“Killing with kindness” – the risks of overfeeding highlighted by cat three times normal weight

Rainbow the cat left charity care three years ago as a tiny kitten. When she returned as an adult she was dangerously overweight and her life was at risk.

As soon as staff and volunteers at Cats Protection’s Bridgend Adoption Centre heard that Rainbow was returning to care, those who had looked after the month-old kitten when she first arrived at the centre in 2018, rushed to greet her. As a stray kitten she had been taken in from a feral colony where she had been extremely underweight at just 0.49kg. They were not expecting to have to use food as their weapon in the fight for her life once again.

The tiny kitten had been nursed to health and went to live in a new home where she was cared for and happy. Unfortunately, her owner became increasingly unable to manage the weight that Rainbow was gaining. When the forlorn feline arrived back at the centre last month, her weight had boomed, and she was tipping the scales at 12.7kg – three times the weight of an average cat.

Rainbow upon arrival sitting in basket – image credit – Cats Protection

Sue Dobbs, manager at Bridgend Adoption Centre, explains: “To be honest we were shocked when we saw Rainbow. We knew her weight had been a struggle and that was why she was coming back into care, but she is one of the heaviest cats we’ve taken in. To remember how she had been so tiny that we didn’t think she would survive, and then to be faced with a cat whose joints and organs were under pressure from the excessive weight, and who was so big she couldn’t play or even run from danger if she’d needed to, it was terrible.”

Rainbow’s weight wasn’t the only problem. Because of her size, the young cat could not groom properly or clean herself after toileting, which are essential cat behaviours. Her eyes were red and crusty. She was infested with fleas because an individual parasite treatment would not contain enough medication to treat her size. Worse still, Rainbow had urine burns, total fur loss and inflamed sore skin around her rear-end and legs which needed to be shaved, bathed, and treated.

Sue adds: “Poor Rainbow was sore, itchy and unclean. Not being able to express her natural behaviours such as hunting, playing, running and hiding will have left her feeling depressed and fearful. We know overfeeding Rainbow wasn’t intentional and she was on a special diet when she arrived at the centre, but she was truly a victim of being slowly killed by kindness. Too many treats or large portions combined with minimal exercise soon takes its toll on cats.”

Rainbow was put on a tailored diet and provided with plenty of opportunities for exercise and mental stimulation. Her skin conditions have been treated and she has now reached 8kg, but there is still a way for her to go. The centre will be looking for a new home for her once her weight has dropped further and she has been given a clean bill of health by the centre’s vet. Her new owners will need to maintain her calorie-controlled diet and keep a close eye on her weight, as cats are more likely to put on weight when they have previously been obese.

Dr Sarah Elliott, Cats Protection’s Central Veterinary Officer, adds: “While most cat owners have a strong bond with their cat, they may be tempted to over-indulge their cat with food or treats. Owners may do this out of love or to make their feline feel like a family member. Sadly, we are doing them more harm than good as overweight cats are at significant risk of diabetes, joint problems and urinary infections.”

Cats Protection advises that owners should:

  • Weigh out cat food daily, not overfill bowls, and if giving cats treats, reduce the overall amount of food provided
  • Avoid giving cats human treats such as milk or cheese as many cats cannot digest cow’s milk products
  • Ask neighbours to help by not feeding cats other than their own. This is especially important if cats are on a special diet or medication. Consider affixing a simple paper collar to your cat stating that they are on a diet and politely requesting neighbours avoid putting out food
  • Talk to their vet about their cat’s weight and body condition.

Further tips for helping overweight or obese cats can be found at www.cats.org.uk/obesity where there is also an infographic to help owners assess their own cat’s weight. Anybody with concerns about their cat’s health or weight should speak to their vet.

This year, players of People’s Postcode Lottery are helping to cover the costs of looking after cats like Rainbow in the charity’s centres. Their support has funded the care of around 50 cats at the centre in Bryncethin over the past year.

For information on Rainbow and cats currently available for adoption at Bridgend Adoption Centre go online to www.cats.org.uk/bridgend or call 01656 724 396.


All images are credited to Cats Protection