Unfortunately, obesity in pets is on the rise. This is bad news for our feline friends, since excess weight brings with it a whole host of potential health issues. 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. We’ve all been guilty of spoiling our beloved pets, but unfortunately the odd treat here or there can quickly add up! Helping your cat to shed those extra pounds can feel daunting. However, with some dedication, helping your cat to lose weight is easier than you might think.
How to tell if your cat is overweight
As a well-meaning pet parent, it is easy to miss that your cat’s weight is gradually creeping up. Regular weigh-ins with your veterinarian, ideally every six months, should ensure any weight gain is picked up early. You could also monitor your cat’s weight at home. On average cats should weigh 7.9 – 9.7 lb. Of course, this is very breed dependent, so consult your veterinary technician if you aren’t sure what your cat’s ideal weight is. If you find you are needing to loosen an adult cat’s collar, this could be an early sign that your cat is putting on 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 pushing down.
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.
Weight reduction through increasing exercise
One of the keys to weight loss in cats is to get them moving. Easier said than done, I hear you say! 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:
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. Be careful with laser pointers, as they 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 you cat is overweight. As their fitness improves, you can gradually increase this.
Move their bowl around! Move it to the top of the stairs, for example. You can 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 DIY puzzle feeder options, or you can buy them. We recommend getting several and changing them regularly so your cat doesn’t get bored.
Some cats will follow their owners around the garden, especially if you use a toy and make it a game. For indoor cats, consider a cat harness. Stop if your cat gets upset; but many cats will learn to love their harness. 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.
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 amount 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
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 high water content 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.
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 things have you done to help her shed some pounds? Let us know in the comments!