The ability of cats to stay healthy is obviously part of their survival instinct. In a country home cats have access to open spaces and will travel remarkable distances while hunting and satisfying their curiosity. In this way, the animal keeps its body healthy, its muscles springy and maintains its proper body weight. Obviously hunger, coupled with the hunting instinct, is the driving force which keeps your cat on the move. However, under normal domestic conditions where food is regularly supplied this pressure to go out and find food is eliminated.
If one looks at wild members of the cat family, such as the lion, hunting is performed in groups, usually of lionesses, and the prey is stalked and finally-caught and killed. At this point, with a nice sense of propriety and instinctive recessive behaviour, the lionesses who have done all the work sit and wait patiently while the lion, who has probably merely watched the procedure from the long grass, has first go at the carcass. After gorging themselves all the animals will lie sleeping for hours. This may in fact be the only major meal they will have in several days so that hunger pangs start the hunting cycle again. It can be seen that when the animal’s stomach is full it has no desire to do anything but lie about and sleep. The parallel with the domestic cat is therefore obvious. An over-fed cat will have no desire to move from its bed and may therefore become fat, sluggish and unhealthy.
This is not necessarily always true; many cats naturally keep themselves fit and overweight cats are much less frequently seen than fat dogs. After all, cats seem to hunt out of sheer enjoyment, bringing home small mice and birds to lay them by the back door so that we can admire them. They seem surprised at our outrage that our own pet cat should be so cruel as to kill an innocent singing bird with no need to eat it but simply for the pleasure of hunting.
The lesson is clear, therefore. It is important to start a kitten off with a balanced but not over-generous diet. Under ideal conditions the amount of food fed should be on the basis of about half an ounce of food to every pound body weight of the cat. To weigh your cat simply you can use an ordinary bathroom scale, first weighing yourself then weighing yourself plus the cat and subtracting the first from the second weight. Alternatively, you can weigh the cat in a basket and then the basket alone. This is usually how veterinary surgeons assess weight for anaesthetics or critical doses of medicines.
Cats in towns, and especially those confined to small domestic quarters,probably get less exercise than those in the country and therefore rarely reach the peak of fitness of their country cousins. They may become sluggish and overweight although no doubt extremely contented. From the point of view of health, they are more likely to encounter disease-carrying cats due to the concentration of pets under these circumstances. There is no doubt that the most likely source of illness, disease or injury to a cat is from another cat. The most important diseases of cats are caused by viruses. They are feline enteritis or panlcucopcnia, and feline influenza.