Friday, May 18, 2007

A Cat's Life: Weight Management

Uly on the couch

Today Ulysses has gone to the vet for some dental work. Trust me he hated it, but I was also a little worried about it because he has gained quite a bit of weight over the last year. When I got him, he was 14 pounds and looked well. Now he is almost 19 pounds and is a fat, slow-moving cat.

Psychologically, many people tend to see the obese as people who lack brain power. The train of thought goes like this: if they were smarter, they'd make better food choices or at least do something so that they wouldn't neglect themselves and look like that. For doctors, we tend to cringe even more as these patients have more medical problems, come to see us more, hear us talk about weight loss, and often have a hard time getting anywhere with the root of their medical problems. As a pediatrician, at least I can often talk about weight maintenance, since your average overweight Caucasian 10-year-old really should weigh more than 140 pounds in a decade, and they just have to hold the fat until they grow into muscular adults. I hope.

Anyway, with Ulysses, he's not smart enough to understand that he needs to diet, and he's obviously failed to self-regulate his own intake. He loves food, and I can certainly empathize with that. I've tried a few different regimens involving a mix of canned food, AKA “wet” food, and kibble, or “dry” food. I used to give him a lump of wet food (1/4 of the can) in the morning and let him snack on as much dry food as he wanted through the day. Then, after a significant weight gain, I tried limiting the dry food. Then I tried halving the dry food and increasing the wet food. Last week he was on wet food only and ate about 1.75 cans a day, begging for more.

Ulysses Experiences Snow I've done some reading. First, there's the problem that cat food packaging, which unlike people packaging, does not necessarily list the absolute calories it contains, and how much of those come from fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Instead it lists percentages, without stating how those percentages were calculated. Because of this, you cannot compare the percent protein on a kibble package (33%) to the protein on a can (10%) and conclude that kibble has more protein, which it doesn't. Secondly, cats' metabolisms are geared to protein and a mostly meat diet, though Ulysses likes some grass now and then. Thus, a high carbohydrate diet gives them a metabolic state similar to adult diabetics. To give you an example of the health risks of that, an adult human diabetic has the same risk of getting a heart attack as the risk of a second heart attack in someone who's already had one. Not good.

To complicate it further, I can't bear the thought of him starving, so I can sympathize with those moms of obese kids who don't have the heart to make their kid diet. That won't stop me from doing it, but I really hate it. It also drives me up the wall when he begs too.

So the solution? The ideal solution would be to feed him only wet food a few times a day. It is not ideal for us because I work so much and there's often no one around to feed him more than once a day. I really hate to give him dry food again, but we may have to go back to it. The vet is going to give me the number of calories he needs (I tried to estimate using the formula we use for premature babies…obviously wrong), and I've written our current pet food supplier to ask them just how many calories are in their products. Based on that, I'll be able to calculate how much food he really needs. It still won't be the correct percentage of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, but at least I'll stop overfeeding him for a time. Ulysses gets grumpy when he's hungry. I'm afraid I'll have to wear thick socks this summer or risk getting attack kitty marks on my calves.

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