Off Beat Stories

Jan 31, 2010 9:48 AM by Laura T. Coffey

Fat cats: Adorable, or just plain wrong?

Like many great things in life, this one started off simply enough. Erik Riesenberg, a sales and marketing manager in New York, adored his two cats, Bailey and Violet. Violet, in particular, cracked him up because she was so photogenic.

"I was looking at her last December, and she's such a cute little chubby cat," said Riesenberg, 38. "I'd share photos of her, and people would respond, ‘She's so cute! I love chubby cats!' And then I thought, we all love chubby cats, for gosh sake! Let's start a blog on fat cats!"

And so it began. About a month and a half ago, Riesenberg launched his Fatcatlover blog and posted his first fledgling entry along with a photo of a ginormous kitty:

"Hi! This is a blog dedicated to appreciating our beautifully rotund feline friends. Some of us just can't get enough of their chubby cuteness. ... Feel free to submit your favorite fat pics!"

Then the comments began trickling in:

"It's really not cuteness. It's animal cruelty."

"How did they become so big?! Poor cats ..."

And then someone sent Riesenberg this e-mail message: "You should be ashamed of yourself, and I hope you get diabetes!"

That's not to say all the feedback has been scathing. On the contrary, most of it has been funny and supportive, and Riesenberg now receives a new batch of tubby tabby photo submissions each day. But the high emotions generated by the blog made Riesenberg realize he had hit a nerve.

As Ben Huh, head of the wildly popular cat Web site icanhascheezburger.com, once discerningly said: "Cats are the dominant household pet in the U.S., and the Internet is a giant litter box."

Riesenberg has essentially found himself trafficking in two competing truths:

1. Fat cats are adorable.

2. Fat cats are likely to encounter health problems because of their excess weight.

"It's really very sad because yes, they are cute. We go for the round little faces and the round little bodies," said Dr. Bernadine Cruz, an associate veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Woods, Calif. "But that extra weight really can shorten their good quality of life. ...

"They've done a study with dogs that shows that by bringing them to their ideal weight, they will live 15 percent longer - and that's about two years," Cruz added. "We can extrapolate and assume this applies very closely to our cats."

The potential health problems that could afflict overweight cats are legion: diabetes; hip problems; knee problems; joint inflammation and pain; skin inflammation and other skin problems; depressed immune systems; heart disease; osteoarthtritis. Some cats get so big that they can't even clean themselves properly.

Interestingly, obese orange-and-white male cats are four times more likely to develop diabetes, Cruz said.

"They really have the decks stacked against them," she said. "It's a genetic thing."

Cruz noted that it can be much harder to reverse obesity in a cat than it can be to prevent it in the first place.

"We tend to kill our pets with kindness because we overfeed them," she said. "If it's just that you've been loving your cat too much, your vet can give you good tips to cut back - and slowly is the best way to do that," she said. (For additional obesity-prevention tips for cats, see box.)

With so much evidence about the ill effects of surplus feline weight, why do so many people still go so gaga over photos of curvy kitties? Riesenberg has one theory: Unlike other overweight creatures, overweight cats "maintain their cuteness."

"Other animals - well, they're just fat," he said.

Riesenberg stressed that he's not trying to encourage unhealthiness in cats; he simply started his blog because he loves cats and funny cat photos.

"I want all cats to be healthy, so if this is a way to spark that conversation about taking care of your cats or making sure your cat is healthy, then great!" he said.

He acknowledged that he could be - and probably should be - a little less lenient about his cat Violet's snacking whims. Violet, a 2-year-old, 16-pound fluffy gray cat from the animal shelter, tends to finish off the food 3-year-old Bailey leaves behind in his dish. She also likes to beg for human food from the table.

"And, yeah, I'll give in and say, ‘All right, here's a little something,'" Riesenberg said sheepishly.

Riesenberg also acknowledged being more than a little stunned by the attention his blog is getting. Interest really began ramping up when celebrity blogger Perez Hilton tweeted about the blog and its funny fat-cat photos.

"I freaked out one day when I started seeing hundreds and hundreds of people coming to the site," Riesenberg said. "You can always check and see where the referrals are coming from, and I saw ‘Tweeter Perez Hilton,' and I was, like, WHAT?!

"And then actress Amanda Bynes retweeted what he tweeted, so that was cool. I mean, it wasn't, like, George Clooney or anything ... but still!"

So now, while keeping his day job, Riesenberg is having fun sifting through photo submissions and dreaming up funny photo captions. He said he often looks to current news events and entertainment trends for inspiration; some of his recent captions have referenced the Golden Globes, health-care reform, Snooki from "Jersey Shore," and the Conan O'Brien/Jay Leno/David Letterman brouhaha.

"People keep coming and coming and sending me photos of their cute chubbies. It's great!" Riesenberg said. "It's a whole community of fat-cat enthusiasts."

 

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