From little things big things grow. Ouzo, so named because of his milky white and grey colouring, arrived in my garage as a scavenging stray some nine years ago.
His life remains as it began within my garage – he’s always on the cadge for food. First sighted polishing off my next-door neighbours’ cat food, he soon retreated the warmth of my garage. Too small to be away from his mother in cold mid Sydney July, he spent two weeks with rather disproportionately large ears, hiding (or so he thought) on the rough surface of a hessian bag atop a sandstone rock.
Squeaker, so named because of his inability to meow, was looking rather trim after Ouzo had emptied his garage bowl each day. Two weeks’ later I’d caught this hungry, skinny beast. By the time he’d reached 3, he weighed in at a hefty 7kgs. The picture shows Ouzo at his top weight.
Squeaker, who died at 2.7kgs, was replaced by Pixie who seems healthy at 4.5 kg.
A need for a diet
Ouzo had become obese and I knew he needed a diet. Ouzo might suffer diabetes if his weight wasn’t controlled. He developed crystals in his urine, painful to pass and directly linked to his weight. An ear infection was apparently caused by too much fat around his ear drum which did not allow for the normal self-cleaning ear function which dissipates a wax build up.
I had monitored his weight and had started a diet of light kibbles, according to feeding instructions. This had no weight loss effect; instead he continued to gain weight. When he peaked at 9.2 kg, things became serious. Ouzo could not jump up onto high surfaces. He refused to play with toys, he would take a few steps and lay down with the exhaustion of carrying too much weight.
Worst of all, he became depressed. Of course, any cat owner will know how hard it is to determine a depressed cat from a healthy cat. Don’t they always sleep? Don’t they always seek comfort in food? Don’t they always seem bored and let out a long sigh? Somehow his demeanour had changed and I knew he was not happy.
I had tried a self-directed diet using good quality products; I’d reduced the amounts over and over again. What could I do? I sought the advice of a vet.
One vet’s response
It must be your fault – you’re feeding him too much. Perhaps he’s getting extra food from neighbours.
Neither was a fair assessment. I only ever fed Ouzo on a diet of a well-known brand of kibbles, according to the directions. He’s an indoors cat and doesn’t scavenge from others. In order to convince this Vet, I brought along the perfectly proportioned Pixie to prove I wasn’t a serial over-feeder. Surely if I was overfeeding Ouzo, I’d also be overfeeding Pixie.
Finding an appropriate diet
Ever tried giving a cat vegetables? Not interested? That’s because cats are enforced carnivores, so the norm is that they consume only protein from meat and fish. I learnt that light cat food kibbles have a high amount of carbohydrate. The carbohydrate component of light kibbles is designed to expand in a cat’s stomach and make him feel full. The side affect of too much carbohydrate for Ouzo was weight gain. Despite my best attempts at feeding Ouzo on a reasonable amount of kibbles and cutting down on his portions, he still gained weight.
My second, more interested Vet (guess who?) has worked with me to determine what type of food is best for Ouzo’s weight loss. We have reduced and reduced the amounts until Ouzo could achieve a loss of about 100gms per week. Ouzo is weighed at the end of each week. I hold him in my arms and record our combined weight and then take mine from this total.
The kitchen scales are Ouzo’s worst enemy and my best friend. I weigh each and every meal for both Ouzo and Pixie. Poor Ouzo receives 18gms of kibbles in the morning and 52gms of special wet food (1/3rd of a small can) at night.
Hungry cats hunt
Life is a constant battle between Ouzo and me. He’s never satisfied with the mean portion of food he receives each day. I find him in the oddest places. He managed to get his head in the microwave when I left the door open. I can’t forget to close the door to the rubbish bin otherwise he hooks out last night’s pizza. I certainly can’t leave any leftover food of any description at a height that he can get at; he’ll even grab the scraps of tomato from the cutting board. Remedy? Throw everything edible in the bin (and lock the door!) as soon as I finish making my sandwich. He’ll lick any plate at any time, so they go straight into the dishwasher.
Yesterday he jumped into a high cupboard containing his kibbles and managed to get the bag open. If leave the sealed container of kibbles within reach he instigates his trick method of opening it. He punches the container off the bench with the force of Muhammad Ali, the lid opens and spills a feast of kibbles onto the kitchen floor. In a moment of madness I left an unattended liquorice pudding on the bench. After devouring a small portion he ended up in hospital for three days on a drip recovering from its laxative effects.
I have to be so vigilant and I constantly have my ears pricked listening for evidence of my hungry cat on the hunt. And yes, I have tried to train him not to jump on kitchen benches.
Pixie’s part of the program
Small waisted Pixie has had to adapt her preferred method of grazing to accommodate Ouzo’s diet. I’ve had slim cats all my life and my norm was to leave a bowl of kibbles out to allow them to have their initial fill and come back for a few snacks during the day. That is impossible for Pixie.
Each cat is fed in a separate location and they know exactly where to go. Pixie eats exactly twice the amount of food as Ouzo so I supervise until she is satisfied. She always leaves some and I snatch the bowl away from the waiting predator and it goes straight into a closed cupboard. My ears and eyes are on full alert so I know when Pixie has walked away from a half consumed meal.
Pixie’s not attracted to pizza, tomato or the rubbish bin. Instead she signals me with a gentle paw on my leg when she wants more and I accommodate by re-presenting the leftovers. This might happen three times a day. (I’m lucky enough to work at home so Pixie doesn’t starve.) I’ve had to be careful so that Pixie doesn’t dominate Ouzo and so that Ouzo isn’t resentful of Pixie. I’m in charge and I put up with no food fighting nonsense from either of them.
They are fed at exactly the same time every day – once in the morning and once in the early evening. Tummy clocks seem to always go off early, but I am strict. If I feed too early, I am tormented by Ouzo’s hungry cries before my bedtime.
Everyone’s part of the program! My kind neighbour feeds my cats when I’m away. She lures Ouzo into a locked room where he stays for a few hours while Pixie is free to graze until Ouzo’s release. Any guests who stay with me are given strict instructions not to feed the cats. They are also trained in securing all cupboards!
Cats don’t play tennis; they just watch it
Your pudgy pooch might be encouraged to go for a long walk, a run, a swim or chase a ball. Outdoor cats will wander a bit, climb trees, chase leaves in the wind but Ouzo’s an indoor cat. Cats don’t do treadmills.
I have purchased so many toys to get Ouzo moving and finally found two that he loves.
We spend – I’d like to say hours but a cat doesn’t have that attention span – minutes playing fetch with small sponge balls. He runs so fast up and down the hall, retrieves the ball in his mouth and drops it at my feet. This might last 5 minutes so I schedule several sessions a day and never ignore Ouzo’s requests to play. He has a special whirring noise that means ‘I want the ball”. He bats it with his paw, jumps in the air to catch it and has mastered the tumble turn. It’s great exercise. His other favourite is a laser light that he chases. We even do warm down stretches on the wall.
Ouzo’s a big cat and he seems to have a psychological obsession with food and physiological propensity for weight gain. Weight gain in your cat may or may not be your fault. Regardless, it will be your fault if you don’t manage it.
Here is my advice:
- Seek the full assistance of your vet who can calculate calories and amounts of various foods. Keep consulting until you get it right.
- Be patient, persistent and vigilant until your cat reaches a healthy weight.
- Don’t give in to your cat’s loud demands for food. Determine set feeding times and if it’s not feeding time, don’t feed. Practice divisional therapy by brushing them or playing with their toys.
- Weigh the food carefully. An extra gram or two does hurt.
- If you have more than one animal, ensure that food is separated. Make sure your fat cat does not have access to the other’s food. Treat each cat equally to retain a power balance.
- Don’t allow your cat access to any food scraps and always put the cat food away in a cupboard where they can’t access it.
- If your cat goes outdoors ask your neighbours not to feed it. A friend of mine engraved a tag saying “Please do not feed”.
- Engage your cat in as much play as your time permits. The exercise is a great help.
- Make sure only one person in the household is in charge of feeding. Leave notes if you have already fed because cats will always lie to the next person home and ask for a 2nd feed.
- Educate all your family, friends and guests not to give the fat cat any extra food.
And the winner is…
Now I’m not anorexic and I don’t need to look at a thin cat to love him. I am so vigilant with Ouzo’s weight loss program because he deserves a healthy life without constant distressing trips to the vet, periods of medication and an early death due to the problems associated with animal obesity.
Of course he’s not happy being on a diet and I’m not especially happy having to play prison warden.
Is Ouzo happy? Well he’s snuggled up on the lounge in a deep sleep and later he’ll enjoy our special fetching game. He’s no longer depressed. He’s an extremely docile cat and very affectionate so I can only judge that he doesn’t resent me. He never tries to snatch food away from Pixie or fight her for it and shows great patience. I want this gorgeous boy to be around for a long time yet.
Ouzo is the winner, not just in terms of his massive 3kg loss of weight (a huge 32% of his body weight), but because he’ll have a happy healthy life. That will make me a winner too.