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By Jennifer Viegas
Since 35 to 50 percent of American felines are considered overweight or obese, according to numerous university reports, there's a good chance you're living with a fat cat. If so, you've probably mulled over cat foods labeled with terms like "low calorie," "lite" and "weight control." New research, however, has determined that such diets vary widely beyond the packaging and labeling differences.
Tufts University Pet Food Study
Scientists from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University recently investigated nearly 100 commercially available pet food diets with weight management claims. "There is so much information -- and misinformation -- about pet foods, it's understandable that people are confused about what to feed their dogs and cats," says Dr. Lisa Freeman, a professor of nutrition at Cummings with a doctorate in nutrition and veterinary medicine.
Under federal guidelines, pet foods labeled with terms like "light" or "low calorie" must provide caloric content on their labels. The foods must also adhere to a maximum kilocalorie per kilogram restriction. But Freeman and her team found that more than half of the evaluated foods exceed this maximum. The researchers also discovered that if owners followed the feeding recommendations for many of the foods, their pets would actually gain weight.
Cat Weight Problem
"Obese cats are twice as likely to die in middle age, which for cats is 6 to 12 years," according to Dr. Janet M. Scarlett, a veterinarian and an associate professor of epidemiology at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine. Freeman says feline obesity is associated with numerous diseases. Here are just a few:
Pancreatitis, which can hurt metabolism of sugar and overall digestion
Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease
Skin and coat problems
Respiratory tract disease
Selecting the Right Weight Control Cat Food
First, determine the number of calories your pet is currently consuming, including main meals, snacks, treats and toppers, says Dr. Amy Dicke, an Ohio-based veterinarian. Establish a goal weight with your veterinarian and then move on to selecting foods.
The foods should offer complete nutrition and contain special ingredients for weight loss, such as L-carnitine, an ingredient that helps burn fat while keeping your cat energized and feeling full.
"To lose weight, the amount of calories the pet burns needs to be greater than the pet's caloric intake," says Dicke. In case you ever have a question about the food, quality manufacturers provide a toll-free number on the package. Feel free to call up and talk to their pet specialists about your concerns.
Overweight Versus Obese Cats
Beyond these basics, you also have a choice now between "off the shelf" weight control cat foods and special veterinary formulas available through many veterinarians. Also called "therapeutic diets," these veterinary formula diets are generally designed for the obese pet. Obese cats and dogs are 20 percent over their ideal weight. Therapeutic diets are often the most restricted in fat and calorie content.
5 Steps to Follow
As you work with your cat on its new weight management plan, Dicke advises that you do the following:
Step 1: Approach weight loss in a holistic manner. Often, this means starting with a change in habits, as well as a focus on appropriate nutrition and increased exercise.
Step 2: Accurately measure the food, and if you are giving any treats or biscuits, consider the calories they may be adding to your pet's daily intake.
Step 3: If possible, feed the daily food allotment in multiple small meals throughout the day.
Step 4: Increase daily exercise.
Step 5: Any human interaction or attention tends to increase activity. If you show interest in your cat and what it's doing, chances are, your cat will be more energetic and engaged.
While it's essential to select the right weight loss diet, your companionship cannot be packaged or replaced. As Dicke points out, your cat's "activity level, the home environment and (your) vigilance" are essential to helping your cat lose the excess pounds and keep them off for good.
Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.
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