Fat cats may be cute, but there's nothing cute about being at a higher risk for life-threatening conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Cat owners often feel defensive about their larger kitties and say that there's nothing they can do, but that's rarely the case. How do you know if your cat needs to drop some weight? It can be difficult to accurately weigh your cat at home, but you can tell by feeling his ribs. If you can find them easily, then your cat is probably at a normal weight. If you have to "dig" a little through pads of fat, your cat may be overweight. If he has a belly, that's also a sign.
Your cat should be weighed at every vet visit. Since cats usually weigh somewhere between eight and ten pounds, a cat that tips the scales at more than 12 pounds is probably carrying too much weight. Obesity is usually defined as being 15 percent or more over the average body weight. The heavier your cat is -- and the longer he is overweight -- the greater the risks to his health. Of course you want your cat to live a long, healthy life, so if you suspect that your cat is overweight, there's no time like the present for getting him down to a normal weight.
It's probably a good idea to talk to your vet before you begin a home weight-reduction program for your cat, just to make sure that there's nothing else going on with his health. In addition, any cat that begins looking plumper in a very short period of time needs to see the vet as soon as possible. Quick weight gain can be a sign of very serious illness.
Keep in mind that your cat didn't get fat overnight -- it took months or years. Gradual weight loss lets his body adjust to the changes and puts less stress on his internal organs. Never put a cat on a starvation diet; starvation and rapid weight loss can trigger a fatal liver disease.
We'll look at some ways that you can help turn your fat cat into a healthy one in the next section.
Treating Your Overweight Cat
There's only one way to lose weight safely: burn more calories than you eat. You're not going to convince your cat to get on the treadmill, so it's up to you to increase his activity. The most reliable method is for you to exercise him with daily play sessions. Try different toys to figure out what he likes. Just a few minutes of chasing after a catnip mouse, for example, can make a difference.
A weight-loss diet means cutting your cat's calories and then maintaining the right number of calories to keep him at his lower weight. You should also cut out snacks and treats, including people food. Be ready for some protests at first. To get your fat cat on the road to fitness, however, you have to feed him less. Many owners unknowingly overfeed their cats, and the feeding guidelines on pet food containers aren't going to work for every cat's metabolism. Ask your vet exactly how much your cat needs to eat each day to lose weight (and maintain it), then be sure to measure it out each time you feed him.
Low-cal cat foods are designed to make your cat feel full while actually giving him fewer calories. In some cases, your vet may prescribe a weight-reducing food or suggest buying a commercial brand. Make sure there's plenty of fresh water available, and ask your vet about feeding your cat both dry and canned food -- the latter can keep him fuller, longer.
Avoid "free feeding" your cat. You can't tell how much your cat is eating if you leave a bowl of food out all day. Keep meals at regular intervals, and pick up what isn't eaten after about 20 or 30 minutes. Your cat will learn to eat when the food is out. If you have more than one cat, you may need to feed them in separate rooms so that they'll stick to their own bowls.
If your dieting cat gorges on his food and then acts like he is starving later, try splitting the food up into smaller meals. Also, keep in mind that your cat may actually be craving attention, not food (although he will take food instead). Try petting or playing with him first.
If your kitty's weight-loss program doesn't seem to be working after several weeks, you should definitely call the vet for advice. However, if you follow these guidelines diligently, your cat should soon be slimmer, trimmer and healthier.
- ASPCA. "Cat Care: Overweight Cats." ASPCA. 2011. (April 24, 2011)http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/overweight-cats.aspx
- Edgar, Julie and Jeanie Lerche Davis. "Overweight Cats: Diets and Associated Health Risks." WebMD. 2011. (April 25, 2011)http://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/overweight-cats-diets-and-associated-health-risks
- Eldredge, Debra M., et al. "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." Howell Book House. Dec. 10, 2007.
- Fries, Wendy C. "Mistakes People Make Feeding Cats." WebMD. 2011. (April 25, 2011)http://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/mistakes-people-make-feeding-cats
- Ward, Ernest. "Weight Reduction in Cats -- General Information." Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. 2007. (April 25, 2011)http://www.petobesityprevention.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Weight_Reductionin_Cats_General_Information.pdf