An obese cat is not a pretty sight. Cumbersome and clumsy, they suffer a marked loss in athletic ability and appearance. Decreased flexibility prevents them from thoroughly grooming, which can cause skin problems. Obese cats also have an increased risk for diabetes and are poor candidates for surgery and anesthesia.
Obesity results when an animal consistently eats more calories than they need. This can be caused by overfeeding, inactivity, reproductive status, environment, body type, age or genetics.
Is Your Cat Obese?
Assessing body condition is important in the overall evaluation of your cat’s nutritional well-being and can help in determining feline obesity. Take a few moments to follow the easy directions in the Cat Body Condition Chart for assessing your cat’s body condition.
If you suspect your cat is obese, the first step is to consult your veterinarian.
How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight
1. Visit the Veterinarian
Your veterinarian will probably ask you some questions about your cat, such as how much they eat and how much physical activity they get. Answering these questions honestly will help your veterinarian recommend some simple changes to help improve your cat’s weight. Your veterinarian may also perform tests to detect medical conditions that may contribute to obesity — you want to rule these out before starting your cat on any weight-management program.
2. Reduce the Amount You Feed Your Cat
Your veterinarian may first suggest reducing the amount you feed your cat. If so, begin by reducing the daily portion by 25%. Continue decreasing intake by 10% increments every two to three weeks until your cat loses 1% of their starting weight. For example, if your cat weighs 15 pounds, a 1% loss would be 2½ ounces.
If you feed one large meal a day, or keep food available at all times, try dividing the daily ration into several small meals (at least two meals a day) and pick up what your cat doesn’t eat 30 minutes after each meal.
A diet that contains slowly digested carbohydrates, such as corn and sorghum, can result in lower blood sugar and insulin levels than a diet that contains rice as the primary carbohydrate source. Lower blood sugar and insulin levels can also help with maintaining a proper weight.
3. Change Your Cat’s Diet Gradually
Changing diets can be stressful for pets, so if your veterinarian recommends changing diets, proceed slowly.
Begin with a daily portion that mixes 25% of the new food with 75% of the old food. The next day, increase the amount of new food to 50% and decrease the amount of the old food to 50%. During the next few days, continue increasing the proportions of the new food and decreasing the amount of old food until the food consists entirely of the new diet. This method increases the likelihood that your cat will accept the new diet and decreases the occurrence of stomach upsets.
4. Encourage Your Cat to Play
Another way to help your cat lose weight is to increase their activity. Provide cat trees for climbing, or teach your cat to play fetch or walk on a leash. Buy or create your own toys that encourage exercise. One ingenious owner tosses her cat’s dry food ration across the room a piece at a time!
You also can use your cat’s natural hunting instinct to help them lose weight. Hide several small portions of their daily food ration around the house. If you have a multilevel home, make your cat use the stairs.
Use your imagination, but be cautious. Don’t let a fat cat get exhausted, overheated or out of breath. Also, keep in mind that a senior cat may not be able to exercise vigorously.
Replace food treats with rewards like playtime, grooming, stroking or conversation. If you cannot resist the fat cat who begs for food at the dinner table, keep them in another room during dinnertime. If you have a multi-cat household, the consistent winner of the food competition sweepstakes is often obese. If this is the case, separate the cats at mealtimes if possible.
5. Practice Patience
Obesity is easier to prevent than to cure, but it is never too late to reverse it — though it requires long-term patience and commitment. Helping cats lose weight is a slow process. If the amount they eat is severely restricted, the cat risks other health problems.
Increased activity, behavior modification (for both you and your cat) and calorie restriction are your best tools for helping an obese cat lose weight. However, it is important to expect a few setbacks and plateaus. It will take at least four months for an obese cat to lose 15% of their starting weight. At that point, have another look at your cat’s body condition and go from there.
Tips for Starting a Weight-management Program for Your Cat
- Always check with your veterinarian first.
- Eliminate all food treats.
- Divide the daily food portion into several smaller meals.
- Weigh your cat every two weeks.
- Cats should not lose more than 1% to 1.5% of initial weight per week.
- Be patient and consistent!
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Cats are known for being a bit choosey about what they will and won’t do. And a little pickiness is fine when it comes to picking out toys and napping spots! But if your cat is or becomes extra-selective about what they’ll eat, it’s time to pay attention and perhaps talk to your vet. You and your vet know your cat best, so it’s always worth checking in if you think your cat isn’t eating enough and want their professional advice.
Start by paying close attention to what your cat is eating and how they behave. This information will help you, your household and your vet work together to make sure your cat is living and eating well.
Feeding Tips for the Truly Finicky Cat
Pay Attention to All the Cat Treats
Is your cat begging for table scraps or holding out on eating until you offer treats? Extras like these can be very disruptive to your cat’s appetite and diet. Think about them like snacks or desserts for you — tasty cravings that are easy to fill up on. A small portion may not seem like much, but it can make a big different for a cat-sized digestive system!
Try dialing back how much you treat your cat to tasty extras and see if their interest in the food bowl starts to return. Remember, it’s generally all right for cats to skip a few meals, but if they haven’t eaten for 24-36 hours it’s time to call the vet (even if they’ve continued drinking water).
Review Your Cat’s Food Routine
Humans often crave variety in their meals, but for cats, routine is king. It’s not likely they’d avoid their regular food out of boredom with it, but if you’ve recently changed the kind of food, the number of feedings or the times you feed your cat, they may be avoiding eating as a response.
It's a good idea to change your cat’s diet gradually (unless your vet advises otherwise). Pickiness can often be resolved by helping your cat adjust and get comfortable with their updated diet!
Help Your Cat Relax While Feeding
If your cat starts eating less, you may want to look for factors that could be causing stress. Seemingly unrelated changes to their environment can shift your cat’s stress levels enough to impact their interest in food. Has another animal or person joined or left the household? Has your cat been adapting to new surroundings due to a move or renovation? As the stress of that change begins to subside, your cat will probably go back to a normal diet.
Talk to your vet about good ideas for reducing your cat’s stress levels and share any concerns you have about their diet then too. You’re both on the same team, so work together to help your cat feel better!
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