Fat cats: Cute online fad or dangerous trend?

Pages dedicated to 'Chonky' cats are taking over social media, but experts say that extra chunk is putting our pets at risk 
Fat cats: Cute online fad or dangerous trend?

Over half of household pets are overweight in the US and the internet may be partially to blame. Picture: iStock.

The internet can be a wonderful place for cat people, full of endless funny gifs and videos that gain millions of views every day. 

Search for ‘Grumpy Cat’, whose name has become a registered trademark and is the face of a Twitter page that has more followers than Leo Varadker, for a prime example. 

However, the latest online cat trend may prove dangerous for our furry friends. 

Over the past year, there has been a worrying amount of pet owners posting photos of their overweight cats online. While the snaps of the chubby, or ‘chonky’ cats, may look adorable, experts are warning that overfeeding pets can have dire consequences for their health.

A 2020 US study, sponsored by cat food company Purina, found that over half of American household pets were overweight, with nearly 90 million cats who needed veterinary care weighing in at an unhealthy level. In Britain, a similar study found that more than 51% of household dogs and 44% of cats were overweight.

While a cute kitty carrying a few extra pounds may seem harmless, experts say that cats which are even two pounds overweight can experience joint pain, skin conditions, heart disease, problems with their coat, and are four times more likely to develop diabetes and other health problems.

So while the social media pages that post pictures of overweight animals, such as the round.boys page on Instagram and This Cat is Chonky group on Facebook, may have amassed over 2 million followers, it’s best not to follow suit with your own feline friends.

You can check your cat's body conditioning score using an online guide. Picture: iStock
You can check your cat's body conditioning score using an online guide. Picture: iStock

It can be difficult to determine what weight your cat should be, as there is no average weight for a pet, but your vet can help you decide how much you should be feeding them.

Like humans, cats have body conditioning scores, which can be determined by using a special scale and a visual assessment. 

The scale runs from one to nine and can be found online on official sites such as Purina, which estimates that somewhere around five is the ideal score for a healthy animal.

“You should be able to see a waist behind the ribs; ribs can still be felt but with a slight fat covering,” its scale says of a well-proportioned cat’s body. “There will be a small paunch of fat on the abdomen.” 

If you suspect your pet is overweight experts recommend changing their eating habits and making sure they get plenty of exercise. You can also invest in speciality foods from the pet store or supermarket and try to avoid feeding them scraps from the dinner table and too many treats, which should make up 10% of their diet at most.

To make sure your pet is being cared for properly, consult your veterinarian. Many are available for phone and online consultations during the current Covid-19 restrictions and may be open for in-person appointments if deemed necessary. 

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