A fat cat on the couch

Help Your Cat Lose Weight: A Vet’s Guide

Obesity in pets is on the rise. According to a 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, a staggering 59.5% of cats in the USA are overweight or obese. And since that extra mass brings a whole host of potential health issues, this is very bad news for our furry friends.

As a well-meaning pet parent, it is easy to miss that your cat’s weight is gradually creeping up. We’ve all been guilty of occasionally spoiling our beloved pets, but the odd treat here or there can quickly add up! Helping your cat shed those extra pounds is not as easy as putting them on a treadmill. But with the right advice and some dedication, it is absolutely doable!

How to tell if your cat needs to lose weight

Ideally, you would have regular weigh-ins with your veterinarian every six months. This should ensure any significant weight gain is picked up early. But if you can’t afford the appointments, you can also monitor your cat’s weight at home. Your own scale may not be as accurate as the vets’, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what the situation is.

On average, most adult cat breeds should weigh between 7.9 – 9.7 lb. But this is of course highly dependent on breed, sex, and other factors, so you might have to consult your veterinary technician if you aren’t sure what the ideal weight is.

Tip: No scale? If you find yourself having to loosen an adult cat’s collar, this could be an early sign that your furry friend is putting on some weight.

Body condition score

Since every cat is unique, the best way to tell if your cat is too heavy is to assess their ‘body condition score’:

  • Look at your cat’s side profile. Their belly should be tucked up behind the ribs, not rounded or sagging.
  • Look at your cat from above. They should have an obvious waist.
  • Feel your cat’s ribs. The ribs shouldn’t be sticking out, but you should be able to feel them easily. If you have to press down at all, your cat is probably carrying excess fat.
  • Stroke the spine. Again, it shouldn’t be sticking out, but you should be able to feel it without having to push down hard.

Consequences of obesity

Cats and obesity are not a good mix! Fit, active cats generally live longer than overweight cats. Sadly, they also often have a better quality of life. Being overweight increases a cat’s chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and urinary problems (including painful bladder stones).

Obesity also leads to decreased activity, which in turn can eventually lead to feline depression. Owners may find it harder to spot signs of illness in an overweight cat since decreased activity is also an early indicator of many other diseases. In an overweight, already inactive cat, this early sign is often easily missed.

Help your cat lose weight in two steps

Weight loss is achieved by eating fewer calories than we burn in a day. So, to get the best results, we should aim to burn more and eat less. Here are a few simple things you can start doing to put your cat in a caloric deficit (aka: fat burning mode!):

1. Movement

As any good fitness coach will tell you, the key to weight loss is movement. By using the muscles in our bodies, we burn calories. You can be on the healthiest diet ever, but as long as you don’t burn what you eat, you simply won’t lose weight.

So to help our overweight cat, we need to get them busy! Easier said than done, I hear you say. But whether your feline friend is more of an indoor cat or they go outside often, there are many things you can do to encourage them to exercise more:

  • Toys
    Most cats love playing with toys, you just have to find one that suits yours. Squeaky balls, feathers on a stick, light pointers; there’s a huge variety on the market to choose from. You can even make some of your own! Be careful with laser pointers. They work extremely well, but can damage your cat’s eyes as well as cause frustration. Try to end a laser pointer game with something your cat can actually catch! Aim to start with five minutes of play twice a day if your cat is overweight. As their fitness improves, you can gradually increase this.
  • Feeding
    Here’s an easy hack: move the feeding bowl around! Move it to the top of the stairs, for example. You can also buy special feeder balls that release food as your cat moves them. They are great for getting food-oriented cats moving, whilst mimicking natural hunting behavior. There are puzzle feeder products, or you can attempt to make one. We recommend getting several and changing them regularly, so your cat doesn’t get bored.
  • Outdoors exercise
    Some cats will follow their owners around the garden, especially if you use a toy and make it a game. For indoor cats, you may also consider walking them in a cat harness. While some cats can get very upset (in which case you should definitely stop using it!), many will grow to love walking on a leash! This time exploring outside can be a great way to increase their exercise. If your cat has never been outside, consult your veterinarian before doing so, as they may need a microchip or certain vaccinations first.

2. Reduce caloric intake

Questions we often hear are “how much should i feed my cat to lose weight?” and “how many calories should my cat eat to lose weight”. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as reducing calories equals weight loss. Firstly, we need to consider the rate of weight loss. It is very important that cats do not lose weight too quickly. Crash diets can be very harmful to your cat’s health; causing a liver condition called fatty liver syndrome (hepatic lipidosis). You should aim to reach an ideal weight in 6-12 months, depending on your cat’s initial weight. As a general rule of thumb, one pound per month is ideal.

Can’t resist their cute purr at the table? You must! Feeding even the smallest scraps of human food can dramatically add to your cat’s calorie intake. Remember, cats are many times smaller than humans, and what seems like a crumb to us can be a huge amount of their daily calorie allowance!

Feeding guides on packets are useful if your cat’s weight is OK and you want to maintain it, or if you are using a prescription weight loss diet. If you are feeding dry food, it is very important to weigh the food out accurately using weighing scales. Scoops are inaccurate and it’s easy to overfill them. Calculating calorie requirements for weight loss is a complicated process- leave it to the experts! Consult your veterinarian before putting your cat on a diet, as they will be able to guide you. Simply reducing the amount of their current diet can be harmful, as it may mean that your cat doesn’t get enough nutrients.

Cat weight loss calculator

Are you looking to calculate the number of calories your cat needs to ingest to lose weight? We can make the weight loss calculation quite easy with this simple cat food calculator, made by Petnutritionalliance.org

Diets

Feline weight reduction is mainly achieved through critical diet changes. Encouraging your cat to drink plenty of fresh water also helps reduce hunger pangs and aids digestion. Wet food can aid weight loss since it has a large amount of water and tends to be lower in carbohydrates. If you feed dry food and your cat isn’t good at grazing, weigh out how much your cat needs over 24 hours, then split the total amount into small regular meals.      

Diets for weight loss have three main goals: to reduce calories, to increase satiety (feeling full) and to be nutritionally balanced. There are many diets aimed at weight loss to choose from, but many ‘diet’ or ‘lite’ foods are not enough to get your cat to lose weight.

Does my cat need a prescription weight loss diet?

Prescription diets are often the best for feline weight loss, especially when you’ve tried and failed with other methods. Most are high in protein, low in fat, and high in vitamins and minerals, meaning you can feed less of them without unbalancing the diet. Some use specific fiber, to ensure your cat feels full after a meal. The newer prescription diets even contain ingredients aimed to increase metabolism and ‘kick start’ your cat’s weight loss!

Because they’re prescription diets, they’re designed to be used under veterinary supervision- your veterinary team can therefore recommend the best product for your cat. Any new food needs to be introduced slowly over three weeks; to prevent diarrhea and to allow your cat to adapt. Start with a tiny amount and gradually increase the ratio of new food to old over the weeks.  

Final thoughts

Successful weight loss in cats can feel daunting, with a seemingly long road ahead. However, the benefits of persevering are enormous and well worth it! The result will be a more active, happier kitty!

Is your cat obese? What have you done to help her shed some pounds? Please let us know in the comments!

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