Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fat Cat Walking

This is our new cat, "Cheese."  We adopted him about six months ago after somebody dumped him on a road in our area.  He's a very affectionate dude and has been a nice addition to the family so far. 

He doesn't really meow, but does this funny little sound, halfway between a purr and a chirp, and it's pretty comical.  He is a bit of a "herder" ─ he likes to herd his humans to where he thinks they ought to be, and he'll just keep chirping at you until you do what he wants. 

He's particularly taken with me; he loves to sit half-on and half-off my lap, purring up a storm, when I sit down on the couch. If he's not on my lap, he often settles between my feet on the floor.  If I don't pet him enough to suit him, he bonks me with his head quite forcefully (way harder than your average cat) until I give him his proper due. He's my little head-banger.

His worst trait is that he sheds like crazy; I've never had a cat that shed so profusely.  And of course, he sheds white hair, and I tend to wear dark colors. So there's way more laundry to do with him around, but in return I get a new lap/foot-warmer and #1 fan. 

Alas, he does bring a difficult dilemma with him. More on that in a moment.

Pet Peeve #1, 462

Before I get to the point of my post, let me just air a pet peeve first, okay?  Let's talk about abandoning animals.  This is one of my many pet peeves, especially as someone who has worked in animal resuce before.

People sometimes take an animal they no longer want and dump them out on a country road (instead of surrendering them to a shelter) because they think that the animal will live a better life, dining on country mice and gophers and sleeping in a nice warm haystack. 

They couldn't be more wrong.  These animals usually die an awful death, ripped apart by a pack of coyotes, dying of starvation because they are domesticated and don't know how to hunt well enough to sustain themselves, or hit by a car as they try to find their way back home.  Abandoning an animal in the country is a terribly cruel thing to do, and it's beyond me how people can do something so awful to a family pet.  If you really can't keep your animal, far better to take them to a shelter where they at least have a decent chance at being adopted by a new family, or could get a quick and comparatively merciful death if they aren't adopted. 

Fortunately, Cheese was one of the very few abandoned animals who got lucky.  Some passing bikers saw him being tossed out of the car (the driver didn't even stop), and they kept him from running out into the road until I came by a little later and stopped to help.  I took him to the shelter to be scanned for a microchip (there was none).  When the mandatory hold time was over, we went back and adopted him because we felt so sorry for him. 

I don't know why this animal was abandoned.  He doesn't have any bad habits (like peeing on the rug, scratching up furniture, or spraying) that we've seen so far.  He was not starving, his coat was clean, and he had a pretty collar with rhinestones on it.  He was well-socialized and usually very friendly, although we've noticed that he can be scared of men sometimes (he's getting over this now).

My best guess is that his family fell on hard economic times and couldn't afford him anymore.  Or perhaps someone gave him away to another family that didn't treat him well and finally abandoned him. Or a ticked-off neighbor or abusive person took someone's beloved cat and abandoned him in order to be cruel.  But really, we'll never know for sure why he was abandoned. 

It's frustrating.  He's such a good kitty, and he did not deserve to be thrown away like that.  He was just lucky we happened by at the right time and could take him in.

However, the hard reality is that we can't take in every animal that gets abandoned.  We had the ability to adopt this one, but there's a limit on how many we can afford.  This one had never had dental work, so last week it cost us nearly $1000 to get his teeth taken care of; a bunch of them had to be extracted because they were in such bad shape.  I'm pissed that his former owners just cost me a thousand bucks that I needed for other things─ but I couldn't let this kitty suffer with abscessed teeth.

So my first point is, please don't ever abandon your animals out in the country because you think you're doing them a favor. You're NOT, trust me.  A very few lucky animals do get adopted by country families, but there are limits on how many can be taken in by most families.  And most abandoned animals don't even make it to a farm; most die painful, cruel deaths long before they could find a new family to love them. They have a much better chance at a shelter, either for a more merciful death or hopefully, for a new family to love them.  And there are no-kill shelters available in many areas.

Augh.  I just hate it when people abandon their animals!

The Fat Cat Talk

Okay, back to the topic.  Why am I writing about my new cat on a fat-acceptance blog?  Well, we took him recently for a check-up and to talk about his teeth, and got the "fat cat" talk as well. 

This is always a difficult moment for anyone in the FA movement.  How do you respond when you get "the talk" from a vet?

Usually I just tune such things out. I make non-committal noises and change the subject and move on.  It's not worth arguing over with the vet.  Mind, I do make an effort to give my kitties reasonably healthy food in reasonable amounts, and they get plenty of exercise catching mice on my property.  Beyond that, I'm not going to get too worked up about their weight most of the time. 

However, with this cat, I do think there's some reason for concern.  He doesn't have any particular conditions (no, he's not diabetic), but in the six months we've had him, he's gained 3 lbs.  He was no lightweight when we got him; he already weighed 12 lbs.  Now he's up to 15 lbs. That's no small gain for a small animal in just a few months of time, and that concerned us all.  I don't care if he's a big guy already, but I'm doubtful that a big further gain would be healthy for him, and especially over such a short period of time.  So what to do?

Clearly, he is a much bigger kitty than our other kitties (who were adopted from the Humane Society a few years ago).  One of them is your average-sized kitty, around 7-8 lbs.  That makes Cheese nearly twice as big. The second kitty came to us "overweight" but has since stabilized at a lower weight that seems to suit her, slightly higher than what the vets want but which seems reasonable to us. 

But this new kitty?  He's HUGE.  Clearly a much bigger kitty in natural build than the others; he has huge paws and a large frame.  It's hard to see it from the picture above, but he really is a BIG guy.  To expect him to weigh the same as my small-framed kitty is ridiculous.  On the other hand, to be fair, his weight is not just all from his large frame, and that 3 lb. weight gain in six months really added to his belly.  At the very least, we want to arrest that gain trend.

Yet we are puzzled as to what, if anything, to do about it. I think this cat has experienced food insecurity, because he is a bit of a chowhound. He's always trying to convince us to give him more food, and you can't leave food out on a counter around him. And yet, he doesn't eat that much. His intake really doesn't explain his size.

Now, in my cat rescue work, I've seen kitties who are chronically underfed or starving gain a disproportionate amount of weight once given regular access to food.  Years ago, I had a group of cats that were a mix of shelter kitties and rescued ferals.  The ferals were usually very big cats once they finally were fed regularly.  They ate pretty much the same as my shelter kitties, but they were usually much heavier.  My theory was that their metabolisms weren't programmed for regular food intake. 

So I wonder if a recent bout of being underfed was the source of this rapid weight gain in Cheese, yet when we got him he didn't look or act starved. The vet didn't seem to think that this was a likely source of his gain, but she didn't have a good alternative explanation either.

To be fair, this vet was better than most; she handled the subject of weight loss pretty sensitively and was obviously a kind person.  I usually feel defensive when vets press this topic; it seems like there is an underlying accusatory tone when you are a fat owner with a fat pet.  The assumption is that you must be feeding them human food scraps (not good for animals), or just overfeeding them in general (as you obviously must be doing to yourself).  She didn't seem to assume that, which was refreshing.  But she did want us to reduce his caloric intake gradually. 

Her recommendation was to feed him 2 small cans of wet food per day, one in the a.m. and one in the p.m., and to switch him to reduced-calorie wet food. 

But the ironic thing is, we already feed him less than this.  We feed a small can of wet food in the morning and one in the evening....for all three cats.  That seems to be enough. 

We could go to high-quality reduced-calorie food, but I always wonder if these really have sufficient nutrition for active cats.  My kitties are not indoor, sedentary kitties; they go out and hunt and run around.  Cheese is really an excellent mouser and mole-killer; he brings us many "presents" (but doesn't seem to eat them). A reduced-calorie canned food might be okay for indoor kitties who don't get much exercise, but for a farm cat?  I wonder.  Or maybe he'd just start eating his kills.

What we've done so far is to mostly take away the dry food. Dry food tends to be high in carbs.  A cat's natural food is meat from animals, so carbs from dry food can add to a cat's weight. No, I'm not putting my cat on a "low carb" diet, just recognizing that the grains in dry food are not part of the food his body evolved to eat.  Going back to a more natural diet might stabilize things for him. 

Only time will tell if this will make any difference in his weight but hopefully it will keep him healthier overall.  I've never been very convinced of the value of dry cat food (would they eat grains in the wild?) so eliminating dry food doesn't really seem like a "diet" to me, just common sense. 

Honestly, I'm not sure how much concern to have about this gain, what might have caused it, or what to do about it. I normally don't get too worked up about a pet's weight, as long as I'm giving reasonable food in reasonable amounts. And this cat is clearly built along a much larger frame than many other kitties, so I think it's ridiculous to compare his weight to a smaller-framed kitty and say he's too heavy based on that.

On the other hand, such a large gain in such a short period of time is a bit worrisome to me.  It seems abnormal. It's unclear to me why he experienced this, unless he was being starved at his previous home ─ though he certainly didn't look starved when we got him.  We checked for diabetes and thyroid issues and he was negative.  Yes, he is a bit of a chowhound, wanting more food than he really needs, but despite this, I don't think his intake has been excessive.  We keep an eye on it.

So the question is whether this gain is a cause for alarm, and if so, what to do about it.  The rapidity and scope of the gain is what seems most worrisome to me, especially if that trajectory continues.  So I made the decision to try and stop that trajectory. But neither am I willing to put this cat on a major diet or give him a compromised-nutrient food if I can avoid it.

What seems least harmful is to take away the dry food (since it's probably not part of what he's biologically meant to eat anyhow) and see what happens. I don't know if it's going to make much difference but it seems worth a try.  Other than that, we're not willing to get too drastic with him.

I'm sure other fatosphere bloggers have encountered a similar issue before.  What do you do when you have a fat cat? How do you respond to the "fat cat talk" with a vet? What's reasonable and what's not?

*One other interesting tidbit that came out of the "fat cat" talk was her admonishment not to reduce his calories too quickly or too severely.  Apparently, this can cause a fatty liver syndrome in cats that can be fatal.  I have no idea if it's comparable at all to fatty liver disease in humans, but it certainly did make me go "hmmmmm."  I know that fatty liver disease is one of the risks associated with obesity in humans, but like gallstones, is it associated with obesity or with dieting or a little of both?  An interesting side question. Anyone know the answer?


Elita said...

First, I share your frustration for people who abandon their pets. It makes me so angry and it's so irresponsible and inhumane. I know someone who has more pets than is reasonable and she has been complaining about them being "annoying" lately and wanting to get rid of some/all of them. People, think about this sort of thing BEFORE YOU TAKE AN ANIMAL IN. Understand you are making a commitment, at minimum, of a decade. If you don't think you can handle it, don't do it. AARRGGHHH.

That said, we recently took in a stray cat, right around Christmas. I am a life-long dog owner who knows zilch about cats, but it was obvious when she showed up on our deck that she had at one time been someone's pet. She is very affectionate like Cheese and although she was obviously skinny and hungry, we guessed she had at one time had an owner who'd dumped her in the neighborhood. Thankfully we don't have any weight problems with her, but she does act like she's hungry constantly, even all these months later. We give her a high quality, grain-free wet food (a small can, twice per day) and leave out a bowl of dry grain-free food for her to graze on throughout the day. It will take her 2-3 days to finish the dry bowl but she snarfs down the wet in seconds and sometimes asks for a third can. So far if she goes over to her empty dish and whines, we just give her an extra can since she's not overweight. I have chalked it up to her still technically probably being a kitten and maybe still playing catch up from her time on the streets. Hopefully you'll figure out what's going on with this kitty and it's not anything too serious!

Janie said...

we just rescued a puppy that was abandoned on the side of the road - neighbors found him (sadly there were two pups but the other one was impossible to catch on the side of a busy road. The other thing that makes me mad besides how dangerous to the animals is how dangerous it is to humans - I mean really? the side of the road? Just what drivers need animals running into the road. Our other puppy was one of an entire litter dumped in the ditch. geesh people. http://rubyslippersx3.blogspot.com/2011/08/introducing-newest-member-of-family.html

Catgal said...

Have you considered that he may be eating better or more, because his teeth don't hurt anymore? I think that could be a part of it. Here is what I know from my research in having a fat cat that became anorexic, almost died, and is now fatter than ever, and we also reduced food intake for all of our cats, we have 5. I am now feeding them the best food I can afford with the least amount of carbs. That is 9 Lives original pate. No gravy, no "meaty bits". Just good old fashioned cat food mush. As far as dry food is concerned we do splurge. We give them Innova EVO, evo stands for evolutionary and is better suited to their exclusive carnivoris-ness. The do not get this in unlimited quantites like they used to.

I also cannot tolerate the abuse of animals. It makes me heart sick. I happen to believe that there is a special corner of hell reserved for abusers.

I hope some of this helps or makes sense. Also, thank you for saving his life.

Cassandra said...

For the record, a low carb diet actually is the way humans are supposed to eat. The problem comes when you reduce carbs and don't increase fat intake. Saturated fat is "clean burning" energy source for muscles. Using carbohydrates as a primary energy source is what ends up causing problems and would lead to weight gain around the belly. I think your decision to remove the dry food will help a lot.

A while back I had a huge feud with a vets office over terrible treatment related to my cat's weight. He had chronic UTIs for several years and was told he needed to be on urinary tract food for the rest of his life. That particular food is high calorie and because my cat refused to exercise, he put on a lot of weight. He also had food insecurity from being abandoned at 3 days old and would literally throw a kitty temper tantrum if he did not have 24 hour access to food. So we had gotten a new kitten that had ear mites and wanted to bring in my cat to make sure he had not contracted them. The vet completely ignores me when I say we're only there to have his ears checked and starts going off on his weight, about how HUGE he is and what are we feeding him, blah blah blah. I explain that he's fat because of the food I was told by the vet's office he needed to be on, so she starts going off about checking him for a current UTI and having blood work for diabetes done and yammering at me about changing his food. I was furious. Sent a very angry letter about it and got a really shitty response from the clinic owner. Never went back there again.

We switched to organic corn/soy free dry food and he has since dropped a ton of weight. It helps that the kitten grew up and chases him around with my husband's cat. He still has his belly fat that sways when he runs, but is skinny enough I can feel his hips. For a long while it seemed like he was getting arthritis, but that disappeared too. He's turning 13 in about 2 weeks!

acceptancewoman said...

Our wonderful dog was abandoned as a puppy near an army base. We don't know anything about her history, and she was about 3.5 months old when we got her. She's the "doggiest" dog I've ever had -- she's almost like a caricature of a dog.
And there have been times when, in her puppyhood, we worried about her getting too big, but she seems to be growing into her weight.
It sounds like all you can do is to do what you've been doing. And keep loving Cheese, as you do. He sounds fabulous, and maybe I'll meet him in person some day. Our girls (first graders!) will have to meet sometime and play. I think they will have a great time when they do.
Thanks for everything you do. I'm sorry I don't comment here more, but I read everything you write and I am so grateful for the work you do.

Meowser said...

First of all...Cheese is KYUUUUTE! (Love the name, too.)

As you know, I have two cats who are very big boys. I had to remove dry food from the house, also, because Zevon was a FIEND for the stuff and it was screwing up his digestive health, even the grain-free stuff (and I couldn't just give it to Binkley; Zevon would know I had some and would hold out for it).

My vet recommended a RAW diet, no grains at all. (I use a brand called Oma's Pride, which has veggies mixed into it, and add some fish oil and a little grain-free Wellness wet food for flavoring. I get it all from the MEAT store on Burnside, which has very good prices.) He said "diet" cat foods were just junk and I shouldn't bother with them.

And Zevon lost about 10 pounds (from 33 pounds to 23) with the change in diet. He still does eat a few treats, plus a freeze-dried raw food called Ziwi Peak (neither of which Binkley recognizes as food), because his brother is a food thief and Zevon's way too passive about it. :-P

Binkley's weight, OTOH, has not changed much at all; I don't know what he weighs, but I'm guessing somewhere around 30 pounds. Some cats are just fated to be enormous, and it's true, you can't starve a really big cat, it will probably die. (I have never needed to take Binkley in for anything other than routine shots since he was a kitten, and that's 9 years ago now! I can only imagine my vet's eyes bugging out if he saw him.)

KellyK said...

He's a gorgeous, gorgeous kitty. I think that weight in pets is a lot like weight in humans--loosely related to food and exercise, but not completely.

My cats are a good example of this. We got the "fat cat talk" from the vet last year and switched the cats to wet food. They both weigh in the neighborhood of 13 pounds. On Tom, our big male cat (like that's not obvious from his name), that isn't a really high weight. He's a big cat with a bit of a belly, but not exactly fat. On Haley, a shorter and much more delicately built female, she's pretty fat.

But based on their eating and exercise, you'd never expect it. Haley is younger and runs around like a crazy wild thing on a regular basis. Tom will ignore a *laser pointer* unless he's in the mood to play, which only happens on occasion.

And food-wise, Tom is the glutton. Tom is the one following you around the kitchen mewing piteously because he hasn't been fed in a *whole hour* and he's going to die right this minute if you don't stop loading the dishwasher and care for the poor starving cat who's wasting away before your eyes.

Haley, however, is spayed, which can cause weight gain.

We switched them to wet food at the vet's suggestion, and they lost about a pound each over the course of a year. Technically they're eating less than the can directions suggest, by weight, but they don't always finish all their food, so they're clearly not starving.

We also feed them three times a day, since wet food gets nasty if you leave it out too long, and they were used to grazing freely before. Tom also occasionally eats too fast and throws up, and the three times a day seems to help with this.

With Cheese, I have to wonder if it's stress. He did get thrown out of a car and abandoned. I don't know if cats produce cortisol, but survival-wise "convert every calorie you can to fat" seems like a logical physical reaction to stress.

Kristen said...

We adopted a stray cat (6 month old kitten at the time) who was dumped outside our apartment building about six years ago. She was average-sized when we found her, but she also soon gained weight very quickly and now weighs 18-19 pounds no matter how many (gradual) changes we make to her diet. We've also encountered vets who have admonished us for overfeeding her, or feeding her human food, when we've done neither.

The vet we're with now, however--a vet who happens to be a "country vet"--has said that he's seen similar things with cats who have spent a significant amount of time as strays. Maybe those stretches of starvation (I get sad and angry just THINKING about it) somehow alter their metabolisms...I don't know.

In any case, you rock for taking in Cheese. He's lucky to have found a loving family like yours!

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for taking in such a beautiful and loving animal who was treated so badly by other humans.

I adopted two gorgeous Siamese-mix kittens years ago - one was the runt of the litter and hadn't gotten much milk in competition with the other kitties. She seemed determined to make up for lost time and quickly became one of the largest, fattest cats I have ever seen.

I was ever so careful with the food - I carefully measured out just the right amount for the day each morning and *never* fed them table scraps or any kind of people food. The one cat was fine and seemed to maintain a pretty average weight. The runt, however, was gigantic. I have one picture of her where she's hiding under my bed all crouched down and her belly sticking out on both sides looks like two other cats laying on either side of her.

I was always sort of puzzled about her size - and vets were always quick to yell at me and tell me that I was overfeeding her, but really, she wasn't even eating all the food I put out for her. I finally learned to ignore the vets and just keep doing what I was doing and she lived a long and healthy life where she was well-loved and well-taken care of.

RosaMN said...

I think if Cheese is acting otherwise healthy - running around, hunting, not crying or peeing inappropriately, etc - I'd just ignore it.

We had a fat cat that we tried to underfeed, unsuccessfully; and then it turned out she was in chronic pain from a malformed, often-infected bladder. After bladder surgery she just naturally got down to what seems like a perfectly healthy weight - she is still very round, but not like before, and now feels solid and strong, especially through the shoulders and belly. Instead of looking at her weight and thinking "diet" we should have looked at her behavior and thought "sick" in the first place - instead it waited til she was peeing blood :(

Hazelnut said...

With indoor-outdoor cats, you do have to consider the possibility that either a) they are already eating some of what they kill or b) the neighbors are feeding them, either because they're convinced they're strays or just for fun (I have known at least one guy who got a kick out of feeding a roaming cat tuna and joking about how it liked his house better).

Regarding hepatic lipidosis, it is thought specifically to be the weight loss that triggers the problem, because the liver can't deal with the catabolized body fat coming in and gets overloaded, making it even less able to repackage the fat. The liver dysfunction then depresses appetite, leading to more weight loss. It's a nasty cycle. What's odd and possibly still not well understood is why animals that are already overweight are more susceptible. Interestingly, dairy cattle, which ramp up very quickly after calving to convert a ridiculous amount of their body stores into milk very quickly -- a modern dairy cow at peak lactation cannot physically eat enough to maintain her weight -- are at increased risk of various nutritional diseases, most notably hypocalcemia but also hepatic lipidosis, when they're oversupplied just prior to parturition; the theory is that they need time to start mobilizing their mineral and energy stores, so the counterintuitive solution is to decrease calorie and mineral intake somewhat during the "dry" period (usually about the last two months of pregnancy) to prime the pump, as it were, then increase nutrition to support lactation and let them gain some weight back as milk production decreases. One would of course imagine that this might not be the best strategy for the calf, but then nobody much cares if a cow is shy a few potential IQ points. At any rate, it may be for both species that obesity itself is less the issue than the sudden switch from gaining weight (or at least maintaining it without ever dipping into fat stores, which metabolic tendency may have something to do with how the animal got fat in the first place -- kind of the converse of how distance runners tend to have high HDL, presumably because they cycle their body fat on a regular basis) to losing it.

Heather said...

firstly- yay! animal loving vegan here with three adopted kitties. one off the street as a kitten (pepper), one as road kill (the car directly behind us hit the cat- we stopped, they kept going) (clover) and one from a local feral society (julia). The kitty I got from the street as a baby has a pretty normal weight (she gained after we had her fixed but that's normal). The other two that we got off the streets as older cats are both very big- though Julia doesn't have a huge bone structure like Clover she's also definitely our fattest. she got to a certain point of fatness and seems to just be staying there. I think life on the streets is just hard and she's definitely not a food hog.

we know that calorie deprivation diets don't work in humans.. why would they work in cats? If a human came to your blog and said "i've gained weight and I keep eating less but it's not working!" what would you say? Would you recommend other kinds of calorie reduction? or calorie reduction at all? I realize a cat can't exactly follow HAES but some cats are just naturally fat just like some people. If you get all the tests done (make sure he doesn't have diabetes or something) and he seems healthy, then i say "why worry about it?" the only response is usually "because being fat is just bad!" and i know what fat activists say to that ;-)

Anonymous said...

I hesitate to comment because I don't want to ruffle any feathers... but I have worked extensively on both sides of this field. I've been a veterinary technician for nine years, and struggled with my morbidly obese weight my entire life. I have had to gently deliver the "fat talk" as you put it more than once and most times its as simple as not free feeding a cat prone to over indulging, cutting out the table scraps (which thank you for knowing they can be deadly!), or a sibling that isn't eating their share and the heavier pet is picking up an extra meal. Other times, like in adorable Cheeses case there is something else to blame, possibly even metabolic as you suggested. I don't have any advice for getting him to lose weight because for the most part what you are doing is on the ball, just keep listening to your vet, and don't give up. What I do want to suggest is that you reconsider the low-calorie style dry foods. I've seen many cats and dogs lose weight effectively this way and talked with nutrition reps who say its acceptable for inactive indoor and active outdoor pets alike. The main reason I suggest this to you and Cheese though is because you mentioned his bad teeth, once his mouth isn't sore from extractions of course a dry food diet will make a difference in the long run in preventing tartar and plaque build up and future tooth removal. Either way its really great to see a sweet cat get a good home and a concerned owner that he truly deserved in the first place. I too hate animal abandoners and have a zoo of pets because of it :-) Good Luck with Cheese I hope you share many happy years together.