How Fat Cats Became So Fat

Abigail Tucker was the first ever staff writer for Smithsonian magazine, where she remains a contributor. She previously wrote for The Baltimore Sun. Her work has been featured in the Best American Nature and Science Writing. The first word of both of her daughters was “cat.”

As cats adapt to 20th-century life with humans, modern life is taking a big toll on one feature of their appearance: their weight. As we become more obese, so do our pets. What does this mean for the future of our feline friends? Learn all about it in The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.

As far as the house cats’ aesthetic future goes, there is only one guarantee: cats are getting fatter. Though environmental rather than genetic, this effect is extremely profound. Close to 60 percent of American pet cats are overweight or obese, and scientists report extremely rotund strays as well. I read endless news accounts of 31-pound feline Buddhas, 36-pound Meatballs, 35-pound pet McLovins. (A healthy weight is about a quarter of one of these kitties.)

So far, all this extra lard is humanity’s most significant contribution to the feline form. True, many of our animal affiliates are plumping up, and even the street rats of Baltimore are 40 percent heavier today, thanks in large part to our heartier garbage. But house cats represent an extreme case, for a variety of human-driven reasons in addition to the ever-richer delicacies they enjoy in their food dishes and our trash cans. Locking cats indoors prevents them from getting exercise, spaying and neutering lowers their metabolic rate, and cats’ delicate hypercarnivorous biology makes dieting extremely difficult.

Lion in the Living Room

Lion in the Living Room

by Abigail Tucker

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  • Get Lion in the Living Room
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