If you have an overweight cat, you are far from alone. According to the 2012 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 58.3% of cats in the US are either overweight or obese. That means that more cats are overweight than of a normal weight! Even though fat cats might look cute, they are at risk for some serious health problems including osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. It will take some work and some will power, but you can help your overweight cat to lose weight.
Helping An Overweight Cat Tip #1: Feed your cat scheduled meals.
Many overweight cats are free fed. This means that a bowl of food (usually dry food) is left out all day for the cat to eat as he/she pleases. Some free fed cats will regulate the amount of food that they take in, but many won’t. The extra food leads to extra calories and weight gain.
A better option is to scheduled feed your cats. This means feeding your cat 2-3 individual meals during the day. The food bowl is not left on the floor all day for the cat graze from. The calories that your cat takes in are limited to the amount you choose to feed him/her. With scheduled feeding, you have control over what your cat eats, when they eat it, and you can monitor their eating habits.
Changing your cat over to scheduled feeding will take some will power on your part. Start by picking the cat’s food bowl up off of the ground and only putting it down at specified meal times. Leave it there for 10 or 15 minutes and then pick it up again. The cat will likely beg for more food throughout the day. Remember that it is okay for your cat to get hungry between meals. If you don’t give in to your cat’s attempts to manipulate you, he/she will eventually get used to the new system.
Helping An Overweight Cat Tip #2: Switch your cat to a wet or raw diet.
Eating healthy, nutrient dense food will help your cat to lose weight. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must eat meat and they have very little ability to digest plant matter (carbohydrates). Dry cat food is often very high in fat and carbohydrates and very low (10% or less) in moisture. A heavy dose of carbohydrates is needed to hold the cat food in those tiny shapes. Fat is not only a part of the ingredients in the dry cat food but is also sprayed on the finished food to make it appetizing to your cat. Wet food is typically higher in protein, less processed, less fatty, has at least 70% moisture, and fewer carbohydrates. Raw diets are even less processed, with more protein, less fat, around 75% moisture, and almost no carbohydrates.
Making the switch to a wet or raw diet can be taxing. It may take many attempts to get your cat to eat the new food. Don’t be afraid to try different brands and different flavors. Start by offering it for only one of the cat’s daily meals and give your cat his/her regular food for the remaining meals. When your cat finally begins eating the food and they aren’t having any loose stools, give the cat wet food for a second daily meal. Repeat the process until your cat is eating only wet food.
Helping An Overweight Cat Tip #3: Feed your cat the correct number of calories per day.
If you want your cat to lose weight, then you will need to determine the number of calories that your cat needs to eat per day. Weight loss in cats should be fairly slow – about 1-2% of their current body weight per week. Losing weight too fast can cause hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) and potentially death.
Have your veterinarian help you determine the correct number of calories. The number will depend on your cat’s ideal weight, medical conditions, metabolism, and life stage. Kittens and pregnant or nursing cats will need more calories than average adult cats.
Finding the number of calories in cat food can be tricky. Cat food companies are not required by law to disclose the number of calories on the cat food packaging. However, some companies do list calorie information on the packaging or on their company website. If you can’t find the number of calories in either of those places, call the phone number listed on the packaging. If they give you a number of calories per serving, ask how large a serving size is.
Once you know how many calories your cat needs every day, split that over the number of meals you intend to serve. Don’t forget to include treats in that calculation!
Helping An Overweight Cat Tip #4: Create an engaging environment for your cat.
One reason that cats overeat is boredom. Making your home more engaging to your cat may help to alleviate that boredom and make exersize more inviting. Here are a few things you can add to your home to make it a more engaging environment for your cat:
- Scratchers of different inclines.
- Cat trees.
- High places where cats can perch and observe the room from above.
- Cat-sized hiding places.
- A perch near a window.
- An enclosure that allows your cat to safely go outdoors.
- Toys that mimic motions of mice, lizards and birds.
- A catnip or cat grass plant.
Helping An Overweight Cat Tip #5: Enjoy daily interactive play with your cat.
One of the best ways to get your cat to exercise is to play with him/her! Just choose a few minutes per day and get out the wand toys. Cats enjoy getting to play with a toy that actually moves like a living creature. They also love that you are giving them one on one attention. A very overweight cat may not be very playful at first, but as his/her weight starts to drop you will see his/her activity level improve.