Report: Feline diabesity
A fat cat is not a happy cat.
S tijn Niessen, who heads Britain’s first clinic dedicated to studying feline diabetes, says, “Cats were used to having to hunt. Not every hunt was successful. Now that they get handed a plate of juicy Sheba, they don’t need to move a paw – they gobble it up and lie on the couch.”
Worse, many are house cats, unable to have the outdoor escapades that keep less-cossetted pets fit.
“If you speak to a vet who has been in the profession for a while, they would say they didn’t see fat cats before. Now 50 to 60 per cent are overweight at least,” Dr Niessen says. “It is alarming, but very similar to human levels.”
Like overweight people, cats have also been developing diabetes. Now, at the Royal Veterinary College’s Queen Mother Hospital, a research programme aimed at combating cat diabetes has begun, with the hope that anything Dr Niessen’s team discovers might also help humans.
“Diabetes is an overpowering disease that is going to have an impact on the world,” he says. “What amazes me is that we have these creatures walking about in our kitchens and living rooms who suffer from the same disease we suffer from. We sort of ignore that as a scientific community.”
This is surprising given that the only reason we have the insulin treatment is because of research in dogs. Dr Niessen believes that using cats to test treatments for type 2 diabetes could also yield dividends.
“In countries like the UK, health care is state funded and money is, relatively speaking, unlimited. If you are diagnosed, you can see an ophthalmologist, a psychologist, a diabetic nurse...
“But diabetes is also a pandemic in the developing world, where they will never be able to afford that. There is a parallel in veterinary medicine. Here we have to be cheaper, simpler and more original. We can’t have solutions like you do with humans, where you might need to inject five times a day.”
Dr Niessen’s programme is still looking for volunteers, but has achieved impressive early results testing a different form of insulin on one of its first overweight subjects, Georgie. Her dose has already been reduced, but if the treatment is going to be successful, it must be accompanied by weight loss. This is the real challenge, Dr Niessen
‘Obesity is something some owners find funny, but the quality of life of a fat cat is a lot lower’
believes. “Obesity is something some owners find funny, but it is a real welfare issue too. The quality of life of a fat cat is a lot lower.
“The problem is that cat food companies reinforce the message that feeding is loving. So when we tell owners to stop, they feel they are denying that moment of love to their cat.”
Dr Niessen hopes to find a cure for cat diabetes that will help humans too