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Help your cat maintain a healthy weight

This story was originally printed in the Las Cruces Sun-News on February 6, 2015.

Did you all make the same resolution as many do every year — to get healthier, which means to lose weight? Have you looked at your cats lately? Are they overweight? I'll bet they are.

According to a 2011 survey of cats in the United States, 55 percent were overweight and 24.9 percent were obese. Do you remember Meow, the 2-year-old, 39-lb. cat who was surrendered to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter when its 87-year-old owner could no longer care for him? Meow became a media sensation, helping to direct attention to this prevalent feline obesity problem. Meow was immediately put in a foster home on a weight-loss program, but unfortunately it was too late for him because he soon developed breathing complications due to his severe obesity. Despite intensive medical treatment, he did not survive.

We currently have an extremely obese cat at the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley. She weighs in at 18 lbs. and we are working on helping her to reduce her weight.

Many pet parents don't realize that their cat is overweight or obese. It is interesting to note that an extra three pounds on a cat is equivalent to an extra 40 lbs. on the average human.

Obesity can cause a sizeable risk for many health problems, including diabetes (four times increased risk), arthritis and other joint problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, decreased life expectancy, non-allergic skin disease, lower urinary tract disease and fatty liver disease.

The concept of weight gain is simple: a cat will gain weight when they consume calories in excess of the energy expended. Your veterinarian can help determine your cat's ideal weight.

Integral components of a weight-loss plan includes what and how much to feed (consult your veterinarian) and exercise/environmental enrichment. I realize it can be difficult to encourage exercise in cats, so here are some creative ideas: use fishing-pole toys to initiate play by stimulating your cat's predatory instincts. Walk your cat on a harness (it will benefit you too.)

You can always make your cat work for the food by hiding kibble in a commercial feeding toy, or cutting holes out of a flat box to make a puzzle for retrieving food. Make sure the toys either have feathers, vibrate, or chirp. You can spread catnip on the top of the scratching post to encourage stretching. Again, I know it is tough to get going, but even throwing their kibble and making the cat go after it is better than the cat just lying by the bowl and eating.

These tips will help build a lifetime bond with your cat, and give your feline friend lead a longer, healthier life.

Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock is executive director of the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley.

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