Well-meaning experts can report alarming statistics of overweight cats but if our perception does not change, it is easy to make an exemption. 3 out of 5 cats in the U.S. are diagnosed as clinically overweight or obese, but 90% of cat parents think their cats weigh within normal range. In addition, vets can’t break the news to cat owners, afraid to come off as offensive.
But fat is not what makes cats happy. Excess weight can lead to cat depression. Overweight cats tend to have difficulty grooming. A fat feline cannot jump or climb to safety in the event of danger. If these are what fat cats succumb to every day, why are there still millions of overweight cats in the country? Let us dig in further.
There is a new norm of how society perceives a healthy cat. Large and chubby cats fit right into the norm while fit cats are thought to be underweight. There is even a psychological term called “optimism bias” relating to people who think their pets are less likely at risk of overweight issues despite evidence.
Telling someone their cat is overweight triggers defensive barriers. After all, we do not want to be told our cats developed these risks over the years they are under our care. Such a dilemma requires a different approach: presenting small but efficient changes cat owners can sneak into their cat’s current lifestyle towards an illness-free, long life.
After all, the end goal of cat owners, vets, and pet health organizations is to combat this illness that crept into our pets’ modern, sedentary lifestyle. No one wants the stress of knowing their cats have developed diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, kidney, and liver malfunction. We want to continue enabling cat owners to be the best providers of care for their cats.
Nowadays, many show love for cats by providing a warm home and an all-day buffet. We lead busy lives stuck for long hours and commute times. All we can do to feed our cats is to fill up their bowl once or twice a day. Dry commercial food does not expire easily when left out in a bowl all day. Whether we have one or multiple cats, they can eat to their heart’s content.
The problem with free feeding is it messes up with our cat’s natural eating habits. Cats are designed for hunting, feast, fast for a time, and then repeat the cycle. With free feeding, cats are likened to cows, allowed to graze throughout the day. When young, kittens can eat every 2 to 6 hours. By the time they are six months old, two full meals a day should be enough.
Some cat breeds have a higher risk of becoming overweight due to free feeding. Cat breeds that are known to eat too much include Persian cats, Maine Coon cats, Sphynx cats, Ragdoll cats, Ragamuffin cats, Chausie cats, British and American Shorthair cats, Savannah cats, Norwegian Forest cats, Minkins, and Munchkins.
It is easy to let overweight issues slip with a large cat. While 25 pounds is considered overweight for the average cat, it can be perfectly normal for a large cat like the Maine Coon. You can try to assess a cat’s body shape at home by feeling its ribcage and hips with your hands. It should be easy with a fit cat.
Cat treats are excellent for reinforcement of good behavior. Whether we are litter training, leash training, or adding a new dog to the cat household, cat treats can help us achieve our goals. The problem is when we give cat treats beyond training times. One of the reasons why cat owners may be inclined to lure cats with treats is guilt. Why so?
Because of the fact that we are strapped to work, even hustling on some weekends, we think we can compensate for lost time with cat treats. This is a misconception. We can’t build relationships with our cats using cat treats. Focus on the quality of time, not quantity that we can give our cats. Quality interaction and exercise is what cats need, even 15 minutes would do.
Cat treats have also been used to boost the morale of outcast and rescue cats. Felines who needed to go through medical conditions or were abused before coming into your care may also be overindulged with cat treats. Also, when we compromise on quality food due to budget, cat treats seem to clear us of guilt.
Food has become our language of love, but all these happen when we do not have a clear understanding of our cat’s calorie intake. Studies show that as little as 10 extra kibbles a day can lead to cat weight gain. Cat treats and snacks should be limited to 30 calories a day. An extra 30 calories in a cat’s diet can lead to a 3-pound weight gain in a year.
However, we do not discount that some cat treats aid our cat’s diet such as those that help maintain our cat’s dental condition and boost metabolism. Opt for treats with no sugar in it. Low-calorie, functional snacks can certainly be added to your cat’s diet with limitations.
Nutrient Dense Food
Quality cat food is rich in animal protein, essential fats, and vitamins. Even kitten milk replacers are packed with essential kitty nutrients and probiotic. Be aware of commercial cat food that are high in carbohydrates, low in protein, or use vegetable protein. Eating the wrong cat food can cause hunger pangs. If we ate cake or junk food the whole day, we would be crying for food too.
We try to keep our cats indoors to protect them from getting rabies, parasites, and other infections. This advice especially holds true if you live near wildlife that can trigger your cat to hunt. Despite our best intentions, indoor cats are at risk of fatal inactivity. Keep in mind that your cat needs to burn calories consumed. Start small with 5-minute play breaks throughout the day.
Your cats need to complete at least 10 minutes of vigorous exercise a day. Then, slowly increase your cat’s play time with you to 15 to 20 minutes a day. Bonus: Exercise during the day can help your cats sleep at night.
Keep in mind that cats enjoy an activity that does not feel like exercise such as climbing a multi-level cat tree or chasing a laser pointer. Skip strings and feathers which can pose potential hazards to your cats. You can also let them play with toys shaped like a mouse, bug, or a bird. Let the toys move fast and in unexpected directions, but keep hunting time short.
If you are wondering why an outdoor or active cat is gaining weight, take a look at their food consumption. Do your cats get a snack once or twice a day? Do you often give them treats or share your food with them? A cat that consumes more calories than it burns will gain fat.
How many calories does a cat need?
Work with your veterinarian to determine how many calories your cat needs a day. Every cat varies with their daily calorie needs. Certain factors to consider include age, medical condition, breed, neutering or spaying status, and lifestyle (sedentary, active, indoor, or outdoor).
The recommended servings of cat food are designed to meet the needs of adult cats with adequate activity as well as un-spayed or un-neutered cats. If you have a senior cat or an inactive cat, chances are your cat is eating at least 20% more food than necessary following commercial food feeding guides.
If you are keen on calculating your cat’s daily calorie needs at home, here is a quick formula to follow: ([(cat’s weight in kg) x 30] + 70) *.80
Determine the Solution
If you want to know how to get your cat to lose weight, it all starts with you as the owner. You need to be committed to getting your cat on a weight loss plan. What do you do when your cat cries all day for food? When your cats paw at your door in the middle of the night asking for food, you can’t ignore them. Hence you need to work out a plan with your cat’s veterinarian.
Determine your cat’s ideal weight using a cat weight calculator.
Know your cat’s daily calorie needs (differ depending on breed, age, lifestyle, neutered or not, medical condition, etc.)
Switch to a low-carb, high animal protein, no sugar, low-calorie cat food.
Figure out serving size portions based on your cat’s calorie needs for that day.
Schedule playtime with your cat incorporating chasing games for 5 minutes, twice a day working up to 10 minutes, twice a day.
How long before a cat loses weight?
Overweight cats can lose up to a pound a month. In some cases, it can take longer such as with kittens, senior cats, obese cats, and those suffering other medical conditions. It can take six months to one year for a cat to return to their ideal weight.
How to put your cat on a diet?
If you’ve switched to a more nutritious diet of animal proteins, low-carb, low-calorie, and substantial amount of essential fatty acids and your cat is complaining, you need to get creative with how you give them food. Try interactive feeders, food puzzles, and timed feeders. You can also incorporate play when feeding by hiding the food and letting your cat find it.
Put your cat on a diet slowly if you do not want your cat to turn aggressive. Go from two snacks to once a day and provide a few kibbles less of cat food every meal. Never put your cat on a crash diet. If you force a cat to lose weight fast, there is a high risk of your cat getting hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease.
Once you have worked out a plan with your cat’s vet, it is crucial to stick to the plan. We need to change habits and perceptions. A cat owner that finds it difficult to endure a weight loss plan with a cat may need the help of a psychologist. A pet psychologist will be most helpful with people who are feeding out of depression or have a misguided perception.
Track your cat’s weight loss progress not more than every two weeks. A visit to the vet every month will also help determine if you need to make changes with your cat’s weight loss plan. Remember, the end goal is not a number on the scale. It is improving your cat’s lifestyle and reducing health risks.