Cats are strong-willed and independent, so getting a cat to do something they don’t want to do can be tricky. For this reason, the prospect of starting a weight-loss regime for your cat can be stressful – especially if your veterinarian has tactfully suggested that your cat could do with shedding some weight! Dr Hannah Godfrey talks us through the ins and outs of cat weight loss…
The dangers of being overweight
Sadly, if your cat has a few pounds to lose, they’re at higher risk of some health conditions. Extra weight puts increased strain on the heart and increases the demand for insulin, which can lead to diabetes. The excess energy that they consume is stored as fat on the organs, and can lead to liver failure.
Carrying extra weight also means extra force through the joints, leading joints to be sorer and arthritis signs to show sooner than in a lighter cat. Obese cats, especially males, tend to be lazier in terms of activity levels, grooming and toileting habits, which, combined with a lowered immune system, can lead to increased risk of urine infections and blocked bladders.
So, knowing the risks posed to overweight cats, how do you get a cat to lose weight? What are the best techniques?
Exercise to help with weight loss in cats
Just like in humans, one of the key contributors to cats losing weight is to get them moving. Increased activity levels will burn more calories and, in turn, lead to weight loss. Importantly though, this is only likely to be successful when combined with a healthy diet. If you focus all of your energy on increasing your cat’s activity levels but they have free access to food and get many treats every day, it is unlikely that they will lose weight.
As previously mentioned, coaxing your cat off the sofa or bed to participate in some exercise can seem like an impossible task, but the key is to make it interactive. Cats are far more likely to get involved with exercise if it mimics their normal, fun behaviours. Hunting toys on a rod and line, laser pens and other cat games can entice your cat to join in playtime. Investing in a multi-level cat tree will also encourage more exertion.
Encouraging arthritic cats to lose weight
Older cats can be overweight too, and it can be even trickier to get a cat with sore joints to be more active. As they become affected by arthritis, cats tend to withdraw from their usual activities, being more hesitant to jump and less likely to hunt and play. Increasing activity level in an arthritic cat relies on controlling their pain and treating their arthritis, which can be done with joint supplements and – if needed – anti-inflammatories.
Key nutrition info for weight loss in cats
Remember, when you put your cat on a diet, it’s not safe to formulate your own home-made version. Feeding a diet inadvertently lacking in essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) can be dangerous, so it’s best to feed a complete diet.
Similarly, it is not safe for cats to lose weight too quickly, so you should manage your expectations and be patient. Consistent small losses are far healthier than dropping too much weight too quickly – cats can develop a condition called ‘Hepatic Lipidosis’ (fatty liver), where the liver is overwhelmed trying to metabolise all the fat from storage, and stops functioning properly.
Your veterinary team will be happy to help you with making sure your cat loses weight safely.
How can I get my cat to lose weight?
Here are my top tips for starting your cat’s weight loss journey…
Create a food diary
The first pointer with encouraging your cat to lose weight is to keep a record of how much is being fed already, by all members of the household. Being honest about how many treats you are giving, and how many times your cat’s bowl is topped up in a day, will help decide the best place to start when cutting food down. Weighing out dry food will help you get an accurate idea.
Cut out treats
If your cat is given extra treats, start by excluding these from their diet. It’s understandable to want to spoil or treat your cat, but remember you want them to be healthy. If you’re desperate to feed them a treat, keeping some of their daily allowance of dry cat food aside to give as treats is an option.
Reduce their daily food intake
If your cat doesn’t get any treats but still needs to lose weight, then their daily food intake needs to be reduced. Reducing the daily intake of food by ten percent would be a good starting point, then repeating a weight check every two weeks, making further adjustments to food intake as needed. You can also use this food calculator to help you work out how many calories your cat should be getting.
Change their diet
If you find you’re having to reduce your cat’s food significantly, it might be worth changing their food. There are many light and diet cat foods available, some on prescription from your veterinarian and others over the counter. Feeding a light or diet food should allow your cat to feel more satisfied while taking on fewer calories. Dry food is more calorie-dense, so switching your cat to a wet cat food can also help them cut the calorie
Try food puzzles
Using food puzzles or puzzle feeders combines diet and exercise by making your cat work harder for their food. Engaging your cat in activity with the motivation of food should stop them over-eating and get them shedding the pounds. Don’t forget that arthritic cats might need some joint support in the form of anti-inflammatories and/or joint supplements before they’re willing and able to move around.
So, how do you get your cat to lose weight?
In conclusion, combining reduced food intake with increased activity, and weighing every two weeks to assess the change, is the key to weight loss in cats. Within a few months, your cat should be sporting a more streamlined figure and benefiting from their improved health. Remember, fast weight loss in cats is dangerous, so always talk to your veterinary team for advice first.