My cat is fat. So what? Ten dangers of obesity in cats

In the previous article, we talked about the most common reasons why cats become overweight or obese. Some of the feedback we’ve received was in the spirit of, “So what if my cat is chubby? He isn’t gonna die because of it, right?”. Well, actually, cats do die of obesity.

Fat cat Moe
According to his owner, Moe weighs 25 lbs. Photo by Dan Perry

Obesity is among the most common so-called preventable causes of death in humans, and there is not a single reason why we think obesity affects cats and dogs differently. In today’s article, you will learn about the most common problems that obese cats face.

  • Obesity increases the risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular diseases are a very common cause of death in both human and veterinary medicine, and the greatest contributing factor is excessive weight. Extra layers of fat around organs and blood vessels, as well as the extra effort necessary to move a muscle (and the reduced activity level of the person or animal in general), result in unnecessary load to the heart and make the heart less tolerant to any increased load.
  • Obesity is a huge risk factor for diabetes mellitus. Even a moderate increase of body fat can significantly reduce insulin resistance in cats, dogs, humans, and other mammals. Basically, this means that your cat’s body needs more insulin to regulate the blood sugar. This results in an unnecessarily elevated workload on the pancreas, an organ that produces insulin, and may cause the pancreas to malfunction and the body to develop diabetes. Statistical research of more than 1,400 cats in veterinary clinics in the US showed that overweight cats are 3.9 times more likely to develop diabetes.
  • Overweight cats and insulin resistance cause other issues as well. Besides diabetes, insulin resistance may also contribute to development of cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, breast and prostate cancers, and other medical conditions. Also, insulin is very important in suppressing appetite after the meal, and this process becomes less effective if the body has developed insulin resistance. Have you noticed that obese cats (and people) appear to be hungry all the time? Obesity causes increased appetite, therefore making weight reduction programs harder.
  • Obesity increases the risk of lameness and arthritis. Overweight and obese cats have to carry an extra load at all times, which in turn causes unnatural stress on the joints and limbs. The above-mentioned research concludes that obese cats are 4.9 times more likely to develop lameness that requires veterinary care.
  • Overweight cats have difficulty breathing. As the body fat accumulates at the abdomen, the fat soon begins to expand to the chest, which makes your cat’s lungs harder to expand and inhibits your cat’s ability to inhale an adequate amount of air. Breathing difficulty may also be caused by excessive abdominal fat, which causes displacement of the diaphragm. Brachycephalic cats, such as Persians and British short-hairs, who already have difficulty breathing due to their anatomy, will experience worsening of their condition as they gain weight. For cats with bronchitis, extra body fat is likely to worsen the condition.
  • Obesity decreases tolerance to activities and heat. It is what it is. If your cat has to carry extra weight and requires greater effort to move his paws, he will likely choose not to move those paws more often than not. The good news is that you can (and should) change this pattern by enticing your cat to play. Grab a feather toy and go nuts with your cat for at least 10 minutes, twice daily. You can read more about the benefits of playing with your cat here, but if it appears that your cat is not so interested in toys, you can find out how to make your cat want to play here. You will soon notice that the more often you play with your cat, the more responsive he becomes.
  • Obesity increases the risk of complications during medical surgeries. The spaying surgery for female cats, for example, is easy and relatively safe, but this surgery becomes complicated when the cat is obese; the more excessive the weight the cat carries, the greater the associated risks become. Of course, this holds true for all kinds of surgical manipulations. Two main reasons exist for this correlation. First, the cat carries an extra layer of fat around the abdomen and internal organs, which makes the surgeries longer and more difficult. Second, animals with excessive weight are less tolerant of anesthetic drugs used during surgeries.
  • Obesity promotes skin problems in cats. The study mentioned previously also revealed a correlation between obesity in cats and non-allergic skin conditions. Researchers stated that cats with excess weight are 2.3 times more likely to develop skin problems that are not related to allergies. The most probable theory behind this is that cats who are overweight have more trouble grooming themselves, which is very important for skin health because grooming is a way of personal hygiene for cats.
  • Obesity increases stress levels in the cat. Or, in other words, it decreases the wellbeing of the cat. So what? Chronic stress in cats (and not only in cats) is associated with decreased overall health and reduced lifespan. You can find more information about stress in cats here.
  • Overweight cats experience difficulty giving birth. If you are a cat breeder, you should know that cats, who typically have few problems associated with labor, have a significantly higher risk of a difficult birth when they are obese. The reason for this is that the excessive body fat characteristic of obesity narrows the birth canal, which makes it harder for the kittens to pass through. In cases of severe obesity, a veterinarian may suggest terminating the pregnancy to avoid risking the life of the mother cat.

As if these problems weren’t enough, just like with humans, cats and dogs with extra pounds also experience a reduced quality of life and a shortened lifespan. Therefore, it is in your cat’s best interest to help him lose his extra weight. If your cat is fit at the moment, make sure he remains that way for the rest of his long life.

In the next article, you will learn how to measure whether your cat is overweight or obese. You can find more information in our series about obesity in cats.