Hi. My name is Dr. Uri Burstyn.
I'm a veterinarian in Vancouver, B.C.,
and I'd like to welcome you to my series of practical skills for pet owners.
Me and Pirate are here to talk about a very, very important topic close to our hearts,
and that is feline obesity.
But before we get into it,
please remember to hit like and subscribe and squish that bell notification button
to make sure you don't miss any of the future uploads and livestreams that we produce.
So, feline obesity is something many cats and owners struggle with,
and I often get comments on my site about
Mr. Pirate's "corpulence", shall we say,
mentioning that maybe he's a bit of a, um...
Some people refer to him as a "unit", even.
And I wanna dispel this myth
around Mr. Pirate being grotesquely obese.
He is a bit on the chubby side, of course.
I think nobody can deny that.
But he's not really overweight
where it matters,
and I'm gonna explain that a little bit more, but first I wanna explain to you guys
why weight matters to cats.
in the wild -
oh, Mr. Pirate lost a whisker.
I love finding these little things around the house.
I think every cat owner finds cat whiskers around once in a while.
Pirate, look, a whisker!
we have lost a whisker.
Nothing to do with feline obesity whatsoever.
So, the reason we worry about obesity in cats
is because there is a correlation between obesity and diabetes, primarily.
That is the main problem with being fat if you're cat,
is you can become diabetic,
which is obviously not something you wanna become.
Also, of course, obesity makes orthopedic problems much worse,
so as animals age, they are prone to developing arthritis
and this is actually more of a dog problem than a cat problem,
although of course, even a fat cat will develop some mobility issues,
but in dogs in particular,
especially larger breed dogs, like Labrador and up,
being skinny is really the best thing you can do for your dog
if you have a large breed dog, is keeping them skinny later in life,
because being overweight is just so hard on their joints,
and dogs suffer from arthritis much more commonly and much more severely
than cats do, in general terms.
So it's really, really important to keep your dog slender.
It's also very, very hard.
In cats, like I said, diabetes is the main issue,
mobility and osteoarthritis is another one, hypertension...
There's actually - I'm not sure that there is a strong correlation between hypertension -
idiopathic hypertension and obesity in cats,
but certainly there is a theoretical one there.
Another reason many people might not think about
Infections in the fat are incredibly difficult to deal with,
they're called steatitis or panniculitis.
They're awful to deal with,
and particularly if you have cats who go outside,
who might be prone to getting into cat fights or getting injured,
if they're really overweight, they get infections in their subcutaneous fat.
They're just a bugger to deal with.
Usually you need prolonged antibiotics, surgery, more prolonged antibiotics -
it's not very nice.
And also, you know, being obese does increase your surgical risks.
You know, human surgeons often have the luxury of telling their patients
to go lose some weight before they go under the knife.
Unfortunately, in the veterinary world, we don't have that luxury,
but performing surgery on patients who are obese and that have a lot of intradominal fat,
I can promise you, is a very harrowing experience.
It really makes surgery much more difficult, much more challenging
to see things, handle things,
it's a definitely high risk of
both surgical complications and postsurgical complications, such as infections.
So it's really not good to be overweight and have to go in for any kind of surgery.
Another risk factor for obesity in cats
is something called hepatic lipidosis,
which is a problem not unique to cats, but it's more common in cats than other species.
What that is is, essentially if you are overweight and you starve,
your body mobilizes lipids, mobilizes fats out of your fat storage
and tries to convert them into glucose in the liver
because your brain needs glucose to live,
and unfortunately, cat livers are
particularly bad at metabolizing fat,
so if you have a fat cat that's starving and is mobilizing a ton of fat,
it may overload their liver and give them something called
fatty liver disease, or hepatic lipidosis,
which unfortunately leads to liver shutdown,
and often these cats are already kind of sick because whatever it is that made them
not eat in the first place is often a medical condition.
And you end up with a cat in liver failure on top of other things.
It's quite manageable, but it's certainly expensive to manage
and requires, you know, a feeding tube being placed, so
being an obese cat puts you at a very much increased risk of this,
and it is really something best avoided.
Dogs - dogs don't get hepatic lipidosis. They starve very, very nicely.
They're very well adapted to starvation.
I also see it in rabbits, and certainly some reptile patients as well,
but cats are really poster children for hepatic lipidosis.
Now, curiously, there was a paper published recently
talking about how being slightly overweight is actually protective
in cats in cases of kidney disease.
One of the biggest struggles in cats with kidney disease
is getting them to eat and getting them to maintain their weight,
and this paper found that cats who are a little bit on the heavier side of normal
before developing kidney disease
actually lived longer than cats who were skinny and developed kidney disease,
and since kidney disease is so common in cats -
I think according to some numbers, close to 30% of cats will develop
some degree of kidney dysfunction later in life -
I think it's worthwhile remembering this when you're,
particularly as a veterinarian, that when you're recommending
that people keep their pets at a healthy weight,
I think it's worthwhile making some allowances for older cats
and not getting too focused on making them really really skinny
because it may not necessarily be in their best interest.
So, with that little preamble,
I have to look at Pirate and say "Is he at a health risk because of his
body fat content?" And here's where it gets tricky.
People always ask me, you know, "What's a good weight for my cat?
What's a good weight for my dog?"
And that is an impossible question to answer
in the average patient, because, you know, cats can be such greatly varying sizes,
dogs can be of such greatly varying sizes.
A normal weight for a poodle is gonna be different than a normal weight for a Chihuahua.
And a normal weight for Mr. Pirate
is gonna be different from a normal weight for Clawdia.
And I'll bring Clawdia out for comparison
'cause Pirate, even when he's healthy,
probably weighs 30% more than Clawdia.
So as veterinarians, what we look at when we evaluate animals
is something called body condition score.
And what body condition score refers to
is essentially how much meat and fat is on their bones.
There is two commonly used scales. There's a 1-5 or a 1-9 scale.
But they're basically the same where the middle number, whether it's 3 or 5,
So a perfect cat would be a 5/9 or a 3/5.
And then as you get skinnier, the number goes down,
as you get fatter, the number goes one - goes up.
So 1 would be like a skeletal animal that's been starving and is near death,
whereas, for example, 9 would be a cat who's like,
you know, 17-18 kilos and is basically spherical all around.
And that actually gives you a meaningful evaluation of how much body fat
a patient has, and what the risk factors are -
what the associated health risk factors are.
And there's several different schemes for body condition scoring.
I think -
you probably don't need to become an expert
on body condition scoring as an owner,
but I think you just need to keep in mind some basic principles.
We look at two things on cats and dogs.
One is how easy it is to feel their ribs,
and the other one is how easy it is to feel their spine.
So you can feel along a cat's spine,
you see little bumps here, these are the spinous processes of their vertebrae.
And you should be able to feel them
without really having to push down,
but what you should not be able to do
is have them sticking up - feel them sticking up like a saw blade
and feeling their sides very easily.
If you can feel these
spinous processes, and it looks like you're feeling a saw blade,
and you're actually feeling not just the tips of them, but the sides,
that might be a sign of muscle wastage along the lumbar muscles here,
or it could be a sign of starvation.
Conversely, if you have to really push down to find those spinous processes,
if they're just covered in a layer of buttery tissue,
then you probably have an animal that's quite overweight.
Hey, little guy.
So usually, I position a cat like this
and I kinda have a quick feel along the spine
Pirate's are pretty well covered, but I can still feel the tips of them nicely, so
that's pretty good.
And then the other thing I look at
is his rib cover, and again,
here I wanna be able to feel his ribs without having to push down,
which I can't. I have to push down a little bit to feel those ribs.
What you don't wanna be able to do is put your fingers between the ribs.
You wanna be able to feel the ribs with really minimal pressure
just by running your hand along.
But if you have to push down to count the number of ribs he has,
then there's probably a little bit too much cover on those bones.
Now, with those two measurements, I can kinda say Pirate's maybe
a 6-7 out of 9 in terms of his body condition score.
I can feel these points on his spine, but not super well,
and his ribs I really do need to push down a little bit to feel.
So, you know. Is he fat?
He's a little bit more corpulent than optimal,
but Mr. Pirate is a cat who spent roughly 8 years of his life
on corticosteroid therapy for inflammatory bowel disease.
Totally different story.
But for a cat with his history,
he's actually doing fantastic.
A cat his age
wants to have a little bit more cover on his bones,
particularly because of that renal issue that I mentioned, and
certainly it's very very difficult to keep a cat on chronic corticosteroids skinny,
so I'd say we're doing pretty well here.
Now, he could be a little bit skinnier for sure,
he could also probably be a little bit fatter,
but let me show you this.
Come on, dude.
When he's on my shoulder,
he just flattens out and he just looks like a giant blob.
But here, we're not body condition scoring,
we're just demonstrating the fact that cats can assume a liquid state when they are compressed.
So yeah, he looks absolutely enormous when he's all plastered on my shoulder,
but it's mostly 'cause he is all spread out.
He's got a little bit of a belly too.
And in dogs, you can kind of look to their belly, and you wanna see a nice, kind of tucked-up profile
'cause dogs will have that kind of prominent sort of bottom to their chest
so you wanna see their abdomen tucked up a little bit.
If a dog's profile looks straight across the bottom line,
they're probably a little bit chubby, carrying a little bit of extra abdominal fat.
You wanna be tucked up a little bit.
That is not so useful in cats
because cats have something called an inguinal fat pad.
You see this little -
Sweetheart, will you stand for me for just one second?
Just stand for me. Stand up.
What do you wanna do? What are you trying to accomplish?
What are you trying to accomplish? [smooch]
So cats have this flappy little
flap of tissue here that I'm sure most cat owners are familiar with.
And, if allowed to get big enough, swings in the air a little bit when they run.
A lot of cat owners think that that's
fat, and I guess they're right in the sense that it is adipose tissue,
but that little inguinal fat pad is actually their mammary tissue.
And it becomes quite prominent in neutered males,
so it's not necessarily a sign that the cat is overweight at all,
it just is usually a sign that a male has been neutered
or that a female has had kittens, and they get a kind of flappy little bit of tissue there.
Or sometimes they just get it with age for no apparent reason,
just hormonal body conformation.
So this is not really a sign of obesity,
but it also makes kind of their tummy -
looking at a tummy profile less rewarding when trying to assess a cat.
Usually with cat weight, I just look at their ribs and their spine.
With dogs, you can look at that tummy profile as well.
So that is how we assess whether a cat is fat.
And I think Mr. Pirate, like I said, could be a little skinnier,
but he's certainly not in the danger zone
for developing diabetes, and that's really mostly what I care about with him.
So, Clawdia here is obviously a much smaller cat than Mr. Pirate.
Even if they had exactly the same body condition score, she would still weigh
like a good chunk, probably a kilo or more less than him.
Now, when we body condition score Clawdia,
I can feel - and she's only... I think she's, what, two and a half years old now?
So she's a young, relatively fit cat.
I can feel her little spinous processes quite easily.
I don't really have to push down at all. She's got very nice, solid muscle bodies
either side of them, but they're not covered up with kind of a buttery sheen.
And when I feel her ribs, I can feel each rib without really having to push down.
So I would give her a 5 out of 9 body condition score,
even though she still has a little flappy thing down here
and, if I put her up on my shoulder,
she will still look like a little blob.
Just maybe a slightly smaller blob than Pirate.
So it's really hard to just visually assess a cat and say
whether they're a healthy weight or not.
You really have to get your hands on them and really
sort of feel for these points, and then - then you can score them pretty accurately.
Well, I hope you found that to be educational and helpful.
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I look forward to making more videos like this, and until next time,
have fun with your pets, and I'll see you again.