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Breed & Health Resources

How to Get Your Cat to Lose Weight

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Overweight cat sitting on wood floor

Is your cat overweight or headed in that direction? Want to know how to get a fat cat slim? Whatever your fat cat concern, this is the right read for you. Give me five minutes of your time and I promise you’ll make headway. That is, if you implement at least one of my recommendations. Let’s get started:

How to Tell if Your Cat is Overweight

There are plenty of ways to tell if your cat is tipping the scales (or going that way):

  • You can see a “pooch” emerging at the level of her lower belly when she’s laying down or, more often, when she’s standing up and walking around. No longer does she have the straight across or even slightly tucked-in belly of a young kitten. The lower abdomen hangs down lower than the chest and will even waddle as she walks.
  • Viewed from above, overweight cats will lose their waistline. Instead of a straight line from chest to hips, their belly will expand out in a pear shape.
  • Is it getting harder to feel her ribs? You should be able to feel them just below the skin, feeling their ridges every time you run your hand across her chest with just slight pressure.
  • What did she weigh at her first visit as an adult? If she weighs more than that, she’s too heavy. The first weight as a yearling typically serves as a baseline for determining her overweight status throughout the remainder of her life.

How to Slim Down a Fat Cat

Getting a plumpster back into fighting shape isn’t impossible. The process is typically slow (and should be!), but it’s always doable.

The trouble is, there’s scant scientific evidence to indicate that any one weight loss method is more successful than another. In practice, many of the so-called weight loss diets prove frustratingly ineffective, or even counterproductive (fat cats get fatter), which makes getting to slim seem like an impossibility.

Nonetheless, there are methods that have shown themselves tried and true to veterinarians like me who work diligently with committed clients to achieve significant weight loss. Here are some of my tips and tricks:

  • Feed a moist diet. Improving a cat’s hydration status seems to improve their weight situation. We’re not sure why that is but we believe it has to do with supporting normal metabolic functions. And because cats seem to be better hydrated when they take their fluids with their solids, we recommend either wetting their dry food or feeding a pre-moistened commercial diet. Adding extra water to an already wet diet can offer further inducements for weight loss.
  • Do not allow cats to graze. Cats with constant access to food take in more calories and tend to be more indolent overall. Feeding them a consistent amount at regular mealtimes (as most people feed their dogs) is strongly recommended. Training them to this new routine also makes it easier for multi-cat households to feed cats individualized diets to help meet each cat’s specific needs.
  • Feed three or more times a day. The newest recommendations for feeding involve increasing the frequency of mealtimes to simulate a cat’s normal biology. The rationale is that domesticated cats are small game hunters and their bodies are attuned to eating three to five times a day or more. If we simulate that by feeding them at least three times daily, their activity levels rise and their metabolic rates are consistently higher. Adding one more meal at bedtime is the recommended approach.
  • Never put a cat on a crash diet. Calories should be only modestly decreased. If weight loss is hastened in an obese cat, her body might break down its own fat too quickly, leading to a process we call fatty liver disease. If she’s losing more than 5% of her body weight every month, it might be too fast.
  • Never letting a cat get overweight is the ideal approach. When she first starts tipping the scales is the correct time to intervene. Often, that’ll start happening within the first year or two of life.
  • Decrease calories when you sterilize. Because sterilization typically happens when they start growing more slowly, this metabolic double-whammy can start the weight gain process as early as the first year of life. Cutting down her calories by switching to adult food at this time is ideal.
  • Increase her environmental stimulation. Exercise is hard to do with cats. Instead, we focus on improving their environment so they’re enticed to move. Creating vertical spaces by putting shelves up high in the home and offering climbing opportunities with cat trees can be helpful. Scheduled playtime, catnip adventures, and new toys on a regular basis are recommended. Be creative!
  • Use a bathroom scale to keep track of your cat’s weight loss. Set a weight goal with the help of your veterinarian and a timeline to keep you on track.

What are you waiting for? Get your scales out and get going.

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