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Old 12-08-2014, 05:12 PM   #1  
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Default Obese Cats, and what it means for us

(Note: I do not intend this thread to be a debate about whether it's best to feed your cat raw/dry/canned. While I've done an extensive amount of personal research, I am not an expert on the subject. Also, it's clear that some cats eat dry food and are perfectly healthy, at a healthy weight. So this is not an attack on how you feed your cat. You know your cat better than I do. This thread is meant to be a reflection on how people eat—how we eat—and how "simple" changes might present some ideas or even answers.)

So, a subject I'm really interested in is feline obesity, because of some things I've learned that make me wonder about how some of the same principles might apply to people.

----------

Story:

I've had cats throughout my life, beginning with a fantastic mouser when I lived on a waterfront lot. I was about 5, and I called her Harvey (which annoyed my dad because it's "not a girl cat name," and neither of my parents knew where I'd heard the name before). Harvey would run up trees after squirrels, then barrel headfirst down the tree after them. She was fearless. She was still a kitten when she started bringing home rats bigger than she was.

And although we had dry food out all the time for Harvey, she never really ate it. She lived off mice and rats and whatever else she caught in the forest around our home. She was a lean, mean, killing machine, but affectionate with us. An altogether great cat.

When my parents split up, Harvey stayed on the waterfront with my dad. I'm glad because she lived a good life out there. I think in her old age she started hunting less, and got a bit fat.

After that, we kept more cats, but an interesting trend developed. All the cats we had, even though they had open access to the outdoors, were overweight. They weren't hunters. They spent a lot of time outside, sure, and we liked to play with them, but despite the exercise (granted, not as strenuous as hunting), they were big cats. Not hugely obese, but sturdy, pudgy, and with bellies hanging down. My sister and I had two cats who were sisters - Xena and Gabriella, we called them - both of which met that description.

During the same time, we brought home two barn kittens from a friend of the family's ranch, to find them homes in the city. One found a home down the street, and the other, Bobi, worked his way into our hearts and ended up staying. Like my first cat, Harvey, Bobi was a hunter. And like Harvey, he was lean.

For about a year and a half I house-sat to take care of two cats who ate a very strict diet of Science Diet kibble, measured out in scoops twice a day. Both cats were more overweight than any I've kept before (which was undoubtedly the reason for the controlled diet), but neither lost weight while we were there, even though we followed their food plan to the letter. It's possible they were getting food elsewhere. But I think it still says something, if their measured portions weren't enough to satisfy them.

Fast forward to the last few years, to my current cat, Watson (purebred Ragdoll). Watson is an indoor cat. The only time he ever goes outside is on a leash (even on the balcony), so he spends pretty much all his time in our 500 square foot apartment. We play with him most days, and he dashes around the house like a car in a demolition derby to burn off energy.

After far too much research about cat dietary needs, I settled on feeding him wet food. We'd talked about raw food to our vet and she told us she does see a few cases of food poisoning every year from raw-fed pets, so we started out with wet. But gradually we have started adding in raw food. He loves chicken wings. We use dry food as treats, but here's something funny: If dry food is around, he is so obsessed and excited by it that he will eat so fast he pukes it up immediately. So it's only a treat, and he gets four or five small kibbles at a time. He gets raw or wet food 3 times a day.

Now I'm getting to the point: Watson is thin. I don't mean he's unhealthy - he's a sturdy cat and the vet says he's healthy, and the perfect weight. But he's got a defined waist from above despite the fluff, and when we shave him down for the summer he looks lean as a lynx. Big paws, straight belly.

I've heard a lot of stories and evidence from various sources that dry food is the cause of feline obesity, and my own experience backs this up in my mind. It's sad how many cats now are insulin-dependent and obese, and in many cases it's impossible to change the cat's diet because the cat will refuse to eat anything but dry food (from what I understand, dry food uses an enzyme coating which is actually healthy in and of itself, but is used to make the kibbles more delicious/appealing). But case studies have shown that changing cats over to a raw or good-quality wet food diet can actually reverse feline diabetes to the point where the cats don't even need insulin anymore.

Isn't that fascinating?

----------

Okay, story over. So, what is it that makes kibble so bad for (at least some) cats? One obvious culprit is water. Cats don't have a high thirst drive, so many cats are dehydrated from eating kibble all the time, which has a much lower water content than either raw or canned food. Another potential culprit is grain products, since cats' digestive systems aren't evolved to digest grains effectively (they are carnivores, after all). Maybe there are other considerations as well.

And what does this mean for us?

It's clear that foods are designed today to be delicious regardless of their healthiness. Some "foods" aren't really foods at all - just a conglomeration of addictive flavours and substances. Think about cheezies/cheetohs. What on earth are those things made of? Are they food?

So have we, like (at least some) cats, gotten fat simply as a result of the foods available to us?

What do we have to eat to feel full and stay healthy and lean, without worrying about calories and how much we're exercising? What kind of food will give us energy to want to exercise? To crave it?

I don't see the junk food issue changing anytime soon, and to be honest I don't plan on giving up certain foods. But I think if we had a better idea of what our choices really mean (not just which foods have more protein, or less fat, or less HFCS, and so on, but what the sum of those things equals), we might have an easier time making ourselves healthy again.

Last edited by faiora; 12-08-2014 at 05:30 PM.
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Old 12-08-2014, 05:30 PM   #2  
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It's been my observation that most people read the labels of their pets food with as much interest as they read the labels of the foods they themselves eat, which is not at all.

I free feed dry, always have for about 30 years and have never had feline weight problems ... however, the food I buy also costs $40 for 15 lb. and the ingredients read like a recipe for turkey stew.

Funny, one of my cats had to have all of her teeth pulled due to gum disease. She had to eat canned for 14 days. I'd never seen a cat eat with such a sulky attitude and when she was done she'd go sit by where I kept the bowl of dried and look at me hopefully. Couldn't wait to get back to her dried food, which she gums down with no problem! Never lost an ounce of weight, either.
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Old 12-08-2014, 05:47 PM   #3  
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It's been my observation that most people read the labels of their pets food with as much interest as they read the labels of the foods they themselves eat, which is not at all.
Yeah, that's something I've been trying to do lately - focus on the actual ingredients list on foods I eat, instead of just looking at the calories or the protein content, and so on.

I was reading somewhere a comment by someone in the food industry that they can make the nutrition content say pretty much whatever they like, just using additives. And it makes sense. Want to add protein? Just add some soy isolate. Vitamins and minerals? Easy peasy. Reduce fat? use a modified fat product, or simply add carbs and fillers so the percentage fat is less.

It's harder to disguise these things on an ingredients list, but even people who look at labels often just look at the calories.
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Old 12-08-2014, 09:53 PM   #4  
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Yeah, that's something I've been trying to do lately - focus on the actual ingredients list on foods I eat, instead of just looking at the calories or the protein content, and so on.

I was reading somewhere a comment by someone in the food industry that they can make the nutrition content say pretty much whatever they like, just using additives. And it makes sense. Want to add protein? Just add some soy isolate. Vitamins and minerals? Easy peasy. Reduce fat? use a modified fat product, or simply add carbs and fillers so the percentage fat is less.

It's harder to disguise these things on an ingredients list, but even people who look at labels often just look at the calories.
There are some truly repulsive tricks used by animal food manufacturers, both pet and agricultual, to make up "nutrient" profiles. People think cellulose added to bread to add fiber is bad, but chicken feces are routinely turned into comercial cattle feed *gag* Man, if you are what you eat doesn't the same philosophy apply to what nourishes the things that will eventually be nourishing you?

Honestly, the processed food we buy I could list on one hand. I'm glad my husband is on the same page we me on that because it's a huge chunk of our budget but we're not kids, we both look at food like an investment in health, you pay up front at the grocery store or down the road in doctor bills.

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Old 12-09-2014, 06:35 AM   #5  
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I would agree that people don't read the labels. I was an obese child and learned to read labels at age 10 or so. Although I will say it didn't help my obesity I also had a love of veggies as well. There are many factors that play into obesity.

I find myself in a sedentary job and struggle with a lifelong eating disorder which has actually gotten better in the past year and resulted in weight loss. I don't know how much genetics play into it, I always assumed a small part but I do have 2 obese parents, both were obese as children (in the 50s). But there are many benefits beyond weight to eating healthy and exercising so I do both.
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Old 12-09-2014, 02:41 PM   #6  
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I don't really have a good scientific understanding of cat diet but as I've been having problems with my cat's weight, thought I'd share my anecdotal story.

My cat's weight problem is that he is too thin. For a while he was a normal weight of about 12-13 lbs (he has a very large frame, this is a healthy weight for him), but after I moved a couple years ago he dropped all the way to 10.5 lbs. His little hip bones were sticking out, his spine was so obvious, it was starting to worry me. I took him to the vet in our new town and she agreed he should likely weigh more and worked out he needed 400 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. Fortunately I've gotten him eating a bit more and he's up to 11 lbs. Still on the thin side but that half pound made a giant different.

Before I took him to the vet I would feed him dry food of a typical grocery store brand, Purina I think. Not the cheapest but also not the best by far by far. I always kept his bowl full and he would graze throughout the day. I fed him wet food on occasion as a treat. He was always excited to get the wet food, but he never would finish the can before it had been out too long.

The vet suggested, if affordable, to get a healthier brand (and recommended one whose dry food had no grain ingredients and higher in calories so he could eat a smaller volume) and try to feed him as much canned food as possible.

I did switch him to the nicer food and leave out dry food at all times and feed him 2-3 cans of wet food per day. He meows for his wet food but I must feed him the smaller cans. He won't finish his food in the larger can before it has been out too long, and he won't eat food that has been refrigerated and rewarmed. He continues to pick at his dry food as well.

Since changing his food up he has gained half a pound and no longer seems so frail. His coat, which was already lovely, is even nicer now and his stinky breath is much less stinky, but still very stinky because he is just a stinky cat.

My experience seems rather unique (my vet said the vast majority of cat weight problems she deals with are overweight not under), but I thought I'd throw it out there. I definitely noticed positive changes in his outward appearance (his coat is AMAZING now, and he got a lot of compliments on how good it was before the food change). I can definitely see your comparison between the cat food experience and the people food experience. There are also thin people who seem to eat junk, rarely exercise (my cat is an indoor cat, he runs around quite a bit but nothing like an outdoor cat would do), and still remain quite thin. Those people, in my eyes anyway, eat less (my seldom grazing cat) than others, not because they intend to but it is just their nature.
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Old 12-09-2014, 03:04 PM   #7  
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It's been my observation that most people read the labels of their pets food with as much interest as they read the labels of the foods they themselves eat, which is not at all.
I'd agree with that.

I also have been incredibly disappointed with veterinarian's lack of basic nutrition understanding.

My male cat experienced a few very serious urinary tract infections and blockages, which eventually resulted in surgery. After the first time, I obviously wanted to know why it happened and what I could do to prevent it. The vet prescribed a special UT food, which I fed him for a little while, and then I read the label. It was full of crap. Full of grains! Full of stuff I wouldn't ever feed myself. Not to mention, it was expensive. Long story short, I had to do my own research and decide what was best for him without the vet's help. He eventually had surgery to have his urinary tract re-routed, and all is well now, but I still keep him on a diet to prevent future issues.

I measure their (Blue Buffalo dry) food every day, though at this point I think they wouldn't eat any more or less if I free fed them. I give them wet food a few times a week. And I give them trimmings from raw meat now and then. That's what has worked for their health and my budget and time constraints, though I would like to feed them them more wet food if I could afford to.

Anyway, all that to say, if you wouldn't feed yourself McDonald's every day, you probably should think twice about feeding your cat (or dog) the equivalent McDonald's-type pet food, chock full of fillers and over-processed who-knows-what. It's a mirror image of obesity and other health issues in humans. What we eat can have sooo much to do with our overall health, not just our weight.

I understand it's not affordable to everyone and it's hard to know what information is true when it comes to pet health (and our own health!), but I urge everyone to educate themselves and make whatever changes are within your means.
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Old 12-09-2014, 04:20 PM   #8  
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I also have been incredibly disappointed with veterinarian's lack of basic nutrition understanding.
This is a good point. I picked out my vet based specifically on this because my cat was losing too much weight, but if he he wasn't underweight I would have assumed any old vet I went to would give good dietary advice. Clearly this isn't always the case.
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Old 12-09-2014, 06:31 PM   #9  
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I don't really have a good scientific understanding of cat diet but as I've been having problems with my cat's weight, thought I'd share my anecdotal story.

My cat's weight problem is that he is too thin. For a while he was a normal weight of about 12-13 lbs (he has a very large frame, this is a healthy weight for him), but after I moved a couple years ago he dropped all the way to 10.5 lbs. His little hip bones were sticking out, his spine was so obvious, it was starting to worry me. I took him to the vet in our new town and she agreed he should likely weigh more and worked out he needed 400 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. Fortunately I've gotten him eating a bit more and he's up to 11 lbs. Still on the thin side but that half pound made a giant different.

Before I took him to the vet I would feed him dry food of a typical grocery store brand, Purina I think. Not the cheapest but also not the best by far by far. I always kept his bowl full and he would graze throughout the day. I fed him wet food on occasion as a treat. He was always excited to get the wet food, but he never would finish the can before it had been out too long.

The vet suggested, if affordable, to get a healthier brand (and recommended one whose dry food had no grain ingredients and higher in calories so he could eat a smaller volume) and try to feed him as much canned food as possible.

I did switch him to the nicer food and leave out dry food at all times and feed him 2-3 cans of wet food per day. He meows for his wet food but I must feed him the smaller cans. He won't finish his food in the larger can before it has been out too long, and he won't eat food that has been refrigerated and rewarmed. He continues to pick at his dry food as well.

Since changing his food up he has gained half a pound and no longer seems so frail. His coat, which was already lovely, is even nicer now and his stinky breath is much less stinky, but still very stinky because he is just a stinky cat.

My experience seems rather unique (my vet said the vast majority of cat weight problems she deals with are overweight not under), but I thought I'd throw it out there. I definitely noticed positive changes in his outward appearance (his coat is AMAZING now, and he got a lot of compliments on how good it was before the food change). I can definitely see your comparison between the cat food experience and the people food experience. There are also thin people who seem to eat junk, rarely exercise (my cat is an indoor cat, he runs around quite a bit but nothing like an outdoor cat would do), and still remain quite thin. Those people, in my eyes anyway, eat less (my seldom grazing cat) than others, not because they intend to but it is just their nature.
I have an interesting similar "story" to share:

My husband's brother (who is adopted, so different genetics) is tall and rail-thin, but all he eats is pizza and McDonald's. He won't even drink water because he's afraid of losing weight.

Now, this could easily be just genetic. But couldn't it also be from only eating junk? How does your body respond if you're missing essential nutrients? What happens when you're in a constant state of dehydration because you only drink soda, and eat high-sodium foods?

Probably in your cat's case, this is a genetic thing (looks like you fed your cat just fine, mixing food types). But in general it seems to me that junk food (or cheap kibble) can cause a lot of problems other than weight gain.
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Old 12-09-2014, 06:41 PM   #10  
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The vet prescribed a special UT food, which I fed him for a little while, and then I read the label. It was full of crap. Full of grains! Full of stuff I wouldn't ever feed myself. Not to mention, it was expensive. Long story short, I had to do my own research and decide what was best for him without the vet's help.
Here's an interesting fact: Prescription food for pets is not designated by any governing body, society, or other organization. It is designated as prescription food by the companies that create and market it, so it will sell at a higher rate.

Now, that doesn't mean your veterinarian is being dishonest with you by prescribing "prescription" food. They're told the quality control standards are higher, which to the vet means lower risk of food poisoning if your pet has a compromised immune system, for example. And likely the pet food companies do implement higher quality control for their "prescription" food.

However, something else I've read (but have been unable to confirm) is that pet food companies actually have a place in veterinary education, in regards to pet nutrition. Essentially this means veterinarians learn about pet nutrition from the the companies that sell pet food. It's possible this isn't true, but given the nature of prescription pet food, it sounds legit to me. And even if it isn't true, veterinary offices are still making money promoting and selling "prescription" food, which patients cannot get from anywhere else.

That is a conflict of interest I am not comfortable with at all.
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Old 12-09-2014, 11:08 PM   #11  
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http://www.catinfo.org/

excellent research based information on feline nutrition.



http://www.catinfo.org/docs/FoodChartPublic9-22-12.pdf

info on protein/fat/carb/calorie count for most wet foods on the market.
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Old 12-10-2014, 01:35 PM   #12  
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^ Thanks for that second link. I recently bought the Blue Buffalo Wilderness wet food because PetSmart doesn't carry Tiki Cat (I HIGHLY recommend this food), but apparently BB's Wilderness wet food is high in carbs even though it is grain free and the company won't provide the nutrition information. Weird. Guess I'll be going to stock up on Tiki Cat so I don't make that decision again.
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Old 12-10-2014, 04:09 PM   #13  
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^ Thanks for that second link. I recently bought the Blue Buffalo Wilderness wet food because PetSmart doesn't carry Tiki Cat (I HIGHLY recommend this food), but apparently BB's Wilderness wet food is high in carbs even though it is grain free and the company won't provide the nutrition information. Weird. Guess I'll be going to stock up on Tiki Cat so I don't make that decision again.
Look in the ingredients for sweet potato and similar things. Lots of ingredients are technically not grains, but still high carb.
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Old 12-10-2014, 07:19 PM   #14  
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^ Thanks for that second link. I recently bought the Blue Buffalo Wilderness wet food because PetSmart doesn't carry Tiki Cat (I HIGHLY recommend this food), but apparently BB's Wilderness wet food is high in carbs even though it is grain free and the company won't provide the nutrition information. Weird. Guess I'll be going to stock up on Tiki Cat so I don't make that decision again.
aw, you're welcome, i'm glad you found it useful. i know i did when i read up on how important it is to keep carbs low for our feline friends.

i use the BFF brand, and my snooty kitty gets bored of it. i'll try tiki cat if i ever see it.

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Old 12-10-2014, 10:10 PM   #15  
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Tiki is all fish from what I understand, so you still have to throw some other things in the mix, but they clean and process their fish right where they catch it and it doesn't include any of the harmfuk chemicals that a lot of fish based cat food has (can't recall the name off the top of my head).
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