Secret lives put fat cats at risk

A third of New Zealanders' furry feline friends are overweight, largely because their doting owners do not know enough about the secret lives of their cats.

A new survey of more than 300 cat-owning Kiwis by pet food company Royal Canin found 58 per cent of cat owners did not measure the portions they fed their pets and only 23 per cent made sure their cats got daily exercise.

Cats are important members in many Kiwi families, with more than 1.4 million in New Zealand.

However, Royal Canin veterinary technical consultant Mark Edwards said being overweight or obese led to health problems for cats.

"It's seen as cute but it's a real shame."

Overweight cats were four times more likely to develop diabetes, Edwards said.

They were also more likely to develop arthritis, urinary problems, have trouble grooming themselves and have issues when needing to undergo anaesthetics, he said.

Almost 70 per cent of owners said taste was the most important thing to consider when feeding their cats, according to the survey.

But Edwards, the proud owner of two cats, said this focus was misplaced as cats were more concerned about the smell and texture of their food.

"While cat owners' hearts are in the right place, cats have less than 500 taste buds, as opposed to 10,000 in humans, so while food's taste is important to humans, it's just not the case for cats."

It was more important to pay attention to portion size and make sure cats got regular exercise.

Cat owners should check the recommended portion size for their cat's weight on the back of the packet rather than leaving it to the cat to decide what it wanted to eat.

"There's a myth out there that cats self-regulate their food intake."

Like humans, it was important to measure calories in versus calories out, Edwards said.

The survey found almost 80 per cent of Kiwi cat owners did not set aside time on a daily basis to play or interact with their cats.

Some people took their cats for walks on a leash but there were other options, Edwards said.

Cats would often play with toys by themselves but owners should interact with their pets every day.

When it came to thinking about the behaviours of cats, 76 per cent of cat owners thought their cats spent most of their time sleeping.

While some cats can sleep for up to 18 hours a day other cats had a natural tendency to be more social and spend a great deal of their time playing, Edwards said.

"Our cats are complex creatures, and are often considered the heart of the family home."

It was important to have an understanding of cats' habits and lifestyle to ensure they stayed happy and healthy, he said.

Each cat was different and had a different optimal weight so owners should ask for a body condition check next time they were at the vet to determine whether their feline friends were overweight or just big boned, Edwards said.

Sunday Star Times