FAT(CAT) TO FIT(CAT)
How the Fitbit changed my cat’s life
I bought a FitBit Zip while on holiday earlier this year. It was interesting to track how many kilometers I’d walked through Tokyo and Osaka, but once I returned home, my FitBit data became predictable and I stopped using it completely.
While it gathered dust on my shelf, I read about pet owners who used the FitBit to track their cats’ and dogs’ activity levels. Now, my five-year-old cat, Bob, has been getting fat. When he lounges on his side, his belly just flops obscenely beside him. He’s also greedy: I tried reducing his food intake; instead, he stole my other cat’s kibble.
Obesity has similar health consequences for cats as it does for humans, and I dread the idea of someday lugging a geriatric Bob to the vet. This inspired me to clip my underused FitBit to Bob’s collar, to track his activity (or lack thereof) and find ways to help him get from fat to fit.
The first week’s results were mostly predictable. The FitBit measures footsteps, and on most days, the lazy animal didn’t take any steps from noon till 5 pm. And while it’s believed that cats are nocturnal creatures, he was also largely motionless from 9 pm till 5 am. Which means Bob rarely stirs from his comfy cushion all afternoon and night – no wonder he’s fat!
More interesting were the spikes in Bob’s activity levels. The cats’ dinnertime is 8 pm, and Bob would take an impressive 200 steps every 15 minutes starting at 7 pm daily, pacing impatiently until it was time to eat. An anomaly also came up on the day my weekly cleaning lady was around. Instead of sleeping all afternoon, Bob took about 50 steps every half hour. I later found out that the vacuum cleaner disturbed his nap and made him move from room to room in search of a quieter spot.
I decided to try leveraging his periods of high activity levels. The next week, I delayed the cats’ dinner till 8.20 pm to prolong his restlessness. I also enlisted the entire family to keep him moving constantly from 7 pm. This was best accomplished by opening the cupboard containing cat food, to make Bob sprint hopefully into the kitchen – only to encounter a fake-out. (One evening, I successfully repeated this stunt six times. Bob’s not very clever when he’s hungry.)
Two weeks into the experiment, Bob now averages 20% more steps each day than when we started. He already looks fitter: his body no longer bulges at the sides, and with less fat covering his haunches they look nicely defined when he sits. I’m not giving up, though though. The FitBit is staying on Bob’s collar so that I can mix up his ‘workouts’ if he starts changing his daily habits. He may never be lean and mean like Puss in Boots from the Shrek animated films, but I intend to help him stay free of fat-cat illnesses for as long as I can.
"Obesity has similar health consequences for cats as it does for humans."