According to a 2008 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 57% of U.S. cats are overweight or obese. Obesity itself can lead to number of conditions that can reduce cats’ quality of life and may even cost them their life. It is extremely rare for your cat to have a medical reason for their obesity; Their physical condition is usually due to eating too much and exercising too little.
It’s not easy to put your cat on a diet and exercise plan, especially if he lives a sedentary indoor life. But you can work with your veterinarian to develop a feline weight-loss program, designed to improve your cat’s health and activity level.
1. Taking a cue from Weight Watchers
Schedule your cat for an official weight-in at the veterinarian’s office. This allows you and your veterinarian to figure out how much weight they need to lose as well as how much they can safely be expected to lose each month. A veterinary exam can help to ensure that your cat doesn’t have any underlying health problems that could interfere with or be worsened by weight loss.
2. Plan a Diet for Your Cat
Determine your cat’s caloric needs. The average 10 lb. (4.5 kg) cat needs 180 to 200 calories per day. Your own cat’s caloric needs depend on several factors, such as age, activity level, and overall health. For example, young cats and outdoor cats are very active and need more calories than older cats and indoor cats.Veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your cat needs each day.
Select a high-quality food for your cat. Carefully reading the food label will help you make a good decision to choose food for your cat. Look for a statement indicating the food is complete (contains all required nutrients) and balanced (all nutrients are added in their correct ratios). A high-quality cat food will have meat or seafood among its first few ingredients and better choose canned food, because it has a much higher water content than dry food.
Be mindful that your cat's nutritional needs will change as she ages. Cat foods according to life stages are available. You may want to speak with your veterinarian as your cat grows to ensure she eats a good diet that keeps her healthy and prevents obesity.
Feed your cat at designated meal times. Free choice feeding is one of the biggest culprits of feline obesity. Feed your cat 3 to 4 times a day and remove the food after 10 to 60 minutes.Designated meal times can also help you monitor how much your cat is eating.
Use smaller food or a slow feeder bowl. A great way to prevent your cat’s overeating is to use smaller food bowls. Of course, your cat will not understand the psychological trick of eating less by eating from a smaller bowl. However, it will help you keep her meal portions under control. Remember to use a measuring cup when you measure her food. Consider placing your cat’s food bowl in a place that’s relatively far away from her favorite spot. This will give her extra physical activity as she walks to and from her bowl.
Minimize your cat’s intake of treats. Treats are another big cause of feline obesity. If eliminating treats is not feasible, give them to her only for specific reasons, such as administering medications or rewarding her during training. Treats should make up only 10 to 15% of your cat's daily caloric intake.Examples of healthy treats are cooked green beans, cooked carrots, and air-popped popcorn.
Try different food games. Your cat’s eating does not have to consist of only eating food out of a bowl. Make eating fun for her! Hide portions of her food in different places—this will foster her natural hunting instinct. Consider tossing some of her food across the room or down a hallway to add in some physical activity. You could also put some of her food in a puzzle feeder, which will give her physical and mental stimulation.
3. Encouraging Your Cat to Play and Exercise
Schedule regular playtime with your cat. Other than a proper diet, exercise is essential to preventing obesity in your cat. In addition to preventing obesity, exercise tones your cat’s muscles, keep her joints flexible, relieves her boredom, and releases pent-up energy.Schedule several 10- to 15-minute play sessions with your cat each day.
Play interactive games with your cat. Interactive games give your cat a chance to bring out her natural instincts to hunt and chase. For example, move a laser light across the floor and watch her chase after it. You can also hang a feather or toy mouse from a plastic wand and have your cat jump up to catch it. In addition, roll some small balls across the floor so she can chase after them.
Give your cat something to climb and/or scratch on. A scratching post would give your cat a chance to exercise and stretch her muscles. Scratching posts come in different textures, such as sisal, and are either vertically or horizontally oriented. Consider having several scratching posts in different locations (especially if you have multiple cats) to give your cat some variety.Cat trees and wall-mounted perches encourage cats to climb and jump.
Get creative with a cardboard box. Simple as it may seem, a cardboard box can be very intriguing to your cat. Cut some holes in the box, turn the box upside down, and hide some food inside of it. Your cat will have fun maneuvering the box to get to the food.
4. Monitoring Your Cat’s Weight
Weigh your cat regularly. Weight your cat regularly (approximately once a month). Weigh her at the same time of day, and on the same scale, each time.Consider purchasing a hunting/fishing scale. Weigh your cat's carrier first. Then place your cat in the carrier and subtract the weight of the carrier from the weight of the carrier plus your cat.
Determine your cat’s body condition score (BCS). A BCS is a common way to assess a healthy or unhealthy weight. To determine your cat's BCS, you will examine a few key aspects of her physical appearance: the visibility of her waist, the tuck of her abdomen, and the ability to see and feel her ribs. The scale for the BCS is either from 1 to 5 (1 is emaciated, 3 is ideal, 5 is obese) or 1 to 9 (1 is emaciated, 4 to 5 is ideal, 9 is severely obese).
Take your cat to your veterinarian. Obesity is a major health problem in cats. Your veterinarian can keep a close watch on your cat’s weight and suggest recommendations on how to get your cat to lose weight, if necessary. He or she could also be a great resource for information on what feline obesity looks like and how to prevent it.
Learn about medical causes of obesity. Although overeating is often the culprit of feline obesity, medical conditions can cause a cat to gain weight. Examples of these conditions are hypothyroidism, insulinoma (a tumor in the pancreas causing excess insulin release), Cushing's disease (abnormal function of the adrenal glands), and pituitary gland disease. If your cat is putting on weight despite your best efforts to keep her slim, take her to your veterinarian for further medical examination.