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Study: How Cats’ Weights Change Over Time

Study: How Cats’ Weights Change Over Time
“We do have concerns with obesity in middle age, because we know that can lead to diseases for cats, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis (OA), and cancer,” says one of the study authors. Photo: Shutterstock.com/Elwynn

Guelph, Ontario —  Is cat obesity on the rise? The need for veterinarian professionals and owners to monitor weight fluctuation in cats throughout their lifetime was a conclusion reached by researchers conducting a study at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Canada. Researchers analyzed the data of more than 19 million cats in North America to demonstrate the typical weight gain and loss of the animals over their lifetimes. The researchers found most cats continue to put on weight as they age, and their average weight is on the rise.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, revealed cats’ weight typically climbs as they mature out the kitten phase, and continues to do so until they are, on average, eight years old.

The study offers veterinarians and pet owners valuable baseline information regarding cat weight changes, says coauthor Theresa Bernardo, DVM, IDEXX chair in emerging technologies and bond-centered animal healthcare.

“As humans, we know we need to strive to maintain a healthy weight, but for cats, there has not been a clear definition of what that is, as we simply didn’t have the data,” Dr. Bernardo says. “Establishing the pattern of cat weights over their lifetimes provides us with important clues about their health.”

The study, which was led by Adam Campigotto, DVM, as part of his PhD research, and coauthored by Dr. Bernardo and Zvonimir Poljak, DVM, MSc, PhD, analyzed 54 million weight measurements taken on 19 million cats at various veterinary clinics. The information was divided to see how weight differences compared based on gender, neutering status, and breed.  The research was the first of its kind to use such a large data pool.

Male cats were found to reach higher weight peaks as compared to females; likewise, spayed or neutered felines were heavier compared to unaltered ones.

The mean weight among the most common purebred breeds (Siamese, Persian, Himalayan, and Maine Coon) peaked between the age of six and 10, while common domestic cats peaked at eight years.

“We do have concerns with obesity in middle age, because we know that can lead to diseases for cats, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis (OA), and cancer,” says Dr. Campigotto.

“Now that we have this data, we can see cat weights tend to follow a curve. We don’t yet know the ideal weight trajectory, but it’s at least a starting point to begin further studies.”

Researchers noted 52 percent of the cats in the data pool had only one body weight measurement on file, suggesting the animals were not regularly examined by a veterinarian.

“Cats tend to be overlooked because they hide their health problems and they don’t see a veterinarian as often as dogs do, so one of our goals is to understand this so we can see if there are interventions that can provide more years of healthy life to cats,” Dr. Bernardo says.

“If the animals are not seeing a veterinarian frequently enough, early detection of diseases can be difficult if not impossible,” added Dr. Campigotto. “This means that instead of preventing diseases and keeping our cats healthy longer, vets will become more reactive and treat diseases after they become a more significant problem. In addition, the lack of continuity of care can make it difficult to follow trends in an animal’s health and again can make it difficult to detect changes and potential concerns early in life.”

Monitoring Cat Obesity

The team suggests veterinarians encourage their cat clients to purchase a scale and use it to regularly weight their pet.

“The monitoring of body weight is an important indicator of health in both humans and animals,” Dr. Bernardo notes. “It’s a data point that is commonly collected at each medical appointment, is simple to monitor at home, and is an easy point of entry into data-driven animal wellness.”

Reducing Cat Obesity

The research team plans to study ways of reducing cat obesity including looking at the use of automated feeders that could dispense the appropriate amount of food for a cat. These feeders could even be equipped with built-in scales.

“We are ultimately changing the emphasis to cat health rather than solely focusing on disease,” said Dr. Campigotto. “As we investigate the data and create new knowledge, it will enable veterinarians to offer clients evidence-based wellness plans, allow for earlier identification and treatment of disease and an enhanced quality of life for their animals.”

Learn More

How can you discuss a cat’s obesity with a client?  Delicately. Get our tips here.

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