Weight management tips for your overweight cat

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Timothy Hair
  • U.S. Army Veterinary Services
Editor's note: This is the second of a three-part series about healthy lifestyles for pets

Bottom line up front: a pet with a well maintained diet, weight, and body condition is more likely to live a happier, healthier, and longer life. An overweight pet is subject to many of the health risks that can affect overweight people, including but not limited to: arthritis, joint pain, spinal problems, diabetes, liver disease, and heart problems. Weight management for your pet is definitely a good start to overall health. This is part two of our three part weight management series: tips for your overweight cat.

First, you should start of by getting a current weight on your cat, but more importantly, evaluate their body condition (i.e. how they carry their weight). An excellent evaluation guide for your cat's body condition score (BCS) can be found at: http://www.purina.com/cat/weight-control/bodycondition.aspx

Cats tend to be less active than dogs and controlling their weight can be more difficult. It is not like most of us can take our cat for a nice long walk. If your cat is overweight the likely cause is that they are being overfed, and a proper diet and exercise program should be initiated. To increase a cat's exercise, it helps to get toys that are more interactive. Look for toys that require the cat to move and chase things. Some toys the cat may play with alone, but most will require that you play with the toy and the cat. Cats are natural predators, and toys that encourage them to hunt and chase can be very effective. Remember, that if your cat is overweight and out of shape, you must start out easy and slowly increase activity - just as you would for yourself. For the diet portion, here are a number of steps to get you started:

1. Start by measuring exactly how much you are feeding your cat. Use an actual measuring cup that is clearly marked in 1/8 cup increments.

2. If not already doing so, feed the cat twice per day. This allows their caloric intake to be spread out and helps keep their metabolism going. Free feeding (just filling the bowl for them to eat on throughout the day) is rarely recommended. It makes it very difficult to know exactly how much they are eating and when. If in a multi-pet household, make sure that one pet is not stealing food from the other.

3. Once the cat has become accustomed to the new feeding schedule, you can start making adjustments. Start by decreasing one meal a little bit. This will likely be 1/8 of a cup or less at a time.

4. Allow approximately two weeks for the cat to adjust to the new amount of food. This should provide enough time to see some changes. Evaluate the cat's BCS. If they still need to lose some weight, decrease the 2nd meal by the same amount. Wait another two weeks and reevaluate.

5. Repeat steps 4 and 5 if the cat still needs to lose weight.

6. If after a couple of diet reductions, the cat has still not lost the weight, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to see if there might be a medical reason for the cat's inability to lose weight. Your veterinarian may recommend doing a complete blood analysis to insure that everything is working correctly. The blood analysis may also help insure that your pet's weight is not causing other health problems like those listed above.

While making the diet reductions, here are some additional tips to consider:

1. Cats rarely get table scraps, but if they do, eliminate them. Dietary indiscretion, as we like to call it, can certainly lead to overweight pets as well as increasing the risks of food allergies, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.

2. Watch the cat treats. Remember that treats have calories, too. If there are a lot of treats in your cat's diet, then that must be accounted for in his daily food intake and his regular meals may need to be lowered further.

3. Feed your cat a high quality (which often means higher cost) cat food. The higher the quality, the better the ingredients. This means that the cat is able to properly digest and use the nutrients in the cat food. Generally, you will find that the cat needs to eat less to meet his caloric needs. The added benefit is that there will also be less mess to clean out of the litter box. There are many good brands out there and they will normally be found in pet and feed stores, not at the grocery store. Cats are natural carnivores, so look for diets that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. If changing food be sure to make the change gradually to allow their digestive system time to get used to the new food.

4. Most bags of cat food have a recommended serving size. This is only a recommendation. Every cat's metabolism is different and their caloric requirements may not be the same.

5. Consider using toys that dispense the cat food. Place a portion of the cat's daily food in a commercially available toy that requires the cat play with it to get food out. This is great exercise for your pet, physically and mentally. These toys can be found in pet stores and online.

6. Canned green beans (preferably low sodium) can be used as a dietary supplement for cats, although this is not done as commonly as it is with dogs. Even though they are carnivores by nature, some veggies are good. They are high in fiber and low in calories. As you are reducing your cat's diet, you may want to add green beans to their food (add an amount of green beans equal to what you have taken away of his regular food). This will allow your cat to feel full without getting as many calories. Just be sure that the bulk of their diet is not vegetables.

7. If your cat is obese (BCS 8 or 9), then larger diet changes may need to be made more quickly than those listed above. A change to a lower calorie food or possibly a prescription weight loss diet may be needed. Consult your veterinarian for advice.

Remember these are just some suggestions that we routinely make to our clients here at the Veterinary Treatment Facility on F.E. Warren AFB; it is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian regarding the specific needs of your pet.

The Veterinary Treatment Facility is located in BLDG 288 on the corner of Frontier and 5th Cavalry. We share a parking lot with the Independence Gym. Our current hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 0800-1200 / 1300-1630. We are closed on Fridays, weekends, and Federal holidays. Hours of operation are subject to change due to military obligations and mission requirements. All pets are seen by appointment only, and appointments are normally available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Please call (307)773-3354 for more information or to schedule an appointment.