Chubby cats may be adorable in comic strips and memes, but an obese cat is just as much at risk of dangerous health issues as an overweight human. And here’s an alarming statistic: it’s estimated that around 60 percent of cats in the United States are either obese or overweight.1
That’s a lot of fat cats!
What is an Overweight Cat?
An overweight cat is considered to be one that is 20 percent, or more, above the normal weight. But what is a normal weight for a cat?
Well, unfortunately, this differs between breeds, so it’s important to discuss your cat’s weight with your vet. However, you can also use what’s known as a “Body Condition Score” to assess your pet at home. This is where you basically observe what your cat looks and feels like. On an obese cat, you will not be able to feel the ribs properly under the layer of fat; the back, face, and limbs will show heavy fat deposits; and the stomach area will be somewhat swollen.2
Why Are There So Many Overweight Cats?
Like their human counterparts, dogs and cats once had to hunt for food. And hunting for food took a lot of energy – with no certainty that they’d find food on any given day. In the modern world, our pets are cared for by their owners. They no longer have to hunt in order to eat, and many cats no longer go outside at all.
But you can’t blame an obese cat for being overweight, as they’re not in control of the food that they’re given (nor the portion size.)
There is a lot of processed junk being put into commercial cat food these days, loaded up with excess sugar and carbs.
So, if your cat is struggling with their weight, it’s time to look at the person who’s feeding them – you. Even if you think that your overweight cat really doesn’t eat that much, they most certainly are still getting too many calories.
Health Concerns of Having an Obese Cat
Obesity in cats can lead to several serious conditions. These include:
- Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
- Fatty liver disease
- Lower quality of life
- A potential lower life expectancy3,4
Not only are these horrible conditions for your overweight cat, but they will end up costing you potentially thousands of dollars for medical treatments, including any ongoing medications. So, if your cat is obese, they must lose weight.
How To Put a Cat on a Diet
Before you even consider putting your obese cat on a weight loss diet you need to better understand what a healthy cat needs in their diet. And then you need to coordinate that diet plan with your veterinarian.
1. What Does My Cat Need in Their Diet?
It’s easy to forget that your adorable little cat is actually a stealthy, carnivorous hunter. The number one thing that cats require is protein — that means meat. Carnivores don’t need carbs in their diet.
You see, cats don’t have as many carbohydrate-digesting enzymes as other mammals, so they can’t handle a lot of carbohydrates. Yet many dry cat foods have large amounts of flour and sugars to help preserve the food, or to help it hold its shape. Because cats aren’t breaking this down properly, they are storing it as fat.5
In fact, carbohydrates in modern cat foods may be at least partly responsible for the large increase in obesity in cats today.6 A raw food diet, on the other hand, is low in carbs and sugars, and is more in line with what cats have always eaten.
What about treats?
Unfortunately, many cat treats are also loaded up with flours and sugars. The best kind of cat treat is one you’ve made yourself, as you’ll know it’s free of additives, including food colorings and flavor enhancers. Little bits of cooked chicken or fish are an ideal, protein-rich treat for a healthy cat.
2. Work With Your Vet
If you’re dealing with an obese cat, it isn’t as simple as just cutting back on their food to lose weight. This may actually cause malnourishment. You will need to adjust their food intake using specific foods, specific portions, or specific meal frequencies, and it’s sensible to only do this under the supervision of your vet. Then, you will need to stick to the plan in order for your cat to lose weight.
Your vet will probably suggest regular weigh-ins for your overweight cat (every 2-3 weeks), and it’s important that weight loss is gradual, not sudden.7
If you have more than one cat in your household, you’ll need to find a way to keep the other cat’s food away from your obese cat. Microchip pet feeders are a great idea. They will only open, and expose the food, for the cat wearing the corresponding microchip. This way, each cat can only eat its own portion of food.
Exercise for Overweight Cats
Let’s be honest: how many cats have you actually seen out on walks? Most cats won’t appreciate an owner-led walk. Leashes? Forget it. But it’s important to get your overweight or obese cat up and moving because (for humans and animals alike) the secret to weight loss is:
Energy In < Energy Out
That is, more energy needs to be burned than is being consumed in order for weight loss to occur. But how do you exercise an overweight cat who loves to lounge around all day long?
The best thing you can do to help your obese cat expend some energy is to bring out their hunting instinct. Cats love to chase and jump after moving objects.
Something as simple as a feather on a stick (or a small laser) can get them jumping around madly trying to catch it. Or you can fill a bowl with some water and float a few ping-pong balls on top. You’ll be surprised at how fascinated your cat will be trying to knock the balls out of the water. You can also try throwing a ping pong ball down a hallway and watch your cat chase after it.
There are also plenty of modern interactive cat games that can be purchased online.
Cats may have lost their need to hunt for food, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring it back. Take your obese cat’s food, and divide it up into a few portions. Then, hide it in various places around the house. Don’t make it too difficult for them to start with, but continue to challenge them to find it.8
How to Prevent Your Cat From Becoming Obese in the First Place
You’ve probably heard it said that children who are taught to eat healthy foods from a young age often grow into adults with healthy, balanced diets. The same goes for cats. For example, if kittens are only ever fed a dry kibble cat diet, then they are more likely to reject high-protein healthy diets in the future.9,10
Try to introduce kittens (once they are weaned) to a wide variety of predominantly raw, meat-based foods. Carefully control the portions of food they get, and make sure they’re getting plenty of exercise. Like humans, they’ll be more likely to carry this into their adult life and become healthy cats.
A Word on Free-Choice Feeding
Free-choice feeding is where owners leave dry cat food out for their pet at all times, and the cat decides when, and how much, they want to eat. This can feel super convenient, especially if you’re not going to be home very much, but it can be detrimental to a cat’s health. Why? Because it easily leads to overconsumption, and it can contribute to cat obesity.11
Overweight Cats and Weight Loss: Final Thoughts
Fat cats may look cute, but their health is seriously compromised. If you’re ready to start helping your obese cat lose weight, remember to speak to your vet about your best options moving forward. There’s no reason to be ashamed about having an overweight cat. You just need to learn more about what constitutes a healthy diet for your kitty. A vet can properly educate you on this and offer a wide variety of tips and suggestions.
Refer to the Body Condition Score Chart here to better assess your own cat.
If you think that your cat may be overweight, it’s important that you talk to your vet sooner rather than later.
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Disclosure: The Dr Marty’s Pets team creates these articles as a way to provide you with the latest information on health and nutrition. Unfortunately, we cannot make specific product recommendations for our website visitors, such as “Dr Marty’s Nature’s Feast” or “Feline Prime” Please consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best products for you.