Is there a cat  owner out there that has not stepped on a squishy hairball? cat-hair-ballsIt seems that the popular opinion is that hair balls and cats go together. But is that true? could your cat’s “coughing up a hairball” actually be a serious medical condition? Yes indeed! I have many times investigated a supposed hairball problem and found deeper problems lurking.

Just what is a hairball?

Cats have hair. (Well most do, sphynx owners can disregard this paragraph) Cats groom. In the course of grooming therefore, cats eat hair. So it is totally a normal thing for a cat to have hair in it’s stomach and intestines. The normal churning and pulsing of the guts moves this hair along with the food down through to the litterbox. For most normal cats, you would never know that they are consuming vast quantities of hair. The problems come with excessive grooming, long haired cats and cats that have a motility disorder in the gastrointestinal system. In these situations, the hair can become impacted and rolled up so that is is impossible to pass down the tract. Then either it is vomited up or it can cause and obstruction in the small intestines. When vomited up, I have seen 4-6 inch long tightly coiled hairballs that certainly would cause problems.

What isn’t a hairball?

I often have people tell me that their cat is trying to cough up a hairball but never gets it up. When these cats are investigated, it turns out that they have a coughing problem, often associated with asthma and has nothing to do with hair! catretchingOther cat owners will inform me that their cat vomits a hairball every week, but when I probe it further, it turns out that the cat vomits once a week and sometimes it has a bit of hair in it. These cats have a vomiting problem and are just bringing up what happens to be in their stomach at the time. The presence of hair is normal. Coughing and vomiting are not. We need to find out exactly what your cat is doing and why.

What are the causes of hairballs?

Long haired cats (like my cat Pi) do seem to be prone to true hairballs. In nature, most cats have short hair that goes through a cycle of growth, latency (rest), shedding and regrowth. Typically this takes about 5-7 months for any particular hair. But indoor cats do not typically shed pitheir hairs like a maple tree, rather they are like an evergreen tree, shedding a few hairs every day. For some long haired cats that do exhibit a seasonal shed pattern, they can have massive amounts of hair coming out in a short period of time. Even if their guts are working fine, the tangled mass of long hair can be problematic. For these cats, we do not need to look further for a reason. However, most of our cats spend a significant time of their lives indoor and do not exhibit this seasonal shedding. So when we have hair accumulating in these cats, we need to look at how their guts are working. If the churning action of the guts is hampered by a thickening of the lining, the hair is retained in the stomach and balled up. There are two primary causes of this thickening. An inflammatory process similar to a food allergy is probably the most common cause. However, in some cases, an early form of an infiltrative cancer could be the culprit.

What to do?

If you walk into a pet store and tell them that your cat has hairballs, inevitably you will have a special hairball diet recommended or even various laxative preparations to move the hairball along. The special diets are usually higher fiber diets that try to form bulk around the hairball thereby moving it through the tract. The laxatives, move things along by chemical means. Neither approach is appropriate for the root causes of the problem. If your cat only has an intermittent problem once or twice a year, this approach may be acceptable. But it your cat is an early stage of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and we mask the symptoms with higher fiber or laxatives, we miss the opportunity to get the inflammation under control before more damaging problems occur. There is a school of thought that suggests that untreated IBD can lead to the infiltrative cancer of the intestines. Early treatment of IBD with appropriate medications could theoretically prevent this conversion to cancer. The best solution is to have your cat thoroughly examined by a veterinarian who can, by examination and various blood tests, determine the best treatment plan for your cat.

Diagnosis is the Quest!

Regular vomiting is never a normal thing for cats. Even if it happens after binge eating of dry food, it is not normal. When dry food swells in the stomach, it should be accommodated by a corresponding stretching of the stomach lining. The lack of elasticity could be an indicator of this inflammatory process as well.  As with most things of a healthcare nature, time and money spent on a diagnosis is well worth it. Trying various remedies wastes precious opportunities to prevent progression of diseases and to solve a problem in its early stages rather than just managing the symptoms. If your veterinarian is merely managing symptoms, it may be time for a second opinion. I had mentioned the possibility of asthma being missed. I had one patient that did indeed have asthma that had been overlooked for years so that by the time I saw the cat, the lungs and heart were so badly damaged that treatment was palliative only. Thankfully, between stopping all the unnecessary hairball treatments and treating the asthma correctly, his last few years were much more comfortable than the previous ones had been. If your cat has any repeated problem behaviours, do not delay, get him or her assessed today!
cat health general, Uncategorized


baby kitten cuddlesIt happens to almost every cat owner. You are petting your cat, enjoying a great time of head bobbing and tail pulling when suddenly you notice a cluster of rice like things sticking to the fur at the base of the tail. When you look closer, some of them move! ARGH!!@@#!#! Or, your favourite feline suddenly starts retching on your kitchen floor and mixed in the mess are some pieces of spaghetti, except you don’t have spaghetti in the house, again, this is moving! Yuk! Yes, your cat has worms. Don’t be alarmed, this is quite common and unless a severe problem in a kitten, rarely do these nasty parasites cause health problems for your cat. They are disgusting and can have serious health issues for some humans. The very young, the pregnant and people who have weakened immune systems are most at risk from getting disease from these parasites. In addition, the above mentioned worms are only the tip of the iceberg. Other parasites can cause problems for your cat and your family. What to do? Read on for a full discussion.

But I don’t see any worms!

The common intestinal worms for cat are totally different from the pinworms that you may have had experience with for children. There is no connection at all to Trematod-Egg-wrpets. The problems that are associated with cat intestinal worms are the invisible larva stages, the microscopic baby worms that hatch from the microscopic eggs. You may see a word
repeated there for emphasis, microscopic! Yes, these eggs and larva are way too small to see with your bifocals! It takes microscopic examination of the stool sample to see if your cat has worms and to identify what parasites are present. Unfortunately, this test is not as accurate as we would like, so for high risk households, regular deworming medication is advised as well as annual testing.

How to protect your family?

The best protection is to ensure that your pet is free from parasites that can affect people. This is best done by regular deworming and annual testing of the stool. In addition, practice good hand washing habits, especially after cleaning the litter box. But, remember how cats love to groom. If your cat is a licker, be careful with that too. You probably know what your cat was licking a few minutes before he came to give you kisses… 😦

What kind of worms are there?

The two most common worms are tapeworms and round worms. It takes a very skilled parasitologist to identify the various round worm types from looking at the actual worm. A fecal sample to find the eggs is the best way to know which kinds are in your cat’s tummy. Tape worms are relatively easily identified as tapeworms but again, the specific
types are best identified under microscope. Hookworms and lungworms are also relatively common parasites in Ontario. They can be associated with significant disease, especially for kittens. Even if your kitten has had a dewormer given at the breeder, it is very important to run a fecal test to ensure that there are no other parasites present. Giardia, coccidia, toxoplasmosis and lung flukes can be found in the sample from your cat’s litterbox.


No discussion of cat parasites would be complete without mentioning toxoplasmosis. Although every pregnant mother seems to be warned about cleaning the cat litterbox, it is far less common in Canada kitten pregnant womanthan the warnings would indicate. Most commonly found in cats that eat mice, birds and other mammals, cats rapidly develop immunity to the parasite and do not shed it for long. However, if this parasite is found in the sample, precautions and treatment are required. Direct contact with cats is not considered to be a risk factor infection in people, particularly when cats are kept indoors and fed a commercial diet. Pregnant women are probably more at risk from eating rare steaks than petting a cat. Because these eggs require at least 24 hours to become infective, cleaning litter boxes daily is advised. So the risk is actually quite low but fathers, man up and clean to box for her!

How do cats get worms?

Kittens are often said to be born with worms but the evidence seems to show that in most cases, they are born clean but get infected the moment they drink milk from their mother. Kittens are not fully mature in their immune system until close to a year so they are vulnerable to all kinds of worms in their world. Stray cats eat mice and birds as well as many other creatures. There are many sources of parasites out there. Did you know that cats will sometimes eat crayfish and pick up a parasite from them? Tapeworms are most often associated with eating mice or fleas. Both of these species are intermediate hosts for the complicated life cycle of tapeworms. If may be obvious that the above sources of infection are not present in your house most of the time. Some have suggested that even the potting soil you use for your houseplants can be a source of infection. Granted, this is stretching it a bit but still it is advisable to do a fecal check at least once a

What treatment really works?

Despite what remedies you may see in various pet stores, in Ontario, there really is no such thing as an over the counter medication that is good for deworming cats. The only medications that can be found in pet stores are older style farm medications that have been “grandfathered” into the current regulations and are not advisable to be used for your cats, especially not without veterinary supervision. I have treated cats that had serious overdosage symptoms from products purchased at a supermarket and given at label dosing! Remember that these are products that have been largely replaced by more effective and safer medications. Other products I have seen on pet store shelves are homeopathic remedies. Given the serious nature of worms on human health, I would not want to trust the health of my entire family to an untested remedy. If you do wish to use products like these, it is imperative that follow up fecal testing be done at the appropriate time to ensure that the problem is gone.

Why is it so difficult?

Treatment for worms is complicated by the life cycle of these numerous pests. Every worm produces hundreds, if not thousands, of eggs. These eggs produce larvae that are the actual infectious agent. Most medications are only able to kill the actual adult stage of the worm although some products claim to have the ability to kill some or all of theroundworm larval stages but this research is not fully accepted. So the advised treatment is to give a medication that will kill the adult worms, and then treat again after the eggs have
hatched and before the worm has been able to reproduce. This time period varies on the worm and the age of the cat. For kittens, an interval of 2 weeks is usual while adult cats may benefit from a month interval. Again, given the risk for human health, it is too early to trust a single treatment no matter which product is used. Also, choosing a medication that has effectiveness against the worms present is critical. Tapeworm medication will not kill round worms and vice versa.

No Fear!

The ugliness of parasites is obvious just from the sound of the word. With appropriate steps of testing stool samples and appropriate intervals of deworming medication, you can have a worry free life with cat kissyour cat – even if you are pregnant! In fact, many studies have shown that families that grow up with cats are much healthier and stress free. Don’t let a fear of parasites rob you of the freedom from loving your cats.



Surgery, Uncategorized

To close or not to close? That is the question!

infected spay siteA friend of mine called yesterday to ask me about his cat’s surgery site. He had gone to a veterinary clinic to have her spay surgery done last week and there now seemed to be a problem. The incision was opening up and foul smelling pus was oozing out. What to do was his question. 

An infected surgery site is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in veterinary medicine. Research tells us that approximately 5% of dogs and cats may develop infections after a surgery, regardless of the kind. When we focus in on sterile uncomplicated surgeries like a spay surgery, the risk should be less than 2.5%.The reason for this relatively high level of infection is the habits of pets themselves. Cats are particularly good at contortions and are able to lick virtually every area of their bodies. That velvet tongue that is so gentle when licking your hand, can become a rasp if they want it to. The first thing a cat likes to do after surgery is to “clean” the surgery site. As if it wasn’t clean enough already!  This grooming will carry saliva onto the incision and greatly increases the risk of infection. For this reason I always advise that an Elizabethan collar (aka “cone of shame”) be used after surgery. It can prevent a host of problems! Unfortunately, this was not recommended by his vet clinic. She had been licking and now it was infected.  In addition to preventing licking of the surgical site, using sutures (stitches) that are buried under the skin greatly reduces the risk of that saliva from having an easy passage to track down to get under the skin. The technique called “sub-cuticular” or Subcuticular“intra-dermal” closure has the stitches on the under side of the skin and a buried knot at the end should leave no visible sutures on the skin. This is not only less likely to get infected, it also is much more comfortable for the cat.

As mentioned above, wound infections can occur despite our best efforts but just because it looks like it is opening up, it doesn’t mean that the abdominal wall is going to open up! After surgery, the body wall is closed separately from the skin layer so the inner layer may be just fine, despite the look of the skin. Having said that, it does require skill to assess and a veterinarian is the best person to determine if the wound can be treated as an open wound or whether surgery will need to be repeated and sutures replaced. 

Re-closing a wound is somewhat controversial. It’s not as simple as placing a few new sutures in the skin! A wound that is fresh and just has the presence of bacteria, can be cleaned and flushed and re-closed with in 8 hours of the wound being made. Any longer than this golden period, gives the bacteria a chance to “dig in” and the wound is no longer classed as a “contaminated wound” but an infected wound. Once infection has set in, the bacteria have started to invade the tissues and closing the wound again traps them inside the resolving spay sitewound and can lead to an abscess. An infected wound must first be treated with antibiotics, flushes and “debriding” that is, the surgical removal of all damaged and infected tissue – basically surgically removing the old incision and starting over again. However, if the wound is relatively small and easily managed, it can be treated with antibiotics and surface washes with saline until a layer of healing tissue covers the wound. This layer of tissue is called granulation tissue and it usually covers the wound surfaces within a week. Once this layer has covered the wound, antibiotics are not usually indicated, just saline washes and possibly dressings depending on the location of the wound. The edges of the wound are gradually drawn together
by the healing process and most often the scar that remains is minimal. However, all of these almost healed siteare less than the ideal of primary healing of the skin with the sutures holding the fresh wound edges close together. Interestingly, it is the same process of healing with or without sutures, the only difference being the amount of time to heal and amount of scar tissue left at the site after all healing is done.

All that to say, when in doubt bring your pet to a veterinarian who will assess your pet and hopefully prescribe the correct mode of treatment. Some of the factors to be considered are; weakened immune system, old age,  poor physical condition, malnutrition, systemic disease, drug therapy, number of bacteria, kind of bacteria, time since contamination, presence of dead or damaged tissue, haematoma or blood clots,  pockets of open space under skin, reduced blood supply or foreign material in the wound. I would love to be able to report that you will always get the right treatment every time but sadly, that is not always the case. Never be shy to ask for a second opinion or for alternative treatments.



Preventing Rotten Teeth!

I purposely did not put the grossest pictures I have on the top of this post as I find many people, when then the disaster pictures, look at their cat and conclude that she is just fine! But the reality is that about 95% of cats that I see on a regular basis have clinically significant gum infection, called gingivitis. As I mentioned in my last post, Dental Diseases in Cats, gingivitis is a serious preventable health concern. Don’t miss that word, preventable! There is no reason for your cat to have ongoing gingivitis, (this also goes for yourself too.) Gingivitis can be easily prevented.

As you can see in the above photos, the gum above and below the teeth is red, swollen, and in some places shrunken back from its original location. Like any infection in the body, the immune system is supposed to kill the bacteria and restore normal function. In the case of gingivitis, its too difficult for the immune system to win this battle on its own, so eventually, it gives up and admits defeat. It stops trying to fight the infection at that place and tries to win at a deeper spot in the pocket of gum around a tooth. This is called gum recession and it is a permanent change. Nothing we can do will restore that damaged area back to normal.  This slow but permanent progression and the fact that early interventions are relatively easy to do, inspires my passion to get cats to have healthy mouths early in life.

The first time you will see gingivitis in you cat is around 5-7 months of age. As the baby teeth are being replaced by adult teeth, there is a lot of stretching and tearing of the gums. All this trauma is painful as any parent will tell you and it is a time when you may first note that awful odour that I call “mouse mouth!” Although treatment is not required at this time, it will quickly resolve the active inflammation and bad breathcat brushing teeth. After the gums have adapted to the new adult teeth, your pet is usually good for a year or two before the chronic and progressive  gum disease starts in earnest. This is the best time to start long term prevention for your kitten. Your kitten is curious enough at this age AND there is no painful problems going on so your chances of success are much better than if you wait till later. There are several things you can do but the 3 things I advise are teeth brushing, water additives and special dental diets. Some have advocated for treats or supplements that are formulated with everything from seaweed to heavy metal salts with a goal of preventing the calculus accumulation. I believe that if you are able to keep the gingivitis from getting started, you will not have to deal with the severe accumulation of calculus. Not only that, it is the infection from the gum disease that is the major health concern, not the cosmetics of having white teeth!

Teeth Brushing

As you can see from the multiple pictures on the internet of cats chewing on a toothbrush, if you start with a tasty toothpaste, kittens can be trained to accept the feeling of a toothbrush in their mouth. In fact, in my experience, I have found that most kittens are quite keen to chew on things and if you start with putting something tasty on the brush and let him play with it, it is a small step to move from that play to purposeful tooth brushing. Since you have probably missed that golden opportunity for your cat, the next technique is simply to put some tasty substance (tuna, salmon, canned food) on your fore finger finger and after petting a your cat’s cheek a few times, slip your index finger with the treat between the cheek and the back molar. Initially, your cat may be surprised with this tasty interruption, but over time, you will be able to do a bit more than just wiping your finger, moving eventually to a few gentle massaging strokes along the gum line. Once you are able to do this without resentment, you can move on to some flavoured tooth paste products.  For long term benefit you should try to move on to using a knitted glove and then eventually a soft small headed tooth brush. The best prevention that I have found is a product that releases oxygen ions into the gum tissues. The infection that establishes itself in those gum pockets hates oxygen so these oxygen ions naturally select for the healthy bacteria. It can be purchased on-line direct from Oxyfresh or you can come by our hospital to obtain some. For more information click on this link Oxyfresh International – Dental Gel.

Water Additives

Let me be clear, if you are able to brush your cats teeth, that is the best solution and you will not need to do anything else. But, the best laid plans of mice and men are often frustrated by our feline friends. This second level prevention is an option if you have not been able to persuade your tiger that teeth brushing is a good thing. Not all water additives are created equal. There are two broad groups of products available. Some work on the bacteria, some simply try to get rid of the calculus that is the long term result of ongoing bacterial infection in your cats mouth.

The type that work on the calculus alone,  are not my favourite products as the main problem is the gingivitis, not the ugly calculus. The thought of using strange concoctions of seaweed extract or molecular silver salts to get pearly whites visible again just does not make sense to me. I avoid these products.

The products that work on the bacteria are the only ones that I recommend. However, there are many products here that I am not keen on as well. Just like with humans, the way to prevent gingivitis is with good gum hygiene, not with various antibacterial mouth washes. Water additives that contain chlorhexidine will kill some of the bacteria that is causing the gum infection but in my experience, resistance often builds up to this strong antibacterial product and the gum infection returns with a vengeance. Not only that, these products kill both the good bacteria and the bad, leaving the mouth vulnerable to the resistant bacteria when they come around. Some of these water additives contain high levels of various minerals (iodine) that can lead to health issues. Once again, my favourite products in this department are ones that leave the mouth more aerobic, naturally selecting for healthy bacteria. Check our this product from Oxyfresh – Oral Hygiene Solution

Dental Diets

As we make our way down the list of preventive techniques, each one is less effective than the one before. Dental diets have two benefits; mechanical removal of plaque and calculus and sequestration or trapping of minerals that will cling to the bacterial plaque and lead to calculus. As I mentioned above, the calculus is a very late stage in the gingivitis process and although there is a benefit to having clean teeth, having healthy gums is the goal.

Calculus is a hiding place for bacterial infection to thrive so it is a good idea to get rid of it or to prevent it in the first place. On this basis I do recommend the special dental diets. In my experience the best results have been with diets that do both the mineral trapping and the mechanical removal of plaque. My favourite here is from Royal Canin, as it is also a very low calorie diet ; Feline Dental Dry Food. Come by our hospital and talk to us about the best food recommendation for your cat.


Imagine what your mouth would be like if you never brushed your teeth. Worse yet, imagine your partner’s mouth if they never brushed their teeth. Not really the most romantic imagery!  Not only is the bad breath repulsive, that smell is coming from rotting gum tissue and nasty bacterial infection. When these bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause problems ranging from strokes, immune system issues and infections in remote parts of the body. In addition, when that gum infection progresses to the point of having loose teeth, it can be quite painful when chewing. All of this so readily prevented. Call us to get a plan in place for your cat as soon as possible!



Dental Disease in Cats



Cat’s Dental Diseases

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I regard that 80% of what I do is associated with either overweight cats or cats with significant dental disease. Since I have given a few pointers on weight management, it’s time to look at the teeth. The range of dental diseases in cats is in some ways similar to humans. Gingivitis or gum disease is quite common. But cavities are very unusual, the cavities cats get start below the gum line and are called Resorbtive Lesions. Calculus, gum recession and tooth abscesses are other common problems encountered. For outdoor cats, chipped fang teeth are quite common as well. Uncommon dental problems include stomatits, retained baby teeth and alignment issues. I will leave the uncommon problems for another day.

Gum Disease

I have seen the statistic that 85% of cats have clinically significant gum disease by age two and 95% by age three! This is the most common disease of cats. Gum disease progresses from a mild redness and swelling at the edge of the gum beside the tooth. Often this will be noted as a red line. This represents bacterial infection of the gum at the edge of the periodontal pocket, signalling that in the delicate balance between the body’s defence mechanisms and the bacteria present in the mouth, the bacteria are starting to win. As they continue to get the upper hand, the bacteria start to produce a gel like film over the area that is called plaque. Simply brushing your cat’s teeth at this stage will totallygingivitis eliminate the disease! But when this plaque stays on the teeth for about 48 hours, it starts to become filled with crystals of various minerals present in the food and in the saliva. Calcium is the predominant one and the resulting crusty buildup is called calculus. This calculus formation can get quite large, creating a nasty environment under it that is very low in oxygen levels. As a result, the bacteria that thrive in low oxygen levels (anaerobic bacteria) become the predominant inhabitants of the area. Unfortunately, these nasty bacteria easily overpower the body’s defences and the result is gum recession. The gum tissue retreats to a lower level in an attempt to leave the nasty bacteria behind and start a new line of defence. Unfortunately, the deeper gum pocket that is the result of this recession, gives an even more attractive home to the anaerobic bacteria. And the cycle continues. Once the gum has receded enough to expose the place where the base of the tooth branches into multiple roots, it is virtually game over for that tooth.

Feline Odontoclastic Resorbtive Lesions

I call these “Cat Cavities” as that is what they resemble when you look at the tooth. But, that is just the end stage of the disease. For some reason, the body chooses to reject that particular tooth. The process typically starts at the tip of the root, with the bone tissue invading the root, gradually replacing the root with bone until it comes to the top of the tooth, breaking resorbtive-lesion-xraythrough the enamel, usually just at the gum line. These are very painful conditions but cats, being carnivores, do not like to show pain. You may notice your cat eating on one side of his mouth or being hesitant to eat cold canned food out of the fridge. Extraction of the remainder of that tooth and its roots is the only treatment. For an extensive discussion on these “cavities” check out this  website.

Calculus and Gum recession

As you can see in the section “Gum Disease,” calculus and gum recession are just advanced forms of gum disease. Gum disease in its early stages is completely reversible with good oral hygiene – brushing and water additives. However, once the calculus has encompassed the tooth and started to form down into the gum pocket, it can become a disease in its own right. The calculus itself is porous, with many little pockets for bacteria to live in much like a coral reef. These bacteria are able to accelerate the progression of the gum disease. A thorough cleaning of the surface of the tooth AND its associated gum pockets is essential to stop to progression. Beware of any treatments that do not address the calculus deposits under the gum line. This is the reason an anesthetic is required for a thorough cleaning of the affected teeth.

Tooth Abscesses

Most often a tooth abscess is the end result of a broken tooth. The bacterial that live in the mouth are able to penetrate the tooth to the pulp cavity inside the root and this infection migrates to the end of the root and breaks through into the bone of the jaw. Anyone who has seen the movie “Castaway” will remember the figure skate scene! These abscesses are extremely painful. If you see a broken tooth, get medical attention as soon as possible so it can be treated before it becomes an abscess. Believe it or not, root canals and fillings can be performed but most often extraction is the treatment usually performed due to cost factors and duration of the problem.

False Teeth?

Cat’s teeth are the perfect tool for catching and killing small mammals and birds, the wild cat’s normal diet. For our loving housecats, they are actually optional. Even cats eating dry food only chew a small proportion of their diet. If you have ever cleaned up your cat’s vomit you know this first hand. So even multiple extractions are not a problem. False teeth are not necessary! For some conditions, such as stomatitis, all the teeth are extracted. Better no teeth than chronic pain and infection.

Note that the best way to assess your cats teeth is simply to open her mouth and look! If there is a strong odour (I call it “mouse-mouth”:) or if you see build up on the teeth or any redness of the gums, book an appointment to have your cat’s mouth professionally assessed. Early detection, leads to early treatment that almost always saves cost and preserves the teeth to bite you another day.


obesity, Uncategorized

Feeding for Success in Multi-Cat Households


“One of my cats is a grazer and the other is a food monster! How can I feed them so that the monster doesn’t get overweight and the grazer gets enough?”

This is one of the most common dilemmas we face in feeding our cats. Cats are like potato chips, you can’t just have one! As such, most of us have this problem if our cats cannot be trusted with the food dish. The following plan will help you have success.

Step 1: Switch to canned food

Cats on canned food are more apt to eat a meal. Dry food grazers will often convert to a full meal eater if given the choice to eat canned food. Once you know how much your grazer will eat in a meal, that is the basis for calculating how many meals to feed them.

Step 2: Satisfy the grazer first

Once your cats are eating canned food, calculate the feeding volume based on the calorie rating of the food and the requirement of your cats. Divide that total amount of food required by the amount that the grazer will eat in a meal and that will tell you how many meals per day you need to feed. Usually, that will be less than 3 meals spread over the day. You can now “meal feed” them in separate rooms and in all likelihood, they will both finish their meal. The food monster will devour its food and come looking for left overs, but if you have done your math right, there won’t be any!

Step 3: Feed for weight loss of the fat cat

Once you have the meal size figured out, you can now start to restrict the food for the food monster. I have had the most success with Royal Canin Calorie Control canned diet. For more information on this diet see their web page. web link to Royal Canin  This diet is low enough in calories that most hungry cats will be satisfied even though they are getting significant reductions in the total calorie intake.   One of my own cats had this problem and my “fat” cat was able to eat 1½ cans per day, that worked out to a half can per meal which despite the calorie restriction made her a happy cat!

Step 4: Monitor

Any time we are trying to get a cat to lose weight, monitoring is essential. Often we are talking about a couple of pounds loss over several months so an accurate scale that will get decimals of a pound is best. Visual inspection is inevitably inaccurate. From my experience in my own family, my wife and son were convinced that our chubby cat had lost weight but the scale showed that after 1 month there was no change! But in 6 months she did lose 3 pounds rather painlessly.

Dry Food Options

The same plan can be done for dry food eaters but often the number of meals climbs to 6 or more. You can lock them in separate rooms for meal times but I have found it is hard to change a cats eating habit unless there are drastic changes. Once a grazer is hungry, they will convert to a meal feeder but it takes progressive restriction of the food to achieve that. I would suggest starting with 6 meals a day, removing left overs after about 15 minutes and you can decrease the number of meals as the grazer starts to eat more at a time. Others have suggested feeding the skinny cat inside a large cardboard boxbox-hole-too-small with a small hole in it or feeding on a countertop where the large cat cannot jump to. Another option to consider is to use an automatic feeder that will only dispense small amounts of food at a time and set it up to give a total of food slightly less than they both need. In time, the grazer will change her habits and will not allow the food monster to win.

In conclusion, weight loss is only achieved by feeding less calories than maintenance requires. That means there will be hunger! Low calorie foods on their own will not have success, the cats will only eat more!!! Restricted feeding will be needed and lower calorie foods can help with the satisfaction level but canned foods do tend to work better given the higher meal volume allowed. It is always better to prevent weight gain rather than having to address weight loss so the key times to address this is during your cats annual physical exam. We can recommend small changes in diet early so you will never have to go through a stressful weight loss program. Hungry cats are not happy cats! Unhappy cats always find ways of making you unhappy too!



cat health general, obesity, Uncategorized

Heavy Weight Cats


This is a family friendly blog so I won’t be using the nasty F word, but keeping you cat from being “plush” or “chunky” requires  a complete strategy. It has been said that weight accumulates when our calories in are greater than the calories we burn. For cats, as you can see above, the calories burnt are pretty low for most of our house cat friends.

So, how much should your cat weight as a healthy weight? The average cat’s optimal weight is  between 7 and 10 pounds. Given the low activity level of most cats, most cats that I see are much higher than that! The average cat that I see is probably closer to 15 pounds, so at least 50% more weight than they should be.

The food side of the equation is also part of the problem. Food should contain all the nutrients your cat needs in a serving size that satisfies their hunger cravings. Most cats free fed on a dry food like to eat between 3/4 and a full cup. However, when you look on your cat’s bag of food, the feeding amounts for a 7 pound cat are often less than a half of a cup! My biggest pet peeve for feeding guidelines is the chart you can find on the back of the bag. It often goes up to over 18 pounds! With more food for the cat as he gets larger and larger! Since I have turned fifty, my own waistline has been an issue. When I stand on the scale and see that I have gained 10 pounds, I don’t celebrate and say great, I get to eat more! yet that’s what the pet food companies are inadvertently doing. See the picture below. If you go with the average cat eating about a cup of this food, he is eating TWICE the calories that he needs! Any surprise that he gains weight?

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We must feed our pets according to their metabolic requirements and keep in mind their “serving size that satisfies” or we will have very unsatisfied cats. Unsatisfied cats are not pleasant to be around!

So, I am not naïve enough to assume that if you are reading this blog, that you are trying to prevent obesity, rather you have a “plush” cat that you are trying to reduce back to a “normal” size. The reasons are plenty for wanting to do that. Many diseases are associated with obesity in cats: Diabetes, urinary problems, arthritis, skin conditions, fatty liver syndrome, and the list goes on and on. In fact, I believe that over 80% of what I do as a veterinarian has to do with either obesity or poor dental health. (but that’s another blog topic…)

The solution is to eat less than your cat is burning. If he is significantly overweight already, this should be over seen by your veterinary team. If we reduce his food intake too much, he may not be getting enough of the essential nutrients such as protein and vitamins. In these cases, a “prescription” diet is required to get low enough calories yet still maintain the proper level of nutrition. We provide weekly, monthly and bimonthly weight monitoring appointments so we can tweak the diet mix and keep weight loss moving forward safely.

For moderately overweight cats, you can estimate how much too much he has been eating by following the steps outlined below. If you take your cat’s weight from last year and subtract his weight this year, that equals the  amount of fat (sorry for the F word but it can’t be avoided here) that he has put on over the last year. Muscle and bone don’t change very much so we can assume that a pound of gain is a pound of fat. Roughly calculated, a pound of fat (ouch) is worth 4000 kcal. So you can calculate how much extra food has been consumed. For example, if your cat gained 2 pounds over the last year, he was eating 8000 kcal more than he needed over the last 365 days. If you do the math, that works out to about 20 kcal per day. The average cat food is over 400 kcal per cup so that is about 1/20 of a cup per day more than he needs. If we want him to slowly lose weight over the year, we need to reduce his food by twice that amount. So a reduction of about 1/10th of a cup should be enough to stop the gaining and get him to lose the excess weight over the next year. The trouble is, how much is he eating in the first place?

Most people feed their cats free choice, only filling the bowl when it is empty. So finding out the  actual amount eaten is a challenge. My solution is to measure out about 2 cups at 9:00 Monday morning into the feeding dish. At the same time Tuesday, measure how much remains. Repeat for 1 week and you should have an average amount for the purposes of getting that starting point. Once you have that, reduce it by the above amount, or what your cat needs to lose, and monitor the weight on a monthly or bimonthly basis. If weight is not coming off, he may need a prescription diet to do the job.

But how do you do this if you have multiple cats? Wait and see. I’ll write about that next week!