How to Help Your Obese Cat Lose Weight
An obese cat is not a pretty sight. Cumbersome and clumsy, he suffers a marked loss in athletic ability and appearance. His decreased flexibility keeps him from being able to thoroughly groom himself, which can cause skin problems. Obese cats are also at an increased risk for diabetes and are poor candidates for surgery and anesthesia.
Obesity results when an animal consistently eats more calories than he needs. This can come from overfeeding, inactivity, reproductive status, environment, body type, age, and genetics.
Assess Your Cat’s Body Condition
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 for assessing your cat's body condition with the Cat Body Condition Chart.
Visit the Veterinarian
Weight problems are a leading issue that veterinarians deal with daily. If you suspect your cat is overweight or obese, a complete veterinarian evaluation is recommended.
Your veterinarian will probably ask you some questions about your cat, such as how much he is eating and how much physical activity he gets. Answering these questions honestly will help your veterinarian recommend some simple changes to help improve your cat's weight. Your veterinarian may also perform some tests. A few medical conditions may contribute to obesity, and you want to rule these out before you start your cat on any weight-loss or weight-management program.
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 his starting weight. For example, if your cat weighs 15 pounds, a 1% loss would be 2-1/2 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 has not been eaten 30 minutes after each meal.
Your veterinarian may suggest changing your cat's diet to one specifically designed for weight loss. You will still need to control your cat's portions, but she might be able to eat more than she does on her regular diet.
A diet that replaces some fat with highly digestible carbohydrates is a good low-calorie alternative. Digestible carbohydrates contain less than half the calories of the same amount of fat and do not have the disadvantages of indigestible fiber. High-fiber foods may reduce the digestibility and absorption of many nutrients. High-fiber diets may also result in large, frequent stools and decreased skin and coat condition. A diet that contains carbohydrates, 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.
In addition, a diet that contains L-carnitine will help. L-carnitine is a vitamin-like compound that helps with fat metabolism.
Changing diets can be stressful for pets, so if your veterinarian recommends changing diets, proceed slowly.
Begin with a daily portion that includes 25% new food with 75% of the old. The next day, increase the amount of new food by 50% and decrease the amount of the old to 50%. Continue increasing the proportions during the next few days until the food consists entirely of the new diet. This method increases the likelihood of acceptance of the new diet and decreases the occurrence of stomach upsets.
Another way to help your cat lose weight is to increase her activity. Provide cat "trees" for climbing, or teach your cat to play fetch. Buy or create your own toys that encourage exercise. Many cats enjoy chasing lights from pointers or flashlights. One ingenious owner throws her cat's dry food ration a piece at a time! Many cats enjoy learning to walk on a leash. You also can use your cat's natural hunting instinct to help her lose weight. Hide several small portions of her daily food ration around the house. If you have a multi-level 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 an old cat may not be able to exercise vigorously.
Use playtime, grooming, stroking, or conversation as rewards instead of food treats. If you cannot resist the fat cat who begs for food at the dinner table, remove the cat 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 at all possible.
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 weapons against feline obesity. However, with all of these things, 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 her starting weight. At that point, have another look at your cat's body condition and go on from there.
Tips for Starting a Weight-Management Program
- Always check with your veterinarian first.
- Eliminate all food treats.
- Divide the daily food portion into several smaller meals.
- Feed a diet formulated specifically for weight loss.
- 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!