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How to Slim Down an Overweight Cat

overweight or obese cat

Is your kitty not as agile or svelte as they used to be? According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), the chances of having a fat cat are not slim…An estimated 60 percent of cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, with 33.5 percent being the latter. Dogs aren’t far behind their feline counterparts, with about 56 percent being overweight or obese. However, only 19 percent of dogs were classified as obese in the survey, which leads me to believe that lack of exercise has something to do with the greater prevalence of cat obesity. People are simply much less apt to take their cats for daily walks – many kitties never leave the confines of their homes.

Food, though, also plays a crucial role here. As APOP Founder, Veterinarian Ernie Ward, points out: “Obesity is the number one health threat pets face, and the most important pet health decision owners make is what and how much they feed.” I couldn’t agree more, as this has essentially been my mantra for people for years, as well as for cats and dogs. I’m a firm believer that we should feed ourselves, as well as our pets, the healthiest and best-quality foods we can afford. Food has too great an impact on health not to!

Not surprisingly, “what” to feed an overweight cat (or dog) is the more difficult to discern than “how much.” APOP found through the survey that veterinary professionals and pet owners alike struggle with conflicting nutritional advice for pets…Sound familiar? Physicians and patients have been grappling with clashing diet and nutrition advice for decades. Many cat owners also struggle with being able to tell if their cat is overweight in the first place.

Unfortunately, overweight and obese kitties pay the price with declining health…As is also the case with humans, cats who are overweight are more likely to develop type II diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and various cancers. They also become more prone to urinary tract disease, making achieving an ideal weight very important for health maintenance and quality of life, not to mention longevity.    

While the reasons to help kitty shed the excess weight are evident, the biggest challenge is, of course, how…So below are five tips to help your cat shed those pesky pounds and help them keep the weight off after.

Is Your Cat Overweight?

First things first – are you able to recognize if your cat is overweight or obese? If not, check out this helpful Body Condition Score (BCS) chart on this APOP page and compare the different drawings to your pet. From above, look at your cat and compare their shape to the body shapes on the chart. Having a grip on your cat’s relative rib prominence and waist size will help you understand whether your cat is underweight, overweight or at an ideal weight, and where they need to be.

Another way to assess your cat’s weight is by actually weighing them. According to APOP, most domestic cats should weigh between 8 and 10 lbs. While some cats, like Siamese, tend to be smaller, Maine Coons are larger, and a healthy weight for these big kitties ranges between 10 and 25 lbs. If kitty won’t sit on your bathroom scale, measure your own weight first, then step on the scale with your cat – your cat’s weight is the difference. If your domestic shorthair weighs 16 lbs, chances are they’re overweight, if not obese – and it’s time to make some lifestyle changes.

5 Tips to Help Kitty Lose Excess Weight

Cat Weight Loss Tip #1: Feed a fresh, raw or low carb diet

As I explain in this Tips for Choosing the Healthiest Cat Foods blog, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have low to no requirement for grains and plant material, but NEED animal protein and moisture. Unfortunately, many commercial dry cat foods are quite carb-heavy. Coupled with a cat’s tendency to not get enough moisture on a dry diet, leaving dry food out all day (which, let’s face it – is convenient) encourages overeating. Wet food is better, if for no other reasons than to provide moisture and a known number of calories (more on that below).

A fresh or raw diet is best to help your cat lose those extra pounds. It is extremely important to make sure that your cat has the adequate nutrition needed, such as essentials amino acids, vitamins and minerals all provided via the food. The keys to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight are eating a complete and balanced diet and portion control. The ideal cat food should be high in moisture, no more than 20 percent carbs, and free of corn, wheat, soy, tapioca, or potatoes.

If your cat is addicted to dry food – as many cats are – try sprinkling the new food with healthy, tasty treats or a food topper, like 100% wild salmon or chicken breast freeze dried treats or food toppers. For more tips on transitioning cats off of dry food, read this blog by Veterinarian Lisa Pierson, DVM.

Cats and Dogs both LOVE Ageless Paws single-ingredient freeze dried healthy pet treats
Ageless Paws raw, freeze-dried treats and food toppers are designed for both cats and dogs, and are made with just one ingredient each.

Cat Weight Loss Tip #2: Count the calories

Whether you are feeding a fresh, raw, canned or kibble diet, it’s important to make sure you are feeding kitty the appropriate number of calories. Doing so is especially crucial if your cat eats kibble. When it comes to cat food feeding guidelines, recommendations tend to be extremely broad. Often, cat food labels will have guides like “under 20 lbs.” Such recommendations are dangerous, as a 5 lb cat has much lower caloric requirements than a 15 lb or even a 20 lb cat – why feed them all the same amount?

To help your cat achieve their desired weight, first consult your vet to determine what your cat’s ideal weight is. Once you have this number, follow this APOP’s formula: Divide ideal weight in pounds by 2.2 to get weight in kilograms. Then you calculate Resting Energy Requirements (RER) by multiplying weight in kilograms by 70, then multiplying that number by .75. So if your cat is 10 pounds, that’s 4.5 kg. Multiply 4.5 by 70 and you get 315; multiply 315 by .75 and you get 236 calories. For weight loss, you then multiply the last calorie number by .8 – so a 10 lb cat would need to limit calories to about 188 calories a day in order to lose weight.

It’s also important not to underfeed your cat. According to Lisa Pearson, DVM, cats need at least 15 calories per pound of weight per day in order to avoid developing fatty liver disease. So, you’d multiply your cat’s ideal weight by 15 – if kitty is 16 lbs, but your vet says they should be 10 pounds, your cat should get a minimum of 150 calories per day.

Pet Nutrition Alliance offers a Calorie Calculator for Cats here.

At the end of the day, though, you should get your vet’s blessing on daily calories for your cat.

Cat Weight Loss Tip #3: Happy Hunting

Encourage your cat to “hunt” for their meal. This could include the use of indoor hunting feeders (a device that you hide with their food in, then hide it in the house), or simply hiding their food to make them explore and hunt it down. Remove the all you can eat buffet (that is, stop free feeding), which is one of the largest contributors of overweight and obesity in cats. By making the cat seek out their food, it stimulates their natural prey drive and gives them some exercise.

Cat Weight Loss Tip #4 Less is More

Remember counting those calories for their food? Well this goes for their treats too. Treats should always make up less than 10% of your cats caloric intake per day, even when feeding kitty a high-quality healthy treat. Remember to subtract the calories given via treats from their daily caloric intake (food). If your cat’s needs 180 calories per day to achieve the ideal weight, then make sure you are not feeding over that amount per day.

Cat Weight Loss Tip#5 Work It

playing with a feather toy to help with cat weight loss
Cat stalking his feather toy on a bed at home

Get your cat to play and exercise every day. Simply rolling or throwing a toy/ball for 10 minutes 2-3 times per day, will help your cat shed those extra pounds while creating fun bonding experiences. Fake mice, feather toys, laser pointers, are all great props to entice kitty to play. Move the laser quickly along the wall to watch kitty jump. Dangle the feather toy around the cat tree for an intensive climbing experience. Throw some cat nip into the mix for energy enhancement. Whatever type of play you choose, your cat will appreciate it!

References and Resources:

© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.

Top photo credit: © Anna Yakimova @123rf.com

Bottom photo credit: © Ramon Espelt Gorgozo @123rf.com

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