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Fat Cats

Fat CatsATufts veterinary nutrition expert helps an overweight cat –and her owner – drop excess pounds the safe way. No.Grafton, Mass.

No. Grafton, Mass. [08.04.04] The obesity crisis, which has dominated headlines across the nation, isn't just for people any more. There is increasing evidence that household pets are just as overweight as many adults. But as Barbara Kostick discovered - with the help of a Tufts expert - if her obese cat could shed the pounds, so could she.

"More than 90 percent of people who try to lose weight fail at the effort. I would guess with pets it's about the same," Lisa Freeman, DVM, PhD, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "It's lifestyle changes. Owner and pet have to do it."

Kostick's concern began when her cat, Lily, ballooned to 21 pounds and began showing signs of health problems. Her veterinarian referred her to Dr. Freeman, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and professor at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine with degrees from the University in nutrition and veterinary medicine.

"I've seen much worse cats at 28 or 30 pounds," Freedman told the Gazette. "Lily was not the worst, but she was quite overweight." The cat's body condition scored a "9" - indicating a dangerously high amount of heavy fat deposits.

It's an increasing problem among many pets.

"About 20 percent to 30 percent of dogs and cats are above their ideal weight," reported the Gazette. "A smaller percentage are obese, but Dr. Freeman and her colleagues often encounter pets that fall into that category. Two studies have found that overweight owners and chubby pets often go hand in hand."

Unlike humans, dogs and cats rarely develop high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, but extra weight increases risk of orthopedic and endocrine problems, reported the Gazette.

"That's an important thing to an owner," Freeman told the newspaper. "Their cat or dog can be around longer if they are trim."

But figuring out the root of the weight problem can be difficult.

"We have to figure out where the problems are: food, treats, exercise," Freeman told the newspaper. "If it's treats, it has to be determined when and why. Is the animal begging? Is it getting into the cabinets at night? Pets definitely know where the kids are in the family. You have to get everyone in the household on board."

After several months of feeling Lily smaller portions of a reduced-calorie formula, the feline slimmed down to a healthy 13.8 pounds.

Kostick - at a dangerously high 253 pounds for her 5-foot-6 frame - decided to follow suit.

"Lily was a role model for me," Kostick told the Gazette. "She showed me that it could be done."

After a sensible regimen of exercise and portion control, she lost 101 pounds in 11 months.

"My doctor is so excited," Kostick told the Gazette. "She's just as happy as Dr. Freeman is about Lily."

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