Obesity and Exercise Prescription-Tubby Tabbies and the Owners Who Love Them

Having moved from Toowoomba to Gold Coast this year I didn’t think that the main victim would be our pet’s waistline. But poor Rachel the Black and White Moggy has gone from a svelte outdoors pussy cat to an indoor animal. No change in food or amenities just lack of exercise has unfortunately caused a blow out in our cat! This is not just associated with our cat but has been seen in others, a recent study by the Association for Pet Obesity has shown almost 6 in 10 cats are overweight. BMI (Body Mass Index) does not really feature with cats, vets preferring BCS (body condition score) but if their stomach hangs down and wobbles when walking then they are overweight. And what does being overweight in cats lead too? Hypertension, cancer, increased diabetes risk and arthritis – sounds familiar?


Obesity in humans accounts for 5% of all deaths worldwide. Heart disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes and cancer are all associated with increased body mass index (calculate yours here). The World Health Organisation has set a target to attempt to stop obesity rising by 2025 as they find it so serious as a global pandemic. Fat around the organs alone is a major risk factor for inflammation throughout the body, resistance of body tissues to insulin leading to diabetes, elevating fats throughout the blood and blocking cardiac arteries. It should be noted that there is even a cohort of patients who can be thought of as “metabolically obese”.  This occurs when someone has a tendency to store fat around their abdominal organs – think “beer gut”.  In this case someone can have an apparently normal BMI but still be metabolically at risk due to where their fat is stored i.e. around the abdominal organs. It is for this reason many health organisations have shifted from using BMI to wast circumference as a measure of  metabolic risk.  Men should aim for a waist line of less than 94cm and for women less than 80cm.

System Wide Inflammation

It is important to remember that this ‘abdominal adiposity’ is reversible, as is the system wide inflammation it causes. Sedentary lifestyle appears to be the major contributing factor to this pathology and exercise has become the single most important change a patient can make to avoid many chronic diseases. A review of papers on this topic showed aerobic exercise reduces blood sugar, and reduced fats in the blood, plus reduction in blood pressure and improvement in maximal oxygen uptake. Even when there is no weight loss, moderate level exercise showed decrease in visceral fat, i.e. the dangerous abdominal fat, and an improvement in blood fat profile.

This has meant that exercise has become a medicine and should be prescribed as such making sure the patient knows intensity, mode, duration and frequency of the activity that needs to be performed. Programs have been shown to have more effectiveness if carried out for longer than 12 weeks, displaying the need for long term modification of lifestyle factors. It is also recommended that strength training leading to the development of lean muscle tissue is critical to the treatment and prevention of the pathology associated with obesity.

Exercise Prescription

So what is in the prescription of exercise? The American College of Sports Medicine highlights the need for a total of 2.5 to 4 hours of moderate intensity exercise each week. Other experts suggest aiming for 3000 steps above your normal activity per day.  This works out to be  about half an hour of exercise a day and just that small amount may be sufficient to improve your risk factors!!!  The best way to do this is to slowly increase additional activity into your daily routine starting with 5 minutes at a time.  It may help some people to use technology based applications to time your exercise and track your progress.  If a half hour walk each day isn’t your style there is limited research into the technique of High Impact Interval Training i.e. crossfit.  This research showed that HIIT has as good reduction in body fat composition plus the added bonus of fitting into a shorter time period.  For some this means a more achievable exercise routine.  A final note to remember is that exercise is dose responsive to a point, i.e. the more you do the better the outcome for your metabolic profile.

So, ultimately, increasing physical activity in any way and for any amount of time is going to be positive for your health.  Always remember too, before embarking on any new exercise regimen it’s always a good idea to have a chat with you GP to discuss your specific exercise prescription in the context of your specific health needs.

So what does this mean for Rachel.  Well it turns out that there is a debate raging in the veterinary world about wet vs dry food.  We couldn’t find her a small enough tread mill so we are going to try switching to a wet food and see how she goes.  Either that or we will slowly start introducing crossfit into her daily routine.

  • GPearls on the GC
    • heavy cats need exercise
    • aim to exercise longer than 3 months
    • if there is stomach hanging check the BCS
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