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December 1, 2015

According to the State of Pet Health Report by Banfield Pet Hospital, obesity in cats has reached epidemic levels in the United States.

Research shows that 25 to 40 percent of pets who visit a veterinary clinic are overweight or obese—that’s approximately one in three cats that are considered overweight or obese. The only good news about pet obesity is that it can be resolved, relatively quickly, with a little hard work.

The health risks associated with excess weight in cats are similar to those for humans. Among the many obesity problems a cat can encounter are osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, heart and respiratory ailments, many forms of cancer and a decrease in life expectancy by nearly 2.5 years.

Despite these well-publicized findings, most cat owners continue to resist change. In fact, the 2015-2016 APPA Pet Owners Survey shows that while the number of obese cats is the second highest reported since 2008, the number of cats on a special diet is the lowest it’s been since 2000. 14.6 million cats are obese or overweight and 6.0 million cats are on a special diet.

Diets for Cats on a Diet

Most cat experts agree that there is not just one solution to the obesity problem among felines. Nutritional support, portion control, exercise and mental stimulation are the keys to resolving the epidemic. However, diet is one of the key indicators of weight loss in cats.

Pet food manufacturers such as Natural Balance have launched entirely new formulas to help keep dogs and cats fit. The company recently introduced the Fat Dog and Fat Cat lines of pet food, an entirely new line of food for dogs and cats focused on reducing weight. According to the Natural Balance website, these diets contain “a blend of protein and fiber designed to keep pets nutritionally balanced, even when your pet is eating less calories.”

“The most important part of feeding is to know how many calories your dog or cat requires each day to maintain an ideal adult weight and then this amount can be fed once or split into multiple feedings accordingly,” said Bettie Hamilton, vice president of marketing/product development at Halo, Purely for Pets. “Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your pet needs each day to avoid obesity.”

Halo’s Spot’s Stew line includes cat dry foods that help cats maintain the proper weight. The Healthy Weight cat diets are grain-free and nutritionally complete. It comes in two varieties, Game Bird Medley and Whitefish & Salmon.

“Just like in humans and the old adage we are what we eat, pets are the same and we believe better nutrition, health and vitality is created from the inside out,” said Holly Sher, owner of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company. “We encourage retailers and consumers alike to utilize our Evanger’s Problem-Solution Guide on our website, which makes helpful diet recommendations.”

Supplements can help decrease appetite, therefore supporting weight loss. The addition of fiber to diets may help decrease calories by making cats feel full and eliminating boredom eating.

“Pet superfoods are known to decrease digestive problems as well as promote weight loss and add to the overall wellbeing of your pet,” said Emily J. Hall, marketing manager, Nummy Tum Tum. “Pumpkin is a low-calorie superfood that can help your pets lose weight, just by making them feel less hungry. Its high moisture content makes it especially valuable to animals who refuse to drink enough water.”

Reducing Pudge with Portion Size

Portion control is critical for keeping cats slim. The majority of obese cats live in households with three or more children. This is likely due to children being the family member that is responsible for feeding their pets. Fortunately, there are many innovative solutions to this problem.

“Portion control is key during feeding time,” said Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Dexas, Inc. “We’ve done research to learn that the moment of making a decision and adopting a rescue is filled with emotion that people don’t really register the proper feeding habits that moment. You almost need a face-to-face lecture from a vet, but people are making up the amount to feed their adopted pet.”

The KlipScoop from Dexas can help. It is a scoop that ensures cats get the same portion for every meal. It then collapses flat and has an attached clip to keep the cat food bag closed.

Feeders can also help alleviate the problem of overeating—even in homes with multiple cats. The

“This is a high-tech answer to an age old problem,” said Piers Hampson, marketing director for SureFlap. “This feeder has a lid that seals over the food bowl that will only open when it recognizes and identifies the cat that is trying to access the food. No longer will you be stuck trying to control who eats what; this feeder will do it for you.”

Treats can be a quick way of adding excess calories and they are often given to express affection. The added danger is that anyone in the home could be giving your cats treats.

“For successful weight management, it is important to know your pet’s ideal weight and how many calories (including food and treats) he should consume daily,” Hamilton said.

Consider exploring single-ingredient treats and specially-designed low-calorie treats, such as Quickies from The Honest Kitchen. Each treat is crafted into a tiny, bite-sized heart shape and made with 100 percent wild- and line-caught Icelandic haddock. At just 1.1 calories per treat, Quickies allow owners to treat their cats with less worry about weight gain.

“In order to recommend appropriate treats to pet parents, retailers must have a strong understanding of how to communicate nutritional benefits,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications, WellPet. “A key approach to training employees on food labeling is understanding the order in which ingredients are listed, what the nutritional value and health benefits of these various ingredients are and how each type of treat can satisfy different flavor preferences, lifestyles and nutritional needs.”

Changing a diet, however, is not enough.

Exercise is just as important, so getting cats up and moving is necessary. This provides retailers a great opportunity to place interactive cat toys near the food aisle. Some even suggest an entire aisle devoted to weight loss may be an interesting layout for a store.

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