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Pet Obesity: When Your Cat Needs to Cut Down on Kibble
UPDATE ON GARFIELD:
Garfield has been adopted and is doing well in his new home!
We will keep you posted on his progress. Thank you to all that supported him!
Garfield is 40 Lbs of Love, But…
Yes, the gargantuan cat is a sweetheart—but his size is cause for concern. Experts from North Shore Animal League America help you decide if your kitty needs to cut down on the kibble.
When Garfield was brought to North Shore Animal League America on May 31, 2012, the entire staff was immediately smitten with the tubby tabby. He warmed up to his caretakers immediately, rolling over for long belly rubs. His sweet disposition and imposing size endeared him to everyone who met the larger-than-life feline, whose owner had recently passed away.
At nearly 40 pounds, Garfield just might just be the fattest cat on the planet, and he’s becoming a media sensation, much like the comic character whose name he bears. But, according to medical experts at North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization, Garfield’s size is definitely not something to be admired.
“People often think that an obese animal is not in physical danger, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Mark Verdino, Vice President, and Chief of Veterinary Staff at North Shore Animal League America, headquartered in Port Washington, NY. “Just like with humans, too much weight can cause serious health problems. It leads to diabetes, heart disease, joint, bone and ligament damage, high blood pressure, intolerance to heat and more.”
Luckily, Garfield was brought to the right place: North Shore Animal League America’s staff of medical and behavioral experts is providing him with the best care possible, and once he is ready, the organization’s adoption specialists will make sure he finds a permanent, loving home. But losing weight would definitely help the cat live a longer, healthier life.
Of course, Garfield is not alone in his struggles with obesity. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that over a third of America's pets are overweight.
The reason? “Unlike humans, cats only eat what they are given,” says Dr. Verdino. “If a cat is overweight, it's more than likely because their owners made them that way.”
Part of the problem may be what they are fed—not just the amount, but the choice. Biscuits and other treats can be high in calories, so be careful when including them in your pet's overall caloric intake,” advises Dr. Verdino.
In addition, it's important to read the nutritional labels on foods, treats and snacks as well - just as you would your own. All too often, your pet's snacks can contain toxic chemicals and preservatives and don't include quality ingredients that promote good health.
One simple fix: Try choosing smaller snacks, even with large pets, since they won't know the difference. Also consider providing healthy snacks that are less fattening and more nutritional.
Automatic food dispensers can present another diet dilemma. “Cats don't normally have a portion control problem, but cats that have automatic food dispensers should be monitored to make sure they are not taking the lion's share,” says Dr. Verdino.
Another way to keep kitty in tip-top shape: exercise. “Playing with your cat is beneficial on many levels: it keeps them at a healthy weight, strengthens the owner-pet bond, sharpens your cat's instinctive hunting skills, gives them an outlet for aggression, and even enables a shy cat to gain confidence,” says Dr. Verdino
Watching television with your pet isn't the only way to bond. Cats need their exercise too. Although they may seem like they would rather be left alone, they can often be convinced to chase a piece of ribbon or to play with their toys. Keep their toys in rotation to prevent boredom. You may want to try a little catnip, too. It's not harmful to cats and it can really get them moving. Just make sure it's in a container and not loose. It's the sniffing of the catnip that stimulates them. If ingested, it will act like a sedative instead. Spend some active time with them, and be consistent. They will actually look forward to playtime.
Not sure if your cat qualifies as obese? The signs of obesity in cats are easy to see once you know what to look for. Make sure that its ribs are easily felt but not visibly protruding. Look at its tummy. If the stomach is hanging down between its legs, it is a good indication that the cat is overweight.
Your cat should be sporting an hourglass - not an apron, the name for a big belly on a cat. “I’ve had cats as patients that are so big their stomachs actually graze the ground,” says Dr. Verdino. And though this may help dust your hardwood floors, it's no laughing matter and should be taken seriously - no matter how cute they look all fattened up.
So, what should you do if you think your pet has a weight problem? First, schedule a physical for your pet with your local vet. Prior to your visit, keep a log of his dietary and exercise habits. Write down the amount and type of food your pet consumes each day, the time of day they consume it, how much daily exercise your animal receives (and this should include the type of exercise plus the duration), and any other physical problems you may have noticed.
“It's time for owners to ‘step up to the plate’ and discipline ourselves to make the right food choices for our pets,” says Dr. Verdino. “If we want them to live long, healthy lives, we need to discipline them to eat right and exercise—just like we do with ourselves.”
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