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Obesity and Feline Arthritis—Is There a Link?

Those funny photos of fat cats are a lot less amusing when you realize what hides underneath all that cuddly fur. Just like people, the health dangers for obese pets are real. It's simply not worth giving in to begging for that extra serving or more treats. When you indulge cats with food, their added weight contributes to serious long-term health risks, including debilitating arthritis.

Among the common complications of feline obesity is the development of diabetes (2 to 4 times more likely), fatty liver and skin conditions. The increased fat in the body’s tissues also cause difficulties with surgery. But the risk of arthritis in heavy cats is even higher—from 3 to 5 times more likely.

Side effects of extra weight

Obesity increases pressure on a cat’s joints, which worsens with age. As arthritis develops, leaping and landing from a jump causes pain. Some studies indicate that overweight cats may even produce abnormal cartilage.

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease where bone rubs against cartilage, cartilage erodes and joints become inflamed as bone rubs bone. The discomfort begins as limping, difficulty climbing and trouble getting in and out of a litter box. As the condition worsens, stiff, sore joints grow painful and cats become lame. Sadly, the condition is progressive and irreversible.

An ounce of prevention

Maintaining a cat’s healthy weight helps prevent arthritis. Just like with people, diet and exercise are the secret ingredients. The good news: exercise for cats is simply playtime, and calorie consumption is in your control.

Though arthritis can be genetic or trauma-induced, overweight cats are predisposed because of the additional strain on muscles, bones and organs. With 60% of cats in the U.S. considered overweight or obese, according to the Association of Pet Obesity and Prevention, arthritis is common.

Weight test 

You should be able to easily feel a cat’s ribs and spine. Viewed from above, the area between ribs and hip bones should curve slightly inward to create a defined waistline. Chat with your veterinarian about nutritious foods suited for your cat’s age, lifestyle and condition. Reduce meals gradually and feed him high-quality food, and perhaps even a weight-management formula.

A calorie-restricted diet requires discipline on your part. Don’t make excuses. Instead of saying "no" or scolding when your kitty pleads for more food, give her affection, attention and playtime.

The importance of playtime

Cats benefit by keeping active. Exercise is essential for their physical fitness and mental health, such as to relieve stress and boredom, improve circulation, build muscle and reduce behavioral problems, like begging for food.

Playtime, the second key to preventing obesity and arthritis, is the best type of exercise for cats. Short daily sessions are fun, release pent-up energy and improve your bond. Let her climb a cat post and stalk feathers on a string or a mouse on a stick. Solo toys also keep her active when you’re not home. And a treat ball connects activity with a reward.