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Most cats need a nip in their waists.
Most cats need a nip in their waists. / Dave King / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

As Americans have grown fatter, so have their pets. Cats are particularly portly: About 55% of tabbies are tubby, says the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Some think that’s a conservative number. The Banfield Pet Hospital 2011 State of Pet Health Report saw a 90% rise in overweight and obese cats since 2007.

The health impact is undeniable: Diabetes and arthritis in cats are more common. Cancers and behavior problems may be more prevalent, too.

Meanwhile, cat lovers are in denial: The Banfield report says 69% of cat owners believe their kitty looks purr-fectly svelte.

The good news: Intervention will enhance your cat’s quality of life — and may add years to its life.

3 causes of tubby tabbies

Spay/neuter: Hooray! More cat owners than ever are spaying and neutering. Still, there is a consequence that may not be politically correct to discuss. “Fixed cats” need fewer calories and tend to be hungrier. This becomes a vicious cycle: As cats put on pounds, their metabolism slows more and they grow even fatter.

Free feeding: In multi-cat homes, leaving food out 24/7 makes it impossible for owners to keep score — which cat has eaten the most? Also, cats can train us to be automatic food dispensers.

Indoor only: Studies show that “normal” cats, given the chance, spend about 17% of their time traveling and hunting. Indoor-only cats are safer but spend far more time taking those catnaps.

4 steps for cat lovers

Exercise: It’s important for cats as well as dogs and people. Use an interactive toy to engage your kitty. Hide food treats in puzzle balls and toys at various places around the house when you’re not at home so your little lion can “hunt.” Also, enrich the environment: Create lots of places to climb and scratch and toys to play with. Some indoor cats may enjoy a walk outside on a leash and harness. And “catios” — enclosed, protected patios and porches — are a trend.

Food: If your spayed/neutered cat isn’t fat yet, ask your vet about the new Spayed/Neutered cat food from Royal Canin. For already-rotund cats, ask your vet about a weight-loss formula (perhaps with a focus on protein).

Aim for remission: Diabetic fat cats require insulin (ProZinc is the only insulin specifically created for cats), but it turns out that with exercise and a high-protein diet, weight loss may follow and some cats go into remission.

See a vet: It’s clearly a challenge for owners to detect whether kitty is growing fat, perhaps because the change is gradual. Meanwhile, veterinary visits for cats have declined — and vets can’t offer advice for cats they don’t see.

Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. Read more of his advice at pets.usaweekend.com.

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Contributing editor Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. He writes a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and is the host of two syndicated radio shows. Most recently he is the author of two e-books that answer common (and some not-so-common) pet-behavior problems, Good Dog! and Good Cat! (available wherever e-books are sold).