Overweight Cats: How to help Your Furry Friend Shed Some Weight
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on June 24, 2018
Posted in Cat
Our cats meow and beg for food all the time, and in a world of large plates and hungry bellies for ourselves, we may be tempted to cave in and feed our feline friends just a little more. These temptations often lead to one of the most common health problems in cats: obesity.
Cats that eat too much and exercise too little run the risk of becoming overweight or obese, which can put them on the fast-track to other health conditions, including arthritis and diabetes. It isn’t good to let cats pack on the pounds, which is why you should closely monitor your cat’s weight and take it to the vet regularly for check-ups. If you think your kitty is getting a little too heavy, ask your vet about diets or lifestyle changes that can help it shed some weight.
Your cat’s food needs change over time
The first step to reducing your cat’s risk for obesity is understanding that its food needs are going to change over the course of its life.
Kittens are high-energy and eat a lot as they grow. You may be used to feeding your new cat a lot of food soon after bringing it home, but when it reaches its adult years, the type and amount of food you provide will need to change.
Similarly, adult and senior cats often need different amounts and types of food to ensure they are getting the right mix of nutrients, calories and health support. Speak with a vet to determine the right kind of cat food and supplements necessary in your cat’s diet.
Altering diet and feeding rituals
One of the most important changes necessary to help your cat lose weight is to change the amount and type of food provided, as well as how it is provided each day. Choosing manual feeding over free choice feeding is a good way to closely monitor caloric intake and ensure your cat isn’t over-eating.
In free choice feeding, a bowl of food—typically dry—is left out all day for cats to come eat whenever they please. While this method allows them more freedom and may be more convenient for the busy cat owner, it makes it harder to monitor the amount of food consumed every day, particularly if you have more than one cat. Free choice feeding often leads to over-eating and obesity in cats.
Instead, choose manual feeding, in which you designate meal times (usually three set times during the day) when you provide food for your cats and supervise its eating habits. You may only give them a certain amount of food and let them finish it as they please, or let them eat within a certain timeframe, then take food away. This method allows you to have complete control and awareness of what and how much your cats eat in a day.
Additionally, what you feed your cat also matters. The choice of wet food instead of dry food can help your cat shed some excess weight, because dry foods tend to be higher in carbohydrates, while canned “wet” foods are better sources of lean meat.
Adding supplements to your cat’s meals can make sure it’s getting the right mix of nutrients, even if it’s eating less than it did before. Also, cutting back on the amount of treats you give can help trim calorie counts.
Aside from nutrition, a lot of cats gain weight simply because they don’t move that much. After all, cats spend a little more than two-thirds of their lives sleeping, and the rest is typically dedicated to grooming or laying around the house.
Emphasize playtime with your cat each day to get it up and moving. Purchase a laser pointer or a very small flashlight and have your cat chase a light around the house. This will get their bodies moving and their blood pumping to hopefully drop a few pounds. Also, purchase toys that allow cats to tap into their predatorial instincts and “hunt” for them.
If your cat likes to be outdoors, you might even be able to get it a leash and take it on short walks in the neighborhood.
Inside, create new vertical and intriguing spaces for your cat to jump to and explore. Cats love hideaways, particularly ones that are high-up, and providing more of these spaces can encourage the exercise necessary to get up to them.
Say no to crash diets
Much like they are harmful to humans, crash diets should never be attempted with cats. Their bodies do not adjust well to sudden major changes in nutrition, and any change in type and caloric count of food should be slowly adjusted every few days to reach the desired effect.
As always, speak with your vet about how to appropriately put your cat on a diet and what they recommend is the best course of action for getting your tubby kitty back down to a healthy weight.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan