The Happy Beast - Blog - Cat Health

Overweight and Obese Cats – Why You Should Act Now

Overweight or obese animals are at risk for serious health consequences and their conditions should not be taken lightly. The extra weight can seriously impact the length and quality of an animal’s life and increases their risk for many health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, unnecessary strain to the bones, joints, and ligaments, and difficulty breathing.

Obesity is a nutritional disease that results from consuming more calories than the body needs. Current statistics show that in the U.S., over 50% of cats and dogs are overweight or obese. This means we are simply feeding them too much, and likely feeding them too much of the wrong food. The good news is it is fully within our reach to get our animals back to a healthy weight so that they can live a happy and pain-free life! (Read about canine weight-loss here.)

Identifying the Problem

For most cats, the obesity problem can be attributed to two factors: living indoors and being fed a biologically-inappropriate kibble. Typically, indoor cats do not exercise as much as cats that have access to the outdoors, and therefore do not burn as many calories in a day. Additionally, if we feed an indoor cat a diet that is exclusively or predominantly kibble, we are feeding a high carb diet to a low activity animal. This becomes an easy recipe for an overweight cat.

(See Flimflam Food: The Truth About Grain-Free Pet Food)   

The Solution: Eliminate Kibble and Increase Exercise

Eating Right: Ditch the Kibble!

It’s important to note that all kibble has carbohydrates, regardless if it’s grain-free or not. Grain-free simply means that the carbohydrate of choice is potatoes, peas, or tapioca, and is still not appropriate for your cat, who is a strict carnivore.

Most kibble is around 25-35% carbohydrate, the lowest on the market is 13% carbohydrate. The carbohydrates that your cat would naturally ingest would not exceed more than 5%, and those carbohydrates would have been predigested in the guts of their prey.

Cats lack the ability to digest carbohydrates because they lack the enzyme, amylase, which s responsible for digesting carbohydrates. When we feed cats kibble, especially carbohydrate rich formulas such as Indoor or Weight loss formulas, those carbohydrates are not translated into energy but instead are stored as fat. “Indoor” and “Weight Loss” formulas tend to be higher in carbohydrates because carbs allow the “person” to feed a larger portion of food to their cat, and avoid feeling guilty about reduced amounts of food.

Using an Indoor or Weight Loss formula is actually counterproductive to helping your cat lose weight because of these excess carbs.

Additionally, because cats cannot process and utilize carbohydrates, Indoor and Weight loss formulas result in the loss of lean muscle mass because your cat is not consuming enough protein to maintain that muscle mass. Your cat’s body uses more calories maintaining muscle mass, than it does maintaining fat, so when muscle mass is lost, their metabolic rate goes down. If weight loss does occur on these types of formulas, it is typically short term.

Regardless of age or stage, indoor vs. outdoor, skinny or fat, all cats should be eating a diet that consists exclusively of raw or canned food, or some combination of the two. Protein is the appropriate form of energy for cats and when we provide them with a diet rich in fresh protein their bodies are able to attain their full potential and avoid chronic health conditions.

Exercise is Good for the Body and the Mind

Exercise is a very important aspect to living a healthy lifestyle. If your cat is not a good candidate for harness training and getting exercise outside, then it is really important that you provide them with exercise and stimulation from play. Indoor cats can be just as high maintenance as a dog because it is your responsibility to provide them with the exercise and stimuli that they need.

You should be aiming for 15 minutes of exercise, at least 2-3 times per day. There are many great toys that can get your cat moving, the Da Bird, Da Mouse, and laser pointers all provide your cat with “the chase” that is so good for their cardio and mental stimuli. If your cat is obese then you should start with shorter bursts of exercise lasting anywhere from 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per day, and work your way towards longer stints of exercise. Another great way to get your cat moving is by throwing a small healthy treat up or down the stairs. This is a really fun activity that gets your cat moving and is really easy to do. Just be sure you know exactly how many calories are in the treats and deduct those calories from how much you feed that night.

By following these steps and fine tuning your cat’s weight loss regime to their personal needs, your cat is sure to lose weight. As your cat returns to their ideal weight you will see huge improvements in their quality of life!

From Kibble to Raw: A Feline Food Journey

This month we are featuring Meghan B, who successfully and happily transitioned her feline household onto a species-appropriate raw food diet. As Meghan says, the outcome is a “Cat Mom Win!” Read her challenges, tips, and ultimate success story.

Mya and Diego are my four-year-old purr-babies who came from the same litter. Despite their single origin, each is a unique individual with a differing personality and, as it turns out, gastrointestinal fortitude!

Both fur balls are 100% indoor cats and had been on a kibble (dry food), free-fed diet their entire lives. Previously, I’ve experimented with different proteins and limited-ingredient diet foods because Mya seemed to be particularly sensitive to chicken and salmon. Another concern of mine was the lack of water both cats would drink from their bowl. Instead, they prefer to meow (loudly!) in the sink until I turn on the faucet. Throughout my four years of being the proud cat mom I am, I had never heard of a raw food diet… until recently on a visit to The Happy Beast!

Why raw food you ask? For one, kibble is full of carbohydrates that can often lead to obesity. It lacks a sufficient amount of species-appropriate nutrients and has little to no water content. While I know that kibble may be cheaper and free-feeding my cats is convenient, I’d rather go a little out of my way for the overall health of my babies!

Our cats’ relatives are hunters and live off their prey, so why shouldn’t our pet cats also eat raw?! Raw food is all protein. It’s minimally-processed, contains plenty of moisture, and is amazing for your cats’ digestive health.

Mya has not thrown up once since switching to raw, which for me, is a huge Cat Mom win. Both of their coats are already softer and their stool is smaller/less frequent because their bodies are using all the essential nutrients from their food.

The process of switching my kibble-loving cats to raw-food felines was not the easiest, but I urge all of you that are trying to not give up! They were both set in their kibble-eating ways, although, Diego was much easier to transition than Mya. I started by shredding dehydrated food and mixing it in with some of their old kibble. Mind you, I had to try several types of dehydrated foods because Mya wouldn’t touch some or, alternatively, she would get sick. Next, I gave them only dry, dehydrated food for a few days before adding water to rehydrate the food. This was Mya’s first time eating “wet” food, because, unlike her brother, she would not touch canned food. After sticking to the rehydrated food for a couple of weeks, I then started to slowly introduce raw food. I began with duck raw food because they had been eating duck in both the kibble and dehydrated form. But Diego threw up and Mya wouldn’t touch it. I had stayed away from chicken for years because Mya would get sick every time she had anything chicken based, but I decided to try it in a raw form. Two white cats cuddlingI put a spoonful of raw food under some of their dehydrated food. Diego loved it! Mya still wasn’t convinced. She would eat around the raw food. I kept trying this with Mya for a few days and started to mix the dehydrated food into the raw so that she had to try it. I would also add a tablespoon of water to it. It took a bit of time and persistence, but she finally started eating the whole bowl of food. Within a few days from that point, Mya was completely on a raw food diet! Victory!!! The overall transition took Mya about 1 1/2 months and Diego about 3 weeks.

Overall, I truly couldn’t be happier that my fur babies are now on a raw food diet. Despite the trials and tribulations to reach the outcome, it was all worth the effort. I’m looking forward to seeing continued health benefits for my kitties over the months and years to come!

If you’re working on transitioning your own kitties to a raw food diet, I highly recommend a few other blog posts from The Happy Beast:

Raising Awareness for the World’s Small Wildcats

I have a deep love for all cats, large and small, domestic and wild. They are fascinating creatures with instincts and physiques built for the hunt. It has been a long term goal of ours at The Happy Beast to support causes that go beyond the reach of our pet food industry. Taking care of our environment and all living creatures is the duty of every person on this planet.

When I recently read, “Out of the Shadows, the Wildcats You’ve Never Seen,”an article in National Geographic, I felt that it was important to take this opportunity to raise awareness for the plight of wildcats around the world and how industries like palm oil farming are threatening their habitats. I wanted to provide some of my additional research on the topic, and share how small, everyday decisions can have far reaching effects on preserving their habitats.

There are 31 known small wildcat species on Earth, which are broken into seven different lineages: the Caracal, Ocelot, Bay Cat, Lynx, Puma, Leopard Cat, and Domestic Cat. Small cats diverged from big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars) 11.5 million years ago and evolved with a number of unique characteristics. For example, one distinctive trait between big cats and small cats is that big cats roar while small cats purr.

Big cats have a flexible neck bone called a hyoid that allows them to stretch their larynx to roar. Small cats are unable to roar and purr instead because their hyoid bone is hardened. Interestingly, cheetahs and cougars, while large in size, are actually more closely related to small cats and they do not roar like the other big cats.

While small wild cats might have slight physiques in comparison to the big cats, they achieve great feats of strength by using their acute senses and reflexes. They have amazing muscular strength and flexibility and their jaws and claws are built to deliver precise bites that can kill their prey instantaneously.

Small wildcats can be found on five of our seven continents, and 14 of the 31 small wildcat species live in Asia. Unfortunately, this is a part of the world where wildcats are least understood and protected.. It comes as no surprise that the greatest threat is loss of habitat. In Asia, much of the destruction of their habitat is due to forests being converted into palm oil plantations.

Palm oil farming, production, and food products are complex topics, but I was shocked by how much something simple like my daily purchases could affect the health and well being of an entire ecosystem half-way around the world. Palm oil is used in a variety of different products from health and beauty supplies to everyday food products, but it’s also relatively easy to avoid by paying closer attention to labels on the products we buy. In addition, websites like “Say No to Palm Oil” provide a variety of ways to take action to reduce your impact and help make your voice heard.

Because wildcats are apex predators, when we conserve their habitats, we are saving entire ecosystems and helping to preserve biodiversity.

I believe strongly that we all have the ability to make a difference in the world through both small and grand gestures. Often I’ve found that the first step is educating myself. Below are a few additional links with more information to help us raise awareness and make a difference in the conservation of these beautiful animals.

  • Out of the Shadows, the Wildcats You’ve Never Seen – National Geographic photo expose and article that inspired this blog post.
  • Say No To Palm Oil – Resources, tips, and recommendations, including the 28-Day Palm Oil Challenge.
  • Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter – highlights the importance of wildcat conservation and how protecting them can be beneficial to us all.
  • Species Conservation Fund – The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund is a philanthropic endowment established to provide targeted grants to individual species conservation initiatives, recognize leaders in the field of species conservation, and elevate the importance of species in the broader conservation debate.
  • Panthera’s Small Cat Action Fund – The Small Cat Action Fund (SCAF) is a grants program established by Panthera intended to support in situ conservation and research activities on the many small cat species.
  • Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University​​ – Outline of Production: Palm Fruit to Product – Great, practical overview and guide on products containing palm oil

Raw Bones for Feline Happiness & Healthy Teeth (without brushing your cat’s teeth)

Chewing on bones is a behavior that we most often associate with dogs, but did you know that bones are great for cats too?! Just like with dogs, chewing on bones can provide significant benefits for cats, including keeping them busy and cleaning their teeth at the same time. Providing your cat with meaty bones, such as chicken necks and turkey tails, provides mental stimulation, exercises and strengthens their jaw, and cleans plaque and tartar from their teeth.

The True Nature of Cats

We want every cat guardian to think of their cats as little tigers. Sure, cats are cute and cuddly too, but they are also natural hunters and carnivores. They have sharp claws and teeth, are extremely agile, and have a keen ability to stalk, pounce and kill their prey. Their jaws are strong with sharp teeth meant to rip into flesh and crush bone and their rough tongue can help lick bones clean.

When you consider a cat’s true hunting nature and then picture the food that we provide to them (mushy, soft food), you can see how a meaty bone is much more likely to satisfy their natural chewing instinct.

Meaty Bones and the Fight Against Plaque

Meaty bones also help clean plaque and tartar from your cat’s teeth, which helps prevent periodontal disease, gingivitis, and other dental problems.Remember that the first line of defense in protecting your cat from developing dental issues is to provide them with a healthy diet that consists of little to none of the carbohydrates that are predominantly found in dry food (kibble). Plaque is a bacteria that feeds off of sugar, and since sugar is a type of carbohydrate, it’s safe to reason that kibble is worse for your cat’s teeth, as well as other aspects of her  health.

For many cats, that natural instinct to chew on a bone kicks in when you present them with a delicious, meaty chicken neck. However, for some cats, they have to be taught “how” to chew on larger pieces of meat and bone.

If your cat doesn’t gravitate to the meaty bone immediately, you can cut it up into smaller bite sized pieces. As your cat’s jaw gets stronger from the exercise of chewing, and she becomes more accustomed to the larger pieces, continue increasing the size of the pieces. It can be a gradual process, but many cats will graduate to gnawing on full-sized meaty chicken necks and wings.

For a point of reference, check out this quick video of our cats chewing on chicken necks and then stop by the store to talk about which meaty bones would be best for your cat.

How To Provide Your Indoor Cat with Mental & Physical Stimulation

Let’s be honest, we love our cats dearly, but an unsatisfied cat can make your life…umm…rather difficult. Difficult behavior can come in the form of a puddle of pee on your bath mat or a half eaten phone cord or scratched up chair. Regardless of the form it takes, cats are not known for their subtlety.

Unwanted behaviors are more often seen in indoor cats because of their reduced physical and mental stimuli. Cats are born hunters, which means that they are programmed for exploration and short intense bursts of energy. When cats cannot naturally express their energy, the energy is redirected into unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate peeing and defecating, or destructive chewing and scratching.

We understand that in today’s world, it is not always possible to give cats safe access to the outdoors; either through cat-proof fencing and enclosures or trained harness walking. If you have to keep your cats indoors, here are some tips on how to give them the stimulation they need:

  1. Treasure Hunts: Hide treats around your house. This activity will mimic the tracking behavior your cats would exhibit when hunting for their prey. Start by showing your cat the bag of treats so they become familiar with the smell. Then place the treats in various places around your house, initially showing your cat where you are putting the treat. Ultimately, you will hide the treats without your cat’s knowledge. Rotate your hiding spots daily, and as your cat becomes better at “the hunt,” increase the number of hiding spots.
  2. Treat-Dispensing Toys: There are several treat-dispensing toys on the market that are geared towards different foraging behaviors: some role, some “fish,” some knock. Our cats enjoy The Egg-cersizer by PetSafe and Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Dice.
  3. Toys: Go Cat Da Bird and Go Cat Catcher: these toys will get your cat running and jumping. Just 20 minutes of hard play can do wonders for your cat’s physical needs.
  4. Play Fetch: If your cat won’t chase down a ball, throw treats against a wall or up and down the stairs. This is a great way to get your cat moving and a relatively effortless activity for you.
  5. Cat Chews: Last but not least – cats can chew just like dogs! Chewing on bones is a behavior we associate with dogs, but cats can receive just as much benefit from bones as dogs do; just on a smaller scale: Fish Skins, Duck Necks, Chicken Necks, Duck Feet, Turkey Tails… there are lots and lots of options! Chewing is a great way to keep your cat’s teeth clean and give them mental stimuli. If you thought that your cat eating plastic bags, cords, and hair ties was just a weird behavior, it’s not. It’s an indication that your cat is in need of additional stimuli. If this behavior is not addressed it can end up costing a lot of money in surgery costs. Chewing is an inexpensive way to fulfill this need.