How linked is a cat’s weight to their mood? If they’re not eating and losing weight, depression could be just one of many medical causes you should discuss with your vet, but I’m thinking of the typical “fat cat,” the Garfield-type we normally associate with self-indulgent, cuddly cats.
If you saw 6 Steps to Help Your Cats Get Along, then you already know that Shorty needs a little extra attention to feel totally comfortable in our home and to maintain peace with Kodi. Being able to jump up on the piano and even the furniture is vital to her maintaining stock in their shared territory.
But what if she couldn’t jump up? What if she were so heavy that getting up high was impossible? And what if she were too big to throw herself around with abandon like she used to in this video:
Well, I don’t need to wonder because I already know.
Tree-dwellers vs. Bush-dwellers
In the cat world, there are those who like to perch themselves in high places — Jackson Galaxy calls them tree-dwellers — and those who enjoy staying low to the ground — bush-dwellers. Both Sho and Ko are tree dwellers who, like the Queen and King they are, enjoy looking down on us rascals from on high.
Now, not every “fat cat” is going to be depressed. I’ve known many plump pussycats who were happy as could be. But combine a tree-dweller with enough extra weight to prevent them from fulfilling their desire to dwell high in a tree and you’ve got one unhappy cat.
As a rule, I have generally avoided free-feeding; that is, leaving out full bowls of food all the time. Cats normally wouldn’t have such easy access to unlimited food in the wild so I wanted to provide food only at morning and night.
But when Kodi arrived, he was very small and remained quite thin for a number of months. While Sho would gorge herself at dinner time, Kodi preferred to nibble and walk away, nibble and walk away. Even when I gave them treats, Kodi would eat one or two and Shorty would inhale hers and wait for Kodi to get distracted so she could take the rest of his. Instead of Kodi being the dog, this time it was Shorty always sniffing around and gobbling up whatever food she could find. But for awhile, I did keep food out constantly for him. And boy did Shorty enjoy that yummy high-fat kitten food! It wasn’t long before her kitten belly returned which she bared proudly when rolling on her back.
Stuck in the shadows
I didn’t worry, or go to great lengths to keep them separate at feeding time as I knew Kodi would soon be done with kitten food. But I did notice that Shorty became much more of a bush-dweller, preferring to sit in the shadows under the tables and chairs, her glowing eyes the only evidence of her presence. One day I caught her trying to jump up earnestly to the window ledge, one of her favourite spots. She failed.
I said to Bryan, “I think Shorty needs to lose some weight.”
“She’s not fat, that’s just her extra skin,” he said. True, Sho did have quite a primordial pouch, but it was more than that.
“No, I think we need to cut back her food and exercise her more. She can’t jump up to things. She seems depressed.”
“Aw, she’s not depressed, you’re making her insecure!” he said, scratching her forehead as she pressed her head against his hand. “She’s just getting older.”
I considered his claim. Yes, cats normally aren’t as playful as they get older, but Sho wasn’t even 5 yet – 36 in cat years – and it seemed like her personality really did change. I asked the vet who said that at just over 10 pounds, Sho was at the upper limit for her build and to not let her gain any more weight.
I didn’t want to let her lose weight in terms of pounds; just 2 pounds on a cat is a big difference, similar to a person weighing 150 lbs losing 30. But if she lost a few ounces, perhaps she’d get back to her normal self? Could a cat’s weight make that much difference in their mood? I had to try. I started to be more diligent with regulated play and went back to feeding times. But Kodi’s grazing ways still meant more food for Sho. So I then kept a full bowl of food in the cat tree that she stopped using where only Kodi could access it. Occasionally she braved the wrath that was a bouncy, exuberant Kodi expecting to wrestle her for the peak, just to get a mid-day snack. But she soon settled in to the process.
We opened the front door and Shorty came barreling down the hallway, leaping to the bench to say hello and get a good whiff of the strange places we’d been during the workday.
Bryan greeted and petted her, kicked off his shoes and went down the hallway to the kitchen to drop off the groceries. She galloped after him, bouncing with every step, her pouch swaying proudly side to side until she vaulted to the top of the chair to stay close at eye level to him. “Hi Sho-beans!” he said, walking up to her for another petting only to be met with a swift but playful swat of her paw. “Oh is Shorty crazy? Are you a crazy girl?” he asked her in his falsetto-cat-voice. She swung her massive tail side to side forcing her to dig her claws in to the chair’s fabric, and she did a figure-eight with her head, glaring back at him with wide, daring eyes. “Oh, Shorty’s crazy!”
She was happier than she’d been in weeks. She was jumping the walls more than usual, hunting her toys more often, batting Kodi’s legs to chase her (only to throw a literal hissyfit if he did), and ascending the piano and window ledge with ease. The difference was remarkable.
“She’s so happy now that she can jump and play!” I said. Bryan conceded.
“Yeah, just don’t let her lose any more weight. I like her snuggly.” Well, we both knew that would never change. Check out her return to her old jumping, bouncy self in Life Hacks for Cats, filmed shortly after her weight-loss intervention:
Mood and weight
It surprised me that even as a fitness trainer, I didn’t acknowledge the connection between fitness and mood in cats. But of course it’s there! For humans, the weight gaining process is cyclical and incubating: we gain some weight which makes everyday activities harder, so we sit more often which leads to gaining more weight which makes us feel worse physically and mentally to the point we barely want to get off the couch. The number of “can’ts” in our lives add up to a debilitating amount that depression can take over. There’s no reason the same doesn’t apply to cats. And given the change in Shorty, it did.
I now stick to feeding times and structured, separated play (so that Kodi doesn’t take over) so she stays healthy and happy.
To ensure your cat is of a healthy weight for their age and build, schedule a check-up with your vet.