Obesity in Cats: How to Put Your Cat on a Diet
They might look cute, cuddly, and even comical, but overweight cats are at risk of some pretty serious health issues. Just like us humans, cats can suffer from obesity, which can have a profound impact on their health and lifestyle.
Although helping your feline friend lose weight might seem like an uphill battle, it can certainly be done. To help your furry friend reach their ideal weight, we’ve put together this guide. Below, we discuss how to tell if your cat is overweight, how this can put their health at risk, and, most importantly, what you can do about it.
Is Your Cat Overweight?
“They’re just fluffy!” we hear you say, “They’re cuddly.” Sadly, being in denial about your cat’s weight problem won’t do them any favors in the long run. You can check whether your cat is overweight using the following guidelines:
- Feel the rib cage
Firstly, gently feel along your cat’s rib cage. For a healthy cat, the layer of padding on the rib cage shouldn’t feel thicker than the padding on the back of your hand. You should be just about able to feel individual ribs. If you have to press firmly to feel the ribs, chances are your cat is overweight.
- Look for a defined waist
Have your cat stand up and look at them from above. You should be able to make out a ‘waist’ where their body tucks in just after the rib cage. If you can see a more rounded shape, it’s very likely that your cat is above their ideal weight.
- Examine the base of the tail
When you gently press around the base of your cat’s tail, you should be able to feel bones without much effort. Although there will be a thin protective layer of fat in this area, the bones should still be prominent enough to easily discern. If you can’t feel these bones at all, your cat is probably carrying some extra pounds.
- Look at your cat from the side
Have your cat stand up and look at them from the side. If your cat is a healthy weight, they will have an ‘abdominal tuck’. This means an upward slope from their ribs to their belly. If you don’t see this shape, your car may be overweight.
- Assess activity levels
As they age, our cats will usually become less active. However, if their activity levels drop off suddenly, this could be a sign that they have gained weight. Excess weight makes it more difficult for cats to exercise.
Bear in mind that each cat is an individual, and just because you see one of these signs, it does not necessarily mean that they are overweight. However, if you notice more than one of these signs, you can be fairly certain that your feline friend should have a change of lifestyle.
If in doubt, it’s a good idea to consult your vet. With a physical examination and a few questions about your cat’s lifestyle, they will be able to tell you whether weight loss in necessary.
The Health Risks Of Feline Obesity
According to an estimate by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, around 60% of US cats are overweight. In other words, if you’ve overfed felix, you’re certainly not alone.
Although it might seem like a minor issue, excess weight can actually put your cat at greater risk of developing a number of health conditions.
Just like humans, cats can develop diabetes. Cats who suffer from this condition can’t properly produce and respond to insulin – the hormone responsible for controlling blood glucose levels. Cats who suffer from diabetes will experience excessive thirst, frequent urination, and increased appetite. In more severe cases, diabetes can also lead to depression, motor function problems, and even coma.
- Urinary Disease
Overweight cats are also at greater risk of developing lower urinary tract disease. Symptoms include pain while urinating, excessive grooming around the urethra, and blood in the urine. The condition can be triggered by a few different causes, including kidney stones and infection. Overweight cats are more at risk because fat deposits can impede the functioning of the kidneys – the organs responsible for filtering toxins from the blood and creating urine.
Like us humans, cats can suffer from arthritis. This condition occurs when cartilage in their joints begins to break down or harden, causing pain and limiting movement. Symptoms can include swelling, discomfort during handling, lethargy, and decreased flexibility. When a cat is overweight, greater strain is put on their joints. Over time, this increases the likelihood of arthritis developing – especially in older animals.
Excess fat in your cat’s body can trigger inflammation in a variety of places. This can trigger a number of health conditions, and cause pain, too.
- Heart disease
Excess fat around the heart can put undue pressure on this vital organ, and make it more difficult for blood to be pumped through, resulting in heart disease.
- Breathing Difficulties
Cats who are carrying excess weight may find breathing more difficult, and often snore while sleeping. This is because excess weight can put additional pressure on their airways.
- Lifestyle changes
When a cat is overweight, their lifestyle can also change for the worse. As we mentioned earlier, excess weight makes exercise more difficult, so your cat will be less likely to run, play, and generally have fun if they’re carrying some extra pounds. If your cat is a healthy weight, they are much more likely to have an enjoyable life climbing, chasing, and playing.
How To Help Your Cat Lose Weight
Clearly, excess feline weight is no laughing matter. To help your cat stay healthy, and have the best possible quality of life, you may need to help them lose weight. Although the weight loss journey might seem daunting, you’ll be bolstered along the way by the positive changes you’ll see.
Just like us, cats need a combination of dietary change and exercise to successfully lose excess weight – and keep it off.
In theory, putting your cat on a diet should be easier than going on one yourself. Cats aren’t constantly bombarded with food-related temptation on all sides, and unless they’re a prolific hunter, or getting fed elsewhere, you as owner have complete control over their food intake.
However, many owners are prone to spoiling their cats. Those pitiful meows and huge sad eyes can be nearly impossible to resist. Luckily, there are ways to help your cat lose weight without the guilt, and without seeing them go hungry.
Through the following steps, we’re confident your cat will experience healthy weight loss:
- Work out the best calorie intake
Although there’s more to a successful diet than just calorie counting, working out an ideal caloric intake for your cat is a good place to start.
First, work out a target weight for your cat. Ideally, your veterinarian will help with this, but in general your cat should weigh between eight and 10 pounds.
Use this target weight to work out caloric requirements for weight loss with the following formula:
[(30 x target weight in kg) +70] x 0.8 = daily calorie intake
For instance, if your cat’s target weight was eight pounds, their daily intake would be:
[(30 x 3.6) + 70] x 0.8 = 142
Say 150 calories for convenience.
- Choose a healthy food that works for you
Once you know how many calories your cat should be eating, you’ll need to figure out which food to give them, and how much to feed.
Choose a ‘complete’ food to ensure that your feline friend is getting all the nutrients they need. Selecting a blend that is high in protein is best for cats, since they are obligate carnivores and need very little carbohydrate.
If you’re worried about your cat going hungry, choosing a wet food may be your best bet. These foods are less dense in calories than their dry counterparts, so you’ll be able to feed larger portions. They also have a much higher water content, which promotes a feeling of fullness.
If in doubt, select a cat food specially designed for felines on a diet. Whichever food you choose, be sure to switch over gradually to prevent stomach upset.
- Feed small portions throughout the day
To keep your cat feeling satisfied on a reduced calorie intake, feeding them little and often is the key. If you have the time, feed your cat three to four small portions each day. For owners who are often out and about, an automatic feeder can make this setup easier.
- Avoid most treats
Although many owners love to show their cats affection by feeding them treats, too many can put your weight loss efforts at risk.
Rather than give up on treats altogether, though, feed them less often, and make healthier choices.
Experts recommend small pieces of lean meat, dried liver, a teaspoon of wet food, or a few dry kibbles. Limit treats to a few times a week.
- Keep a close eye on progress
Feline weight loss can be difficult to see at first, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your cat, and make a note of their progress. Try taking pictures each month for an easy visual comparison, or simply weigh your cat. You may need to step on the scales with them, then subtract your weight from the equation if your scales aren’t very sensitive.
Regular progress checks let you know if things are progressing as they should be, and seeing proof of weight loss can help motivate you to continue.
- Maintaining a healthy weight
When your cat reaches their ideal weight, increase their calorie intake slightly to ensure it’s maintained. Use this formula:
(30 x ideal weight in kg) +70 = daily calorie intake.
Along with these dietary changes, your cat will need regular exercise to achieve their ideal weight. Exercise will also improve their overall body condition.
Exercising cats can be tricky compared to their canine counterparts, however. You can’t just take your cat for a long walk, or have a few games of fetch, after all.
Luckily, there are clever ways you can encourage your cat to get active, and promote bonding at the same time:
- Move the food bowl
It might seem simple, but it’s a good place to start. Every time you feed your cat, keep them on their toes by moving the food bowl from place to place. This will have them scampering about the house as they follow their nose.
- Use toys
Playing with cat toys won’t only get your feline to exercise – it will also promote bonding between the two of you. Try a cat ‘fishing rod’, toy mouse on a string, or even a laser pointer to tap into your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Try to mimic the movements of a real animal to get your cat interested, and always let them catch the toy at the end of the game to ensure they aren’t frustrated.
- Try cat furniture
In the wild, cats of all shapes and sizes love to climb. The vantage point helps them stay on the lookout for prey and threats alike. You can recreate this in your own home by purchasing a cat tree or something similar. This will encourage them to explore – burning calories in the process.
- Find a feline friend
Many cats get along so well that they’ll play together – chasing, exploring, and wrestling. Try introducing a playmate to your cat so they have someone other than you to play with. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.
- Homemade ‘hockey rink’
For something a little different, try placing a ball inside a big cardboard box or the bathtub, and push it around. Seeing the ball move ‘on its own’, your cat’s hunting instincts will probably kick in, and they’ll go flying after it.