Behavior and Training, Pet Care Basics

Obesity in Cats: How to Help a Cat Lose Weight

How do I help my cat lose weight? Obesity is the number one disease facing dogs and cats today. Obese dogs have somewhat of an advantage when it come to weight loss since they are naturally more active and crave activity and can be exercised on a regular basis.

Feline Obesity

Cats are a completely different animal (pun intended). Most companion cats are indoor only and don’t have much opportunity to get out and exercise. Cats carrying even a little bit of extra weight can have very serious health problems. Excess pounds can exacerbate arthritis, can lead to feline diabetes, and can even tax their heart and respiratory function. More pounds can also lead to decreased activity, which creates a vicious cycle.

How Much Should My Cat Weigh?

It is difficult to say an ideal weight for a cat. With cats, there isn’t a one size fits all. The ideal weight varies depending on the breed and some domestic cats are built differently. It’s best to consult with your cat’s veterinarian on what your cat’s ideal weight should be.

Healthy Weight for a Cat

If you determine your cat is overweight, weight loss in cats can be a very frustrating endeavor for both owners and veterinarians. There are, however, some small and easy adjustments that can be made to help get their feline friend back to the sleek house-panther they were meant to be.

One important thing that needs to be stressed to owners is that weight loss does not happen overnight. It is a process and in order to be done safely, it is a slow process, but it can be achieved. It is always best to consult a veterinarian prior to starting a cat weight loss plan to make sure it is approached properly and will yield the best results.

What is a Healthy Diet for a Cat?

A healthy cat diet is the first thing you need to look at. There are several therapeutic diets on the market now specially designed to help cats lose weight. These diets specifically target the genes responsible for weight and modify them to help with cat weight loss. These diets are very effective, but they can be very expensive, especially if you are needing to feed multiple cats in a household.

If a therapeutic diet is not possible, commercially available diets can be used to help a cat lose weight. Many commercial diets have lower calorie or “weight management” varieties available, or a regular calorie commercial diet can be used. The key is to feed for the cat’s ideal weight, rather than their current weight. For example, if a cat weighs 14 pounds, but ideally should be 10 pounds, the amount of food being fed needs to be the amount for a 10-pound cat. Always use the feeding guidelines listed on the bag or can for the diet being fed as all cat foods have different calorie contents and it is imperative to use an actual measuring cup to ensure the correct amount is being fed.

Treats should be limited or eliminated completely when putting a cat on a diet. Many commercially available treats have more calories than owners are aware of. Vegetables such as green beans or carrots can be use for treats, if a cat will eat them, as they have less calories than commercial treats and can help cats feel full. Giving healthy cat treats such as Churu® Chicken or Tuna Formula in moderation can be helpful when used as rewards for exercising.

How to Feed a Cat

Secondly, how a cat is fed can help with weight loss. Many times, cat owners just fill a bowl up with food and keep the bowl filled to the top. This encourages weight gain for cats because there is unlimited access to food. Some cats can regulate themselves in a free feed situation, but often, cats that are free fed tend towards being overweight. Some owners feel that meal feeding is too difficult for their lifestyle. If this is the case, owners can still have the illusion of free feeding their cat by placing the correct amount of food out in a bowl, but once that food is gone, the bowl is not refilled.

Alternatively, cats can have their daily ration of food split into smaller portions given throughout the day to help spread out the timing of feeding. There are also numerous different “feeding systems” available today for cats. Automatic feeders that help ration food portions, puzzle feeder bowls and toy-like feeding systems that mimic prey hunting that can help cats exercise as well as acting as enrichment.

All of these can and do help with weight loss, but owners can use every day household items in order to help their cat lose weight. Simply feeding a cat up on something like a cat tree, or counter, or bench that makes them physically move to get to their food can encourage exercise and weight loss. Always be careful in doing this with a cat that is older or has arthritis or other physical limitation that would worsen a condition or be hazardous to the cat. Paper bags or empty toilet paper tubes and be used to put a portion of the diet (if dry kibble) in and then hide around the house for the cat to “hunt” and find. This spreads out the portioning of the food as well as encouraging exercise and enrichment when the cat has to “hunt” down the food to consume it.

Cat Exercise

Thirdly, and probably the most difficult for cats is exercise. Most cats are indoor only creatures. Unlike dogs, they don’t really appreciate being taken for walks. Some cats will tolerate, or even enjoy being taken for a walk with a harness and leash and that’s great for exercise and weight loss.

For cats that appreciate the great outdoors, but not in a hiking capacity, setting up an outdoor enclosure or “catio” with multiple levels accessed by stairs or ramps can encourage climbing and exercise as well as mental stimulation. Make sure any cat in an outdoor enclosure still has access to shade, water and is protected against the many parasites and other dangers that can be found outside.

Cats that prefer to remain inside have many opportunities for exercise. Simply playing with a cat with a laser light or other teaser-like toy is exercise and helps to strengthen the human-animal bond. Some cats are natural fetchers, and many can be taught to play fetch with a favorite toy. This encourages activity and is great to help with weight loss. There are also exercise wheels that are available for purchase. Cats use this just like a hamster will use a wheel in their enclosure. It sounds odd, but many cats really enjoy running on a wheel. If an owner is lucky enough to have a pool, hydrotherapy exercise can be used to exercise cats and help with weight loss. Alternatively, some veterinary clinics have hydrotherapy treadmills that can be used. If hydrotherapy is being used, a well-fitting water safety jacket should be used to help keep the cat safe.

Cat Weight Loss

The important thing to realize with weight loss is that it is a slow process. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s best for the cat for weight loss to be a slow and consistent process so as not to cause too much stress and create other health issues. Work closely with a veterinary professional to ensure your cat weight loss plan is the best fit for your cat.

If you have more questions on cat weight or overall cat health, call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.

Picture of Amy Hanson with a kitten

Written by: Amy Hanson, DVM

Amy Hanson, DVM

Dr. Amy Hanson is an associate veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. She is a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her special interests include felines, acupuncture and dentistry. Her hobbies include showing cats and she is a judge for the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA).

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.