Morbidly obese cat gets a second chance at life

When his owner brought 35-pound "Lucky" to an animal hospital in January to be euthanized for improper litterbox habits resulting from extreme obesity, the staff at Clementon Animal Hospital in New Jersey didn’t know what to do.

The owner said he wanted the cat euthanized because he was unable to perform basic normal litterbox habits. The cat was so overweight from spending his life in a basement, eating food that was readily available at his own free choice, that he was unable to walk or move as a normal cat would.

"He was in very bad shape," said Tricia Greaney, office manager for the hospital. "He couldn’t even walk to use his litterbox."

Sachina Lyons, DVM, suggested finding a way to sponsor the animal’s weight loss diet so that it could be of minimal cost to the owner. When the owner declined, the hospital also offered to do free regular weight loss checks for the cat to help him stay on track with a new diet and weight loss plan. Finally, Lyons flat-out refused to put the cat to sleep, upsetting the cat’s owner.

A staff member suggested the owner turn the cat over to the hospital, at which point the owner dropped the cat’s carrier on the floor and walked out.

Originally named Lucky, the practice is now calling the obese feline "Otto" due to his ottoman-like figure. The staff at the hospital has fallen in love with the cat, and the practice is working with Otto to get him back down to a normal weight.

Otto’s story is an example of pet overeating gone dangerously wrong.

"People just don’t realize that obesity can run in our pets too," Greaney said. "Over-the-counter foods might not be the best for them - it can be the equivalent of feeding your pet McDonald’s every day, which most people don’t realize."

Though people find Otto to be cute due to his large size, the serious health risks can put his life at risk, the hospital says. In people terms, a 35-pound cat is equivalent to a 500-pound person. Health threats can include diabetes, liver disease, joint pain, skin problems and digestive problems.

So far, the 10-year-old cat is surprisingly very healthy other than being morbidly obese, Greaney says. Other than taking pain management medications for very bad arthritis and being restricted to a calorie-control high fiber diet, he is not currently facing any other health issues.

Despite being locked in a basement with minimal contact from people, those who know Otto say he is extremely people-friendly and affectionate.

"He is the most loving and affectionate cat you can imagine. What impressed me the most about him was how affectionate he is after spending his life in the basement with very little contact with people," said Wanda Ross, practice consultant for the American Animal Hospital Association. "He has a very dedicated fan base between clients and Facebook followers."

The cat faces no shortage of love around the office: Staff members rotate taking him home on the weekends to care for him, and original plans of adopting him out have been abandoned as the hospital employees have fallen in love with him.

"Everyone is so attached to him now, I don’t think we could let him leave the hospital," Greaney said.

Otto has even become a local and national celebrity for his "fat feline figure" and affectionate nature. The local NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, Pa., filmed a segment about Otto and the clinic’s weight loss efforts for him; Otto also traveled to New York for a special appearance on the "Today Show", and has even been considered for Animal Planet’s "Must Love Cats" show.

The hospital is on track to have Otto lose a pound a month as a part of his weight loss plan. As of Oct. 14, 2011, he is down to 27 pounds, 10 ounces. The hospital is aiming to get Otto’s weight down to that of a healthy 12-13 pound range of a normal cat.

Visit the Clementon Animal Hospital Facebook page to check up on Otto’s weight loss progress and to see more photos of the feline celebrity.