, twice-yearly vet visits are recommended. During these bi-annual visits, you can talk to your vet about identifying any underlying health causes that could be contributing to your cat’s weight gain. Your vet can also help you determine an appropriate weight for your cat.
Pay attention to their nutrition
One of the best ways to contribute to your senior cat’s healthy weight is by paying close attention to their overall nutrition.
First, make sure you are feeding your senior cat the right food. Ask your vet if a senior-specific weight management formula is needed. If you decide to make a change, be sure to take the proper steps to slowly introduce the new food.
Next, adjust their feeding routine to ensure they are eating the right amount of food each day.
- Opt for regularly scheduled feeding times versus free feeding.
- Regulate the amount of food they are eating each day. Read labels to determine the appropriate portion size. When in doubt, consult your vet.
- Ensure that you’re on the same page as everyone else in your family so no one “double feeds” a meal or gives out too many treats.
- Remember, treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s diet. Consider decreasing the number of treats you feed your senior cat in a day or opt for a lower-calorie treat.
Ask your vet about supplements that may ease your cat’s movement and make them more comfortable. This may even encourage your cat to be more active as they age. NaturVet, Cosequin and Well & Good offer joint health-focused supplements.
Support age-appropriate play
As your cat ages, it's important to still encourage them to stay active through playtime. Make sure you engage in age-appropriate play that may help them maintain a healthy weight without putting undue strain on their joints, which could make movement difficult later on.
- Use wand toys to play, implementing slower movements than you did in their first few years of life.
- Provide trees, furniture and perches that don’t require your older cat to jump as high but still allow them to climb and scratch.
- Provide toys that dispense food, encouraging your cat to engage in activity to be rewarded using their meals.
Helping your senior cat maintain a healthy weight is just one of many ways you can contribute to your feline family member’s overall wellbeing. Take your knowledge to the next level by learning more about the ways your senior cat’s needs might be changing.