Our cats meow and beg for food all the time. In a world of large plates and hungry bellies for ourselves, we may be tempted to cave in and feed our feline friends just a little more. These temptations often lead to one of the most common health problems in cats: obesity.
Cats that eat too much and exercise too little run the risk of becoming overweight or obese, which can put them on the fast track to other health conditions, including arthritis and diabetes. It isn’t good to let cats pack on the pounds, which is why you should closely monitor your cat’s weight and take them to the vet regularly for check-ups. If you think your cat is getting a little too heavy, ask your vet about diets or lifestyle changes that can help your cat shed some weight.
Your cat’s food needs change over time
The first step to reducing your cat’s risk for obesity and other weight-related conditions is understanding that their food needs are going to change over the course of their life.
Kittens are high-energy and eat a lot as they grow. You may be used to feeding your new kitten a lot of food soon after bringing them home. They need more calories to sustain these high energy levels and to support early development. But when your kitten grows into their adult years, the type and amount of food you provide will need to change.
Similarly, adult and senior cats often need different amounts and types of food to ensure they are getting the right mix of nutrients, calories and health support. Adult cats tend to slow down and expend less energy, which means they need fewer calories, too. Senior cats might need prescription diets to treat chronic conditions like heart, liver or kidney disease. Speak with a vet to determine the right kind of cat food and supplements that are necessary in your cat’s diet.
Altering diet and feeding rituals
One of the most important changes necessary to help your cat lose weight is to change the amount and type of food provided as well as how the food is provided each day. Choosing manual feeding over free-choice feeding is a good way to closely monitor caloric intake and ensure your cat isn’t overeating.
In free-choice feeding, a bowl of food—typically dry—is left out all day for cats to come eat whenever they please. While this method allows them more freedom and may be more convenient for the busy cat owner, it makes it harder to monitor the amount of food consumed every day, particularly if you have more than one cat. Free-choice feeding often leads to overeating and obesity in cats.
Instead, choose manual feeding. This is when you designate meal times (usually two or three set times during the day) where you provide food for your cats and supervise their eating habits. You may only give them a certain amount of food and let them finish it as they please, or let them eat within a certain timeframe, then take food away. This method allows you to have complete control and awareness of what and how much your cats eat in a day.
Additionally, what you feed your cats also matters. The choice of wet food instead of dry food can help cats shed some excess weight. Dry foods tend to be higher in carbohydrates while canned wet foods are better sources of lean meat.
Adding supplements to your cat’s meals can make sure they’re getting the right mix of nutrients, even if they’re eating less than before. Additionally, cutting back on the amount of treats you give can help trim calorie counts. Many cat owners become so focused on portion sizes during meal times that they forget to factor in how many treats their cats are eating. Be sure to include treats in your cat’s daily caloric intake.
Aside from nutrition, a lot of cats gain weight simply because they don’t move that much. After all, cats spend a little more than two-thirds of their lives sleeping, and the rest is typically dedicated to grooming or laying around the house.
Emphasize playtime with your cat each day to get them up and moving. Purchase a laser pointer or a very small flashlight and have your cat chase a light around the house. This will get their bodies moving and their blood pumping to hopefully drop a few pounds. Also purchase toys that allow cats to tap into their predatorial instincts and “hunt” for them.
If your cat likes to be outdoors, you might even be able to get them a leash and go for short walks in the neighborhood. Chances are, your cat will do more wandering than actual walking. However, all the new sights, smells and sounds will encourage your cat to move their body and explore the outdoor environment.
Inside, create new vertical and intriguing spaces for your cat to jump to and explore. Cats love hideaways, particularly ones that are high-up. Providing more of these spaces can encourage the exercise necessary to get up to them.
Say no to crash diets
Much like how they’re harmful to humans, crash diets should never be attempted with cats. Their bodies do not adjust well to sudden major changes in nutrition and could have health consequences. Any change in the type and caloric count of food should be slowly adjusted every few days to reach the desired effect.
As always, speak with your vet about how to appropriately put your cat on a diet. They can assess your cat’s weight and health condition to come up with custom feeding and exercise regimens. Every cat has different needs, so it’s best to follow a vet’s guidance. Your vet can recommend the best course of action for getting your cat back down to a healthy weight.