Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012
Dear Diary:

Our cat Eeny has been packing on weight for the last seven or so years. Each fall when we brought her in to the vet for her annual check-up, the vet's eyebrows would rise over her weight gain.

Last fall when my sister died we were all in my hometown for a long weekend. Without the spousal unit to hold the fort, the spousal unit's brother fed our three cats. We left him most of a five pound bag of high protein cat food.

When we came back the whole fricken bag was gone and Eeny looked as if she'd been inflated. It was shocking to see an animal pack on that much weight in such a short time. Her annual check-up was the week afterwards, and our vet read us the riot act.

Eeny's thyroid glands were swollen. Her heart beat was a bit erratic. She walked stiffly as if she felt arthritic. She was extremely lethargic. Her health would crash and crash fast if we didn't do something about her weight.

What do you do when you have three cats? How do you monitor how much each animal is getting?

Well, Eeny's poor health provided the solution. We plopped the food bowl for the other two cats up on top of my dryer. The other two cats were able to make the leap with the grace of gazelles. Eeny stared up wistfully at their bowl. It might as well have been at the top of Mount Everest as far as she was concerned. There was no way, no how, she could get at their bowl.

I put a separate bowl down on the floor for her. Because that bowl was so convenient, the other cats continually tried to muscle in on Eeny's food. It took a few weeks of me constantly picking them up and depositing them on the dryer to establish that they had one feeding station, Eeny another.

I got a jar with a lid and every day I measured a generous half cup of dry food into it. Throughout the day I started dispensing food to Eeny from the jar so I'd know exactly how much she'd eaten.

The first week sapped my will to live. The cat cried piteously, convinced that she was going to starve to death because I was no longer dumping indiscriminate amounts of food into her bowl. The other cats continuously tried to muscle her out of her bowl. There were days when I just wanted to give up, take the easy way out, dump a mound of crumbles into her dish and let the cat eat herself into oblivion.

Instead, any time she asked, I would dispense a few crumbles from the jar into her bowl. The first few days her whining was almost constant. She might get only three or four crumbles, but it gradually dawned on Eeny that she would not starve to death. She would get fed. I made sure that by 9 p.m. she'd worked through her allotment. The cat began to relax. As the days wore on, I was able to space out how much I had to recharge her bowl, give her slightly larger portions.

I soon figured out that if I gave Eeny about a tablespoon at a time she would clean it up before the other cats would get to it, and it was enough to make her feel satiated. The other cats absorbed that they had their own feeding station. They stopped trying to raid Eeny's bowl.

And very, very gradually the weight began to slip off. What has been more surprising is the amazing difference it has made in Eeny.

Eeny's not a young cat anymore, and I'd chalked her lethargy, her stiffness, down to age. I was wrong. It was her obesity. She has a lot of weight left to lose, but she is becoming another cat. She plays now with Savannah, little scampering tussles and chases. The stiffness of her gait is gone. She can make the leap up on our bed now.

And that means that at some point she'll probably be able to make the leap up on to the dryer where I keep a bowl of cat food topped up so that Bink and Savannah can graze at will. They know when to stop eating. As we learned from the weekend away, Eeny will eat to the point of exploding.

Or will she?

Has Eeny learned new eating habits? I don't know. I do know that cats are notoriously hard to train. Has she connected her new state of well being with her new regime? Can a cat be that aware? Again, I don't know.

All I know is that I have my fingers crossed for her. She's come a long way and I hope that by next summer she'll be back to being the trim cat we adopted all those years ago from the shelter. I'm sure she'd feel a lot better.


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