Regular reader Mary sends in another question.
I recently saw a person who means very much to me. This person has two cats. In all the time that I have known this family, they have always taken very good care of their pets, but since they have had children, their cats have been banished to the basement where they are fed from a giant trough. (Before this time, their cats were a reasonable weight.) While I was visiting this person, I got to see the cats. It had been a while since I had seen the animals, but they have become ENORMOUS! I am concerned, because I'm pretty sure these cats have got to be pushing 30 pounds. I don't know how to talk to this person about the unhealthy condition of their pets, or how to urge them to put their cats on a diet. I know they have lots on their plates (pardon the expression), I know I haven't always been the best pet owner, but I feel really terrible for their poor cats. It's probably easier for a vet to express concern about the condition of someone's pets. It's part of the job, and you have a certain authority that we lay people don't have (besides, you can probably be more frank about it and get away with it, you are a doctor after all). Are there any suggestions you can give me about how to handle this situation?
This is a tough situation, as you want to help out their cats, but you also don't want to upset a friend. I think how you handle this depends on which you feel is more important. But in the end, I always think that honesty is the best policy, and it sounds like these cats are in a serious health condition.
Obesity in cats is a serious health condition. They are much more prone to diabetes and liver disease, as well as causing stress on their joints. Most cats should weigh about 9-11 pounds, with certain breeds (Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest cats) weighing 15-20 pounds. Your average cat weighing 30 pounds is like a person who should weigh 150 pounds actually weighing over 400. People can usually understand this kind of analogy better than simply saying that their pet is overweight.
Here's how I would recommend approaching them. The next time you're over look at the cats and say something like "Wow, those are pretty big cats. I'm not sure I've ever seen cats that big. What did your vet say about their size?" Then let them answer the question. If they say "Yeah, she said they needed to loose weight," you can then talk about it a little more. "Yeah, I've heard that obesity is a really serious problem in cats and can cause a lot of health problems. So I guess you're working on that, right?" Then see where the conversation leads.
Now, if the discussion takes a different turn, such as them replying "No, we haven't taken them to a vet in years", or "Yeah, the vet said they were a little fluffy but I really don't believe it", then you'll have more difficulty. Depending on how comfortable you are with them, you can just jump into "You know, I heard that overweight cats can die of diabetes or liver disease. Aren't you worried about that?"
Now, if you still don't feel comfortable with that, I have another, maybe easier option for you. "You know, I've been reading this really cool blog written by a vet. It's has funny stories and free veterinary advice. Oh, and you can ask him questions for free! Oh, I know, why don't you ask him about health problems in cats and talk about your own cats." I'll be very happy to be the meanie and tell them how they're basically killing their cats.