Feline Obesity: Too Big to Ignore (by Wendy Jordan)

Friskies catIntroduction

I am not a doctor or a scientist, rather an avid student of nutrition, a licensed veterinary technician, and a “cat-vocate”. In my eight years of clinical experience with felines, I have theorized that the carbohydrate-heavy diets manufactured by “big name” brands (ie, Purina) have led to an increase in some common cat diseases. For the purpose of keeping this project concise, I have focused solely on feline obesity.

Statement of Research Question

What are the effects of dietary carbohydrate intake on adiponectin profiles, and what is its relationship with feline obesity?

The Research Collection

1. Zoran, Debra L. “The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats.” JAVMA 221.11 (2002): 1-8. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.  Debra Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM has been an active veterinarian since the 1980’s and whom now specializes in gastroenterology, feline medicine, and small animal nutrition. In her article, she clearly states that obesity, diabetes, and likely irritable bowel disease are all nutrition-related diseases. Cats utilize protein and fat (from meat) for energy; when they eat diets higher in carbohydrates the excess “CHO” (carbs) is stored as fat instead of utilized for energy. Furthermore, commercial low fat or “lite” diets are even higher in carbohydrates which may aid in weight loss but it’s at the detriment of lean body mass. Lean body mass is essential for cats to regulate their weight and metabolism.

2. Malik, Richard. Feeding Cats for Health and Longevity – an Idiosyncratic Perspective. Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. (2007): 1-9. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.  Richard Malik, DVSc, PhD, FACVSc, FASM is an Australian veterinarian who wrote this article for the Small Animal Medicine meeting among the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. In it, he draws a parallel between the typical Australian cat diet and the typical North American cat diet and the subsequent diseases that are seen in each region as a direct result of such. Until recently, Australian cats were brought up on minimally-processed meat-heavy diets and did not suffer the same diseases as North American cats, or at least not to the same extent. With the emergence of US-style diets (high carb, kibble form), Australia is seeing more incidences of nutrition-related cat diseases.

3. Lusby, Angela Lea, “Characterization of Feline Adiponectin and its Association with Metabolic Indices in Lean and Obese Cats. ” PhD diss., University of Tennessee, (2009): 1-175. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.  Angela Lusby illustrates that adiponectin, a collagen-like plasma protein secreted by adipocytes, is likely an early marker for Type-2 diabetes mellitus in cats as it is already an established marker in humans. We already know that feline obesity frequently causes diabetes in cats, but finding the precise reason has been the focus of recent research. Lunsby urges researchers to further examine the relationship between adiponectin and feline metabolism since feline obesity is a growing problem.

4. Tan H, Rand J, Whitehead J, et al. “Adiponectin profiles are affected by chronic and acute changes in carbohydrate intake in healthy cats.” General & Comparative Endocrinology. (2011);172(3):468-474. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.  The purpose of this study was to research the effects of diets with varying levels of carbohydrates on feline adiponectin profiles. Cats were fed low, moderate, and high carbohydrate diets. It was found that HMW adiponectin, the best indicator for the link between adiponectin and feline obesity/insulin resistance, was higher in cats fed the lower carb diets. Interestingly, but not surprisingly given the research, obese cats have lower adiponectin profiles suggesting that higher carb diets play a causal role in obesity.

Author’s Note

My most significant learning during my research and writing for this Culminating Project is that there are scientists, researchers, doctors, and feline nutritionists who are currently exploring the issue of nutrition-related feline obesity. My past few years in the field have been disheartening because I have been hard-pressed to find any new research on the topic. I am relieved and elated to find that there are others out there who share in my sense of urgency to find an answer to the obesity problem, and to initiate change in the pet food market.

#fatcat #obesity #Purina

The Public Writing: A Letter

Nestlé Purina PetCare Company
Attn: Consumer Department
Checkerboard Square St. Louis, MO 63164

Wendy Jordan


Dear Board of Consumer Affairs,

I am not a doctor or a scientist, rather an avid student of animal nutrition, a licensed veterinary technician, and a cat enthusiast. In my eight years of clinical experience with felines, I have theorized that many of Purina’s over-the-counter and prescription diets have led to an increase in certain common cat diseases. For the purpose of keeping this letter concise, I will focus solely on feline obesity.

Since the launch of Purina’s Cat Chow® in 1963, and the similarly formulated commercial diets that followed thereafter, obesity has risen to the number one nutrition-related disease among cats. It has grown to affect 25% of the total pet population in the United States.  It isn’t coincidence that many more destructive and common diseases among cats have boomed since the 1960’s and 1970’s, ranging from feline lower urinary tract disease and hyperthyroidism to feline oral resorptive lesions and irritable bowel disease (Malik).

Recent research has showed a causal role between moderate to high dietary carbohydrates and obesity (Tan). Plasma proteins, known as adiponectins, have been measured in recent studies to establish the relationship between diet and obesity. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, both obese cats and cats fed moderate to high carbohydrate diets have lower adiponectin profiles, illustrating proof that there is a direct correlation.

The animal community has been ignorant about the dietary needs of cats for the past several decades, focusing on grain and carbohydrate-heavy diets for our obligatory carnivorous friends. It is well known that Purina has dominated the over-the-counter pet food market since the 1960’s. With that said, I find it unsettling that there haven’t been measures taken on Purina’s behalf to modify its formulas given that research has proven higher protein, lower carbohydrate diets to be a more appropriate approach to feline nutrition.

Why is it that Purina hasn’t modified its diets to reflect both the dietary needs of cats as well as the growing consumer demand for low carbohydrate, protein-rich diets for our feline companions?

I appreciate your time and consideration in this matter that is of utmost importance.


Wendy Jordan, CVT


One comment

  1. Wendy: It has been a pleasure to see this research evolve and this public writing take shape. Your tone is professional and passionate. Please let us know (by posting back here) when you get a response and what the company has to say!

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