New Zealand’s obesity rates are among the highest in the world, with one in three children considered obese or overweight and similar rates among Kiwi adults. And now our unhealthy lifestyles are impacting on our pets – with new Purina research showing that one in four Australian cats is considered obese or overweight. These figures are highly likely to be similar in New Zealand, says Purina ambassador and veterinarian Dr Alex Melrose.
Being an unhealthy weight can lead to serious health issues for animals, just as it does in people, and while we can’t blame fizzy drinks or too much time in front of a screen for our moggies’ weight gain, we can look at what and how much we’re feeding them, points out Dr Melrose.
He believes we’re too quick to give our pets high-calorie treats or overfeed them to show them our love.
“I think we also start to normalise it,” Dr Melrose says, “so when you see quite a lot of overweight cats you start to think that the ideal-weighted cat is skinny.”
Granted, there are greedy cats around. “Some cats don’t self-regulate,” Dr Melrose explains, “especially if they’ve had a difficult start in life.
“New Zealand has a large population of abandoned and rescue cats and a lot of people get their cats through mechanisms like the SPCA. With those rescue cats you often find the start of their lives was so hard they had to gorge themselves on anything they could find and get it down very quickly.”
Even after they’ve been re-homed and no longer need to compete for food to survive, they still continue to eat in this way.
So what and how much should you feed your cat?
Cats are natural grazers, which means they much prefer to come and go from a never-ending supply of food - but keep tabs on how much you’re leaving out if your cat is a gorger.
As for which kind of food is best, go for a variety of good-quality food, Dr Melrose says. To know the difference between good and poor-quality foods, learn to interpret pet food labels, he suggests.
“Labels should list meat as the first and primary ingredient,” he states. “It’s a great starting point because, depending on their life stage, cats require 40-50 per cent protein to optimise their health.”
Meat also contains taurine - a nutrient that cats can’t produce themselves, but without it, they would die.
“And then you want to watch that companies aren’t jamming a lot of fat and a lot of salt in. As soon as you put a lot of fat and salt in you increase the palatability, so you think it must be quality because the cat loves it so much but it can easily be the equivalent of giving your cat a whole lot of takeaways every night,” Dr Melrose explains.
Avoid fillers such as grains, which are indigestible for cats. And bear in mind that offering your cat a little wet food along with dry food can help get a little extra water into a cat that doesn’t like drinking water.
Supermarket brands can get a bad rap that’s undeserved, Dr Melrose says.
“Purina One is a good brand.”
Purina ONE’s Healthy Kitten, Healthy Metabolism and Sensitive System formulas each uses targeted formulas to meet each pet’s special needs and offer 100 per cent nutrition, with real meat that’s rich in protein, and no fillers.
If your cat has a healthy coat, bright eyes and good energy levels, then chances are what you’re feeding your cat is doing the trick.
"Just remember," points out Dr Melrose, “that every cat is different. If you took 100 people and put them all on the same diet I don’t think you would have everyone being at optimal health. We see some cats that have been on a raw diet and they have excellent health, but we will have others that will be too thin because they won’t digest it well. They’ll have all sorts of issues and then you put them back onto a good-quality dry food and they do really well - so that’s why I’m convinced it comes down to the individual animal.”