Got a Fat Cat? How to Help Your Cat Shed Those Extra Pounds

Carl Sandburg’s fog may have come on little cat feet, soft and silent, but in my practice I’ve seen a number of cats big enough that their tread is more like rolls of thunder. And these felines aren’t just big-boned, as their owners often describe them — they’re downright fat cat.

Cat Obesity is a big problem — literally. So many cats are overweight or obese that it’s a national scandal. (And yes, there’s a difference between overweight and obese: Overweight cats are 10 to 29 percent over ideal weight while obese cats are 30 percent or more over ideal weight.) More than half of our feline friends —nearly 58 percent — could stand to shed a few pounds. That’s not something to take lightly.

It’s not easy to put your cat on a diet and exercise plan, especially if he lives a sedentary indoor life. And the answer isn’t to let him roam outdoors — unless you have a safely enclosed area for him. But you can work with your veterinarian to develop a feline weight-loss program designed to improve your cat’s health and activity level. And that will leave both of you purring.

The First Step Is a Visit to the Vet

Start by taking a cue from Weight Watchers: Schedule your cat for an official weigh-in at the vet’s office. This allows you and your veterinarian to figure out how much weight he needs to lose as well as how much he can safely be expected to lose each month.

Along with the weigh-in, your veterinarian should give your cat a good once-over. A veterinary exam can help to ensure that your cat doesn’t have any underlying health problems that could interfere with or be worsened by weight loss.

If he gets a clean bill of health, you can proceed, with the guidance of your veterinarian. My colleague, feline expert Margie Scherk, DVM, says that any successful cat weight-loss program has three components: diet, exercise and recheck visits.

Calorie Reduction

Any diet starts with decreasing the number of calories your cat takes in and increasing the number of calories he burns through activity. Dr. Scherk recommends keeping a feline food journal for one or two weeks. Logeverything your cat eats, from food to treats to nibbles the kids and your spouse sneak him when they think you’re not looking. It should include the brand of food or treats as well as amounts.

With that information, your veterinarian can determine how much your cat needs to eat to lose weight. Most cats can safely lose ¼ to ½ pound per month.

That may mean reducing the amount of food he gets or switching his diet to a different food. A higher protein diet — sometimes nicknamed the “Catkins” plan — may help, but according to Dr. Scherk, the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive: While some studies have connected increased protein consumption with feline weight loss, the finding is not consistent across all studies.

If you switch to a new food, your veterinarian will recommend introducing it over a seven- to 10-day period. Take that advice. Gradually mix in a small amount of the new food with your cat’s regular food. This helps reduce the risk of stomach upset and lets your cat slowly adjust to the taste of the new food. You probably know as well as anyone that most cats hate change and like it to be on their own terms, so give him time to adapt.

If it’s necessary to change your cat’s diet and he doesn’t like the food, it’s essential that you not employ the “take it or leave it” approach. Not eating is not an option for felines: Cats who don’t eat for as little as two days can develop a serious and sometimes fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. You may have also heard it called fatty liver syndrome. Either way, it’s bad news. If your cat won’t eat his new food, talk to your vet about other options.

Cats and exercise go together like … well, okay, they don’t seem to go together, but the truth is that many cats are athletes of the highest order. Anyone who has seen one jump onto the kitchen counter or a high bookshelf knows that cats often have the capacity to move with speed, power and agility. We just need to harness their desire to do so.

Encourage your cat to move by spreading his food out around the house. Divide the amount of food he’s allowed daily into half a dozen small portions, place them in little containers and hide them in different places: upstairs, downstairs, in your closet, on a windowsill. Make him work for his food. You can also place the food inside a puzzle toy that he must roll or push to get the food to fall out. The goal is to keep him moving while he’s eating.

You can’t rely on your cat to up his exercise quotient, though — you’ll have to participate, too. Schedule two to three minutes of playtime several times a day. Wiggle a peacock feather or fishing-pole-type toy for him to pounce on. Toss a small ball down the hall for him to chase. Schedule some of these exercise sessions first thing in the morning and in the evening, when your diurnal pet is most likely to be active, and he’ll be more willing to participate.

Follow Up

Work out a schedule with your veterinarian for brief exams to check his progress. Often, this simply involves a quick in and out visit to get him weighed and won’t cost you a cent, other than the drive time. Your veterinarian may check in with you by phone or email to make sure you aren’t having any problems or to see if you have any questions.

At the four-month mark, Dr. Scherk recommends another visit to make sure weight loss is on target and see if any changes must be made. And if you have any questions or concerns along the way, don’t be afraid to ask — your vet is happy to help you and your cat out on this weight loss journey.


Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

History of Dogs

History of Dogs

Fourteen thousand years ago, a group of Paleolithic hunters huddle together by a fire, listening to sounds of a forest that doesn’t forgive mistakes or hand out sustenance willingly. Leaves and brush rustle; then a four-legged animal cautiously treads toward the fire, attracted by this unusual source of warmth.

The animal, a wolf, has his head bowed and tail down, and then lays some distance away from the group but close enough to feel the fire. Members of the group had grabbed their crude spears, but the animal made no threatening moves. Gradually, the animal moves closer to the group and follows them as they depart for the hunt. The animal helps flush out game for the hunters, who reward their new partner with pieces from the kill.

There are no records of how early canines befriended humanity, but there is little doubt that the relationship was originally forged through mutual necessity. The above hypothesis provides a romanticized scenario, but researchers say there are other possibilities. For instance, man may have sought friendship after witnessing how dogs hunt in groups, or the wolf may have adapted to humans by scavenging off of human waste. There really is no one correct scenario we can be sure about.

However, new scientific findings have indicated that dog originated in East Asia instead of the Middle East, as was originally believed. Exactly when is still in dispute, but some theorize that the dog was domesticated between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago. One study put the date as far back as 40,000 years ago. The first major dog genetic paper (1997) reported a dog origin date of as much as 135,000ybp for the separation of dog and wolf, but this has been challenged as an artifact of the assumptions of the method they used for dating.

The wolf that joined early humans might have been an outcast from his pack. Perhaps he was too juvenile in his habits, not maturing enough to be of use to the pack. Those traits may have helped the wolf gain entry into human society. The wolf, over the years, gradually became the dog – more puppy-like and affectionate, and more eager to please.

At some point we began breeding dogs to serve specific functions – herding, hunting, guarding, working or simply as companions. The value of each breed is not limited to its original purpose, however. The relationship has blossomed from mutual need to mutual affection. They are family members and, in many cases, co-workers or even colleagues.

Origin of the Dog

We will probably never know the true origin of the modern dog. It was once believed that the dog was the result of a mixing of genes from the many different types of canids – which is the family of which the dog is a member. However, according to Janice Koler-Matznick, M.S., C.P.D.T., who has been investigating the origin of the dog for 20 years, genetic studies of the last 10 years confirm that dogs have no jackal or coyote gene sequences. There is still question of whether the dog is a direct recent descendant of Canis lupus (the mostly unquestioned hypothesis of the vast majority) or, as Koler-Matznick believes, they have both descended from a recent common ancestor.

The earliest ancestor of the dogs is believed to have been a five-toed weasel-like animal called Miacis, which lived about 40 million years ago. A tree-climbing creature, the Miacis is believed to be the ancestor for many species that you wouldn’t normally consider related. From the Miacis sprung the usual suspects in the canid world: wolf, jackal, hyena and the fox. But it is also believed to be the progenitor to the raccoon, bear and even the cat.

About 10 million years ago, a wolf-like creature emerged called the Tomarctus. This is the animal that probably developed the strong social instincts we see in dogs (and wolves) today. The wolf probably first appeared, in an early form, about a million years ago.

Early Dog Breeding Programs

New research pinpoints East Asia as the region where the dog was first domesticated. “Domesticated” means an animal has been tamed and bred for specific traits.

Many dog clubs claim that their breed was the earliest recognizable dog type bred on purpose. As far as groups, hounds were among the first. The saluki and the basenji are documented in ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago. Dalmatians are in cave paintings 2,000 years ago. What makes an exact determination impossible is the nature of canids themselves – wolves, dogs, jackals, foxes can all interbreed. Undoubtedly, they were interbred all over the world, and at different times.

Each area developed its own type of dog that was adapted to the climate and to the nature of the work necessary to survive. For instance, dogs from northern Europe developed thick coats and a medium to large body to withstand cold weather and to have the strength to pull sleds.

The Scottish terrier is another good example. Dogs in the Scottish highlands were selectively bred to dig and chase small varmints. People did not need a large work horse-type of animal. Smaller dogs of the litters were chosen to be part of a continued breeding program. Eventually, the Scots had the terrier they wanted.

People took the breeding program a step further and developed specific breeds for specific tasks. This meant that when the mother and father were bred, all the offspring had the same characteristics, looks and abilities as the parents. Using the terrier of Scotland as an example again, offshoots developed: West Highland white terrier, the Scottish terrier, the Skye terrier, the Dandie Dinmont and the cairn terrier. These dogs can all trace their ancestory back to a generic terrier, but today they are considered separate breeds. This development of different breeds took decades to develop. It takes a vigilant group of people, accurate records and an intense love of the dog to develop and maintain a purebred.

Prosperity and Dog Ownership

Prosperity advances a civilization. Once the basic needs have been taken care of, a population can devote time and energy to other pursuits. So it is with the dog. The status of the dog began to change with the early Greeks and the Romans. They appeared in art, sculpture and poems, their loyal traits lionized and admired. In other words, they began to become animals that were kept for enjoyment.

Of course, what passed for enjoyment back then was different. Dog fights were common events, a competition that has become discredited only within the last 100 years or so. In other parts of the world, such as the Far East, the fate of dogs depended on the breed. Pekingese were kept by royalty, the chow chow used in hunting and the shari pei used for fighting. Other breeds wound up on the dinner table.

In the Middle Ages, European nobility fell in love with purebred dogs and bred them for hunting, guarding and companionship. The English mastiff and the greyhound, for instance, became standardized breeds with a purpose. Smaller dogs were used as “comforters” by royal ladies.

History of Dogs/Dogs Today

Even today, breeds are changing. For example, the English cocker was brought to America, but Americans decided they wanted a smaller dog without a strong hunting instinct. Through manipulation and breeding, the American cocker was developed and is considered separate from the English cockers.

Kennel clubs around the world have their own breeds that they recognize. In the United States, the American Kennel Club recognizes over 150 breeds, belonging to one of eight groups: sporting group, hound group, toy group, working group, terrier group, herding group, non-sporting group and miscellaneous.

Alex Lieber

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Why Does Spaying a Dog Cost So Much?

 I used to work in a general veterinary practice in a wealthy part of Wyoming. Despite the fact that many of our clients arrived at the clinic driving cars worth more than my annual salary, the question “Why does  spaying a dog cost so much?” seemed to come up on a daily basis. I think the ready availability of spays through nonprofit organizations has skewed owner perception of the true cost of this surgery absent support via donations, tax-exempt status, and a focus on maximizing the number of surgeries performed.


It’s impossible to itemize the cost of everything that goes into a high quality dog spay, but I thought that an overview of what’s involved in spaying a dog might provide some insight.

  • An examination by a veterinarian prior to anesthesia on the day of the surgery.
  • Laboratory tests prior to surgery. Exactly which tests should be run depends on your dog’s age, breed, and health history. For example, a six month old mixed breed dog who has never been sick a day in her life may only need a check of her hematocrit (red blood cell count), total blood protein level, and an Azostix (a quick and dirty check of kidney function) while a dog with an increased risk of disorders that make anesthesia and surgery riskier would require more extensive testing.
  • “Pre-meds.” Sedatives and pain relievers that help dogs to relax and can reduce the dose of anesthetics that are subsequently given.
  • Placement of an intravenous catheter after the site is shaved and prepped with antiseptics to prevent infection. Catheters allow multiple injections to be given with only one “stick,” the administration of intravenous fluids during surgery (more on why this is so important next week), and ensure access to the blood stream in case an emergency arises.
  • Administration of injectable anesthetics allowing the dog to be intubated (placement of a breathing tube into the trachea).
  • Administration of oxygen and inhalational anesthetics through the breathing tube throughout the procedure.
  • Shaving and multiple applications of antiseptic solutions to the surgical site to prevent infection.
  • The use of several monitoring devices (e.g., blood pressure, blood oxygenation, pulse and breathing rates, and temperature).
  • A specially designed room used only for surgery complete with all necessary equipment (oxygen delivery system, surgical lights and tables, etc.).
  • The use of special devices to hold the dog in the correct position and keep her warm.
  • Application of sterile drapes (newly sterilized ones for every surgery) that leave only a small area around the surgical site exposed.
  • Caps, masks, surgical hand scrub, and sterile gowns and gloves (new ones for every surgery) for the veterinarian and anyone else who might assist in the surgery.
  • A sterile equipment pack containing scalpel handles, needle holders, hemostats, a variety of clamps, absorbent gauze, etc. A new sterile pack should be used for every surgery.
  • Sterile, individually packaged scalpel blade(s).
  • Several different types of individually packaged, sterile absorbable sutures.
  • Sterile nonabsorbable sutures, tissue glue, or surgical staples to close the skin.
  • Close monitoring while the dog recovers from anesthesia in a warm and soft location.
  • Pain relievers to go home and clear instructions (both written and verbal) regarding what owners should be monitoring for during the postoperative period.
  • The veterinarian’s, veterinary technician’s, and support staff’s time/salaries.
  • Expenses to cover costs associated with the running of the veterinary practice (e.g., equipment purchases and maintenance, utilities, rent/mortgage payments, etc.)

Truth is, most veterinary clinics greatly undercharge for spaying a  dog. They consider providing high quality spays a necessary part of patient care and are willing to take a loss on the procedure to avoid scaring clients away with the actual cost of the surgery.   Dr. Jennifer Coates

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372