Fat cats are candidates for illnesses, pain and early death

Q: My cat Fred's fat underbelly swings when he walks. I think it's cute, but his veterinarian says he needs to lose weight. What's wrong with a cat being overweight?

A: Fred has lots of company: The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that 60% of U.S. cats are overweight or obese.

That statistic isn't surprising, since most domestic cats live sedentary indoor lives where eating is the most exciting activity of the day. High-carbohydrate, calorie-dense kibble is freely available in most homes, and cats are allowed to feast whenever they wish.

Contrast that to cats living in the wild, where these solitary hunters eat small rodents and birds — meals that are low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Because only 10% of their 100 to 150 daily hunting attempts are successful, they must actively hunt six to eight hours every day.

While you see Fred's fat belly as cute, being overweight increases his risk of disease, pain and premature death.

Overweight cats are prone to diabetes, osteoarthritis and back pain. Often they can't even reach around to groom themselves. In addition, overweight cats are more likely to develop urinary disorders, breathing difficulties, heart problems and cancer.

When they are 8 to 12 years old, obese cats are 2.8 times more likely to die than cats of healthy weight.

To help Fred lose weight, decrease his calorie intake and help him become more active.

Read labels to choose low-calorie food, or ask Fred's veterinarian to recommend an appropriate diet. Use a measuring cup or kitchen scale to accurately apportion his food.

Cats meow when they want attention, but many people misunderstand and give their cats food instead. When Fred meows, cuddle and play with him until he has had his fill of affection.

Encourage him to be more active. In one study, increasing playtime by only 10 to 15 minutes a day helped cats lose weight.

Offer Fred places to climb and jump, and rotate his toys to enhance their appeal. Walk him outside on a leash, and consider offering him an outdoor cat enclosure.

Hide small amounts of food throughout your home, changing locations frequently so he has to hunt for his food. Put kibble into food puzzles and incorporate his food ration into games you play together.

I predict that even when he has lost the necessary weight, you'll still find him adorable.

Q: Why are my dog Bear's teeth worn down?

A: If all of Bear's teeth are worn, he may have played with a few too many tennis balls. Even the clean nylon fuzz that covers tennis balls is abrasive, but when the ball rolls along the ground and picks up grit, it acts like sandpaper and wears down the enamel even more.

If only Bear's small front teeth, the incisors, are worn, he may have been chewing on himself because he was itchy. The incisors are intended to nibble the last scraps of meat off bones, but if Bear eats regular dog food, his incisors should look normal.

On the other hand, if he has experienced flea infestations, he may have been chewing on himself, trying to kill the fleas that make him itch. A topical or oral flea preventive can solve this problem.

If Bear is chewing on himself because allergic skin disease is making him itch, talk with your veterinarian about allergy treatment.

Adjacent to the incisors are the canine teeth, the fangs that grasp and hold prey and other objects. Behind the canines are the premolars and molars that form a serrated line that resembles pinking shears. These teeth are admirably suited for cutting and crushing food.

If Bear is instead carrying and chewing ice cubes or rocks, these teeth may be worn and even fractured.

To ensure that Bear hasn't exposed the sensitive pulp cavity of any of his teeth, ask your veterinarian to examine his mouth.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at