Nutrition and weight
Routine HealthCare Examination: Nutrition and weight management
As already noted, it is important that a cat is weighed accurately at each examination, that the weight is recorded, and that any change in weight is noted. The weight should be interpreted alongside the body condition score (BCS) and muscle condition score (MCS). BCS should be recorded at each visit from Adulthood and MCS from the Mature life stage, as they assess different aspects and, for example, some older cats may develop sarcopenia (severe loss of muscle mass) while still retaining good body fat.
Energy and nutrient needs vary with genetics, life stage, neutering status and activity. Feeding recommendations therefore provide only a starting point that should be adjusted to maintain the desired weight, body and muscle condition scores. Feeding a complete, nutritionally balanced and palatable diet is important, and the feeding of either wet (canned or sachet) or dry food (or a mixture of both) will support health during all life stages. A simple nutritional assessment/check should be made at each visit, and if this highlights any areas for concern then a more detailed evaluation can be undertaken.
Owners should be aware that cats are strict carnivores and have unique dietary requirements. These are best met by feeding a high-quality commercial food, designed specifically to meet the needs of cats. Home-made diets are frequently imbalanced, despite best efforts to avoid this. Home-prepared foods also carry additional risks of exposure to infectious organisms associated with handling raw foods, and sometimes feeding of raw or undercooked foods.
A variety of feeding styles can maintain good health in pet cats, including free access to food or provision of set meals. However, especially following neutering, cats’ ability to self-regulate their food intake is poor and cats fed ad libitum have a high risk of becoming obese. Maintaining appropriate daily food allowances (that also take into account any treats given) is therefore important, and it is better to encourage owners to weigh the food rather than relying on less accurate measuring cups. In addition to feeding set daily total amounts, other considerations include:
- The use of wet (canned, pouches) food when increased water intake is desirable
- Locating food bowls in a quiet area, especially for nervous or fearful cats
- Offering multiple small meals daily to mimic the cat’s natural feeding behaviour
- Using foraging devices (e.g., food balls or puzzles) and hiding small amounts of food in different locations (easier with dry kibble) to encourage physical and mental activity and slow food intake
Obesity is an increasing problem in cats, paralleling the rise in obesity in humans and in dogs too. The rise in feline obesity is multi-factorial, but inactivity and changes in lifestyle (e.g., keeping cats indoors) undoubtedly contribute to its prevalence. Neutering also has an important effect. Average dietary energy requirements reduce by around 30% after neutering. This is partly attributable to metabolic changes and partly to reduced activity levels. The reduced energy requirement is also coupled with a poorer ability of cats to self-regulate caloric intake after neutering, and it is this combination that can significantly predispose neutered cats to put on weight. Obesity is most commonly observed in middle-age cats, with research showing this peak in cats around 7 to 13 years of age. Dietary manipulation and regulation are a critical approach to weight management (see also advice under specific life stages). The goal is to regulate caloric intake, ensure other nutrients remain balanced and, where possible, increase caloric expenditure by encouraging a more active lifestyle. Preventing excess weight gain and obesity is an important part of preventive healthcare and should be incorporated from kittens onwards. The cat’s weight should be accurately recorded at every visit, as should have their BCS and MCS assessed.