The dieting season officially opened Tuesday in many American homes. But one Fargo family's efforts began in earnest last April following the death of Heine McNair, a 22 1/2 -pound tabby whose weight contributed to his untimely decline.
The dieting season officially opened Tuesday in many American homes. But one Fargo family's efforts began in earnest last April following the death of Heine McNair, a 22½-pound tabby whose weight contributed to his untimely decline.
Heine's brother Kenn, 9, now enjoys fewer snacks and the company of two active, younger cats, said owner Skyy McNair. Those changes have helped Kenn lose nearly 2 pounds since August. He currently weighs 21 pounds, 6 ounces.
"We're trying to get him down," said McNair, who doesn't want Kenn to face the same fate as his brother.
Portly pussycats have an increased risk for myriad serious health complications including: diabetes, hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, anal gland disease and others.
The number of obese and overweight cats is growing.
Veterinarian Carol Kurtyka of Mobile Moose Housecalls for Pets, a business based in Fargo-Moorhead, has cared for hundreds of cats during the past 35 years.
Kurtyka has seen the number of fat cats in the area steadily increase each year. More than 50 percent of her feline clients in 2007 were overweight.
"It's a two-fold problem just like with people - diet and exercise," said Kurtyka. "If you don't do them both you're not going to have success."
A 2003 report by The National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council indicated 25 percent of cats in the western world are obese and need to lose weight. More recent studies and surveys put that percentage between 30 and 60 percent.
Cat owners don't intend to overfeed their pets, but they do often forget that cats are carnivores, said Kurtyka. Left to their own devices, cats would expend a huge amount of energy to catch a mouse, bird or other small animal.
"They don't take down a deer, and eat and eat and eat," said Kurtyka.
A cat's ideal weight varies depending on genetics, build and breed. For example, a svelte Manx female might hit 10 pounds, while a healthy male Maine Coon or Ragdoll could easily weigh 18 pounds.
Even among fat cats, felines who weigh 30 pounds or more are rare.
At 31 pounds, Big Mac is such a cat.
"He's our pride and joy," said owner Darby Kershaw of Menoken, N.D., located east of Bismarck.
Big Mac, who has blue eyes, cream fur and a slight kink in his tail, is about 9 years old. He weighed 32 pounds a few years ago.
His weight hasn't caused any serious health problems to date, according Kershaw. Although, he limps slightly when walking and he's clearly uncomfortable being picked up.
Big Mac is quite lazy and easygoing.
"He likes to spend his time lying on the rug," said Kershaw. "Mac is just the perfect cat. He's too big to get on anything."
All cats - large and small - are remarkable creatures and challenging patients, says Kurtyka of Mobile Moose Housecalls for Pets.
"They do as they please. They don't read the textbooks. They march to their own drummer, but they have a way of getting into our hearts," said Kurtyka.
- Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: www.petobesity prevention.com
How to help a fat cat trim down
Helping an obese cat shed those extra pounds requires patience and a commitment from the entire household.
Changes to a cat's diet should always be made gradually to minimize the risk of a potentially fatal liver condition called hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver syndrome. Owners should also consult their veterinarian to help establish a weight loss plan and set a cat's target weight.
Veterinarians recommend smaller, more frequent feedings and more regular activity.
Cats should have at least 10 minutes of exercise daily.
Cutback or eliminate fatty treats, which should represent no more than 10 percent of a cat's daily diet.
Self-feeders can be useful to increase the number of feedings each day.
A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet can help promote weight loss.
Cats - especially extremely obese felines - need extra motivation to get and stay moving. Instead of placing dry kibble in a dish, try scattering food around the cat's eating area.
Sources: Veterinarians Carol Kurtyka of Mobile Moose Housecalls for Pets and Brad Bartholomay of Casselton Veterinary Service; petside.com and catfancy.com.
Readers can reach Forum visual reporter Ann Arbor Miller at (701) 451-5749 FAT CATS Ann Arbor Miller 20080102