The vet thrust her hand into the cat basket to extract the angry, growling, spitting, claws-out-creature I had painfully put in, pulled out a docile lump of black fur and, after a brief assessment, plonked it on a set of scales placed handy to the examination table. “Felicity, this cat is not overweight, no, she is grossly OBESE!”
This shocked me to my core. The vet’s normally pretty mouth was set in a grim line of disapproval. My cat, frozen rigid in the bowl of the scales and I, standing, horrified, were staring at her with widened terrified pupils. I had been a very, very bad mummy!
Having worked in veterinary practice for eight years, albeit many moons ago, one would think I would have known how to look after a cat and how to feed it. Being more of a dog person, however, I had never given it much thought and had dwelt with the impression a cat would never over-eat. I assumed they would have more sense, Springer spaniels and Labradors who would rather die than leave a nano-morsel of a lickable speck of food within their available territory – or, if they could escape anyone else’s. I was therefore extremely critical of those owners who had overweight dogs that suffered from arthritis, diabetes and breathing difficulties. My own dogs’ weights had always been strictly monitored.
A while ago, having been on my own and animal-less for a number of years, I became aware of a little, black, feral cat that would occasionally peer through the grass at me when I was digging or weeding and then disappear when I made eye contact. Never far away when I was outside fixing things or gardening, it would take off as soon as I tried to say hello. I began leaving food on the steps outside the loft where I suspected it was lodging. This was eaten, but never when I was looking and I hoped it was only the black cat I was feeding.
Thus was the status quo for about two years. I despaired of the lack of communication to a friend one day who suggested I tried prawns rather than supermarket cat food. I put a small saucer of thawed prawns near my front door and before I could say, ‘puddy woody’, they had been devoured. Then it was no time at all before prawns were being demanded with plaintive meows and I found a little black cat twining itself round my ankles. A thin, little black cat.
About four weeks ago I found I had to go to the vet with my new friend, Wudi, (spelling posher than the squeaky, ‘puddy woody’ with which I had tried to ingratiate myself) as she had a skin irritation. I knew now she was a girl as she had produced two kittens in the interim period but that’s another story. The skin thing was now taking second place to the results of my horrific, selfish indulgence. The vet glared at me again, “You do realise obesity can lead to diabetes, heart failure, arthritis?” I said nothing, hung my head in shame and placed my hand on the subject in question who I felt was about to recover from her immobile state and become an uncatchable space rocket. The vet pre-empted me by picking her up quite calmly, stroked her, gave her an injection for the skin complaint and placed her back in the basket without even the slightest suggestion of a hiss, spit or claw.
“Now,” the vet continued, “The nurse will come and give you some advice on how to feed Wudi and we will see her in a few weeks’ time to weigh her again and check her over.” The nurse duly appeared with three leaflets and a bag of ‘special’ dried food. My education on cat began nutrition:
- Body Condition Score. (BCS to those in the know) Looking at your cat from a bird’s-eye view what shape is he/she? The ideal shape should be a long rectangle with slight bumps for shoulders and hips (sort of slug-like). Wudi was pear shaped = bad mummy.
- How much are you overfeeding your cat? This is a long list of ‘treats’ we give our cats and the equivalent of them in terms of donuts for humans. Wudi’s day would start with a dish of her own cat food plus a little saucer of full fat yogurt — part of bad mummy’s breakfast. Two teaspoons is the equivalent of 20% of daily energy intake excess and two human doughnuts! The list continues with ham, liver pate, chicken and other feline delights, ending with cheese – 30grams being the equivalent of six human doughnuts! Oh dear = extremely bad mummy. The list, funnily enough, doesn’t mention prawns of which she would have had another little dish about lunchtime – just for old times’ sake…
- Information on how to recognise arthritis in your cat. This explains how it usually begins with weight gain and can necessitate an injection once a month to alleviate it. I don’t think bad mummy has observed any of the symptoms yet but I now know what to look for and I don’t want to have to pay for an injection once a month.
After advising me to weigh out the special food to 47grams each day and give it to Wudi in several helpings, we wounded our recalcitrant way home duly chastened and prepared to live a new and better life. The following morning I received an email from the Veterinary Clinic confirming the consultation, reminding me of the weight problem, the feeding regime and what Wudi’s ideal weight should be. Bad mummy’s big brother/sister was watching her!
After four weeks we have done quite well. Fortunately, she loves her new food and on the vet’s instructions I ignore her ‘yammerings’. She had learned that one pleading, little cry could bring forth not only prawns, but cat sticks, ham, chicken and, of course, cheese. She has not retreated to her loft in high dudgeon, she is still my friend, comes when I call her (usually),
sleeps on my bed and when she gives the occasional ‘yammer’ I ‘treat’ her to a few of her 47 grams of her special diet biscuits. She is certainly more active, plays with her toys more and shoots up and down trees in the garden again. My friends tell me she looks thinner but I am not sure. She is still pear-shaped and feels the same weight when she sits on my lap. We have an appointment with the vet next week – here’s hoping.
PS Success! After eight weeks, Wudi is nearly on target. Her coat is gleaming, her skin condition has cleared up and I am more pleased than if I had lost the weight myself. With new found energy she has almost completely shredded a lovely, old Persian rug in the hall making it perilously easy to trip over while I attempt to catch the birds she has begun bringing into the house. I was hoping we would end up with a ‘win, win’ situation – but I’m beginning to wonder…
Felicity was born in Cheshire in England in 1941. At the age of five she was dragged, kicking and screaming, to Northern Ireland where she (later) married, had a family and has been living ever since. Among other things, she has been a secretary, a BBC Radio reporter, a veterinary assistant, director of a local Saleroom (Temple Auctions), obtained a degree in Fine and Applied Art at the University of Ulster and has recently published her debut novel, “Days of Wine and Wardrobes”.
She now lives near Lisburn with her cat, Wudi.