How to Approach Cat Weight Loss: Your Cat Is Not Just Fluffy
Could you gulp down an entire pizza to yourself today? Chase it back with some Pepto and you’ll be fine, right? Now, how about four?
That’s how much Animal Planet sensation “Beau Nugget” ate, in human terms, every day until his intervention on My Big Fat Pet Makeover. Poor Beau Nugget, unwitting television star, fat cat extraordinaire; cute as he was with that chub, the internet dubbed him the box breaking chonker, sharing GIFs of the fact without his consent!
Do you want your cat to end up an internet meme? Perhaps it’s time to tighten your belts and come up with a cat weight loss plan.
Wait, Are You Calling My Cat Fat?
Hey, we’re not here to judge. But if you have any suspicion your cat may be overweight, here are some ways to dig into the matter.
When it comes to “normal” weight, cats fall under a broad range depending on age, genetics, body condition, and activity level. But for some perspective, a healthy feline usually weighs between 8-10 pounds. When you speak with your veterinarian, they can help you determine your cat’s healthy weight range and ideal body weight. If its actual weight is 10-20% above that ideal, it’s considered an obese cat.
If you’re struggling to weigh your wiggly kitty yourself, one easy method to determine obesity is by feeling its ribs. With a cat at a healthy weight, you should be able to feel but not see the ribs. With an overweight cat, there’s a large belly and no visible waist.
But let’s be honest—a fat cat isn’t hard to spot. What’s not visible is the pain your cat may be in—after all, we expect cats to lay around a lot. What we may not know is that they’re hurting.
Why Should My Cat Lose Weight?
Poor “Beau Nugget” isn’t the only cat that doesn’t have a word for miserable. In fact, many cats need some help losing weight. Did you know that around 6 in 10 cats in the U.S. are obese? That’s about 50 million cats. In fact, it’s the most common preventable disease.
Feline obesity can cause all sorts of health issues. Just 2 pounds over normal may cause high blood pressure, kidney, liver, and heart disease, especially over time. More than that, some fat felines, especially senior cats, may experience osteoarthritis, a painful joint degeneration, and various forms of cancer. Obesity can steal up to 2.5 years from your furry friend—that’s almost 10 years in human terms!
And while certain cats are predisposed to weight gain more than others, blame lies most squarely with over-indulging owners. But we’re not pointing any fingers—it’s a pattern that’s easy to fall into.
Although your cat may seem happy now, especially around mealtime, you won’t believe the cat that emerges after weight loss. With increased energy and decreased pain, your cat may just whiz around the room. It’ll cuddle more and do silly things that just crack you up. And let’s face it, veterinary procedures, should it come to that, would be hard on your wallet and your cat.
The good news is that weight loss isn’t rocket science. Yes, there are some proper protocols, but it comes down to less food and more play! It just takes consistent commitment. Plus, you’ll likely see a change in a little as two weeks. Ultimately, you’ll just be happy to be on this journey with your cat.
How to Create Your Cat Weight Loss Plan
To kick off your cat’s weight loss plan, remember there are no Hail Mary’s. Set your intentions and expectations first. Just like humans, your pet’s weight loss could be a long journey—most cats achieve ideal weight within 6-8 months. But it’s well worth your time and a modest amount of consistent effort.
Find your why. What’s your deepest motivation that will keep you going with modest but consistent effort—maybe it’s a wish to see your adorable cat act out as it did as a kitten. Talk to your family and get them on board. Because chances are, someone’s feeding them sneak treats. And most vitally? Make a veterinarian appointment. After all, the execution may be easy enough, but there are nuances only your vet knows. Maybe your cat has an underlying condition and needs a special course of action.
1. Target a Weight
At the vet, you and the doctor can hone in on a healthy weight for your cat based on age, size, and breed. Then you’ll likely set a target weight because Rome wasn’t built in a day (and wasn’t lost in a day, either). You’ll also set some benchmarks to shoot for, to spread the weight loss over time, and determine a healthy rate of weight loss.
The vet will also warn you not to starve your cat. Of course, who in their right mind would do that? But chuckles aside, if your cat goes without food for even two days, it has a chance of developing a severe liver condition, just to scare some people straight.
2. Decide on a Diet
Next, you’ll decide on a diet. We’ve broken it down to a simple formula—what diet, how much, and how often.
What Should I Feed My Cat?
Your vet will suggest the proper food for your cat to slim down. For mild cases, they may say you could stick with smaller portions of their favorite. For other cases, they may suggest a special prescription formula. These often fall into 3 categories:
- A high protein, low carb formula may favor your cat’s ancestral cravings. After all, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they’re used to thriving on meat alone. Some formulas go the distance to be grain free.
- A high fiber formula curbs cravings, a welcome relief if your cat tends to beg.
- Metabolic formulas stimulate your cat’s digestive engine, so to speak, helping it burn calories more efficiently.
While a better diet may mean ditching mass-market, store-bought brands in favor of the special stuff, it’s just worth it. Whether it’s Public Good’s high-quality cat kibble dry food or the canned variety, invest in your cat’s health.
How Much Should I Feed My Cat?
Okay, so you bought the proper food. Now you just need proper portions. Your veterinarian will recommend amounts depending on your special cat’s special needs, but let’s take a look at the considerations.
An average house cat should eat between 24 to 35 calories a day. Compare that to the human average of about 2000 calories and that’s 60x less! Now check your portions. Are you overfeeding your cat?
A good place to look is on the label of your cat’s food. You’ll often see a recommended feeding range, often given as a weight for easy portioning. Just keep in mind that these portions are intended for the entire day unless mentioned otherwise.
How Often Should My Cat Be at the Food Bowl?
Most cats are natural grazers, meaning they tend to self-regulate. Just think: their feral ancestors had to exercise in short but intense bursts just to get a small meal such as a mouse. There is no endless buffet in the wild. As long as the cycles of play and reward are nourished then most cats won’t overeat. As YouTube cat whisperer Jackson Galaxy puts it: “Hunt, Catch, Kill, Eat, Groom, Sleep.”
On the other hand, in the wild, a cat is never sure where it’ll find its next meal, so it’s hardwired to be opportunistic. This is why the natural grazing cycle can break for certain cats. If you want to get back to normal, point-blank: free feeding has to stop! Leaving food out all day long is a recipe for gluttony. Not only are you unaware of the portions, but you also deprive your cat of the fun yin and yang of playtime and reward.
3. Help Your Kitty Transition
Now, to start losing weight, you’ll want to integrate your cat into these new routines gradually. For one thing, switching to a new diet overnight will present problems—your cat, like a toddler, may refuse the unfamiliar food and beg regardless.
To skip this hurdle, simply mix the new food with the old diet. Over time, you can begin to wean them off. At the same time, you’ll also taper their portions. For example, in the first week, keep their usual portion the same but use 40% of their new formula and 60% of their favorite. In the following week, you’ll use a smaller portion and a higher percentage of their new diet. Get it?
Now let’s talk taste. If your cat is avoiding its new diet, consider two things: canned wet food, though pricier, will always appeal to cats. It’s a smell they just can’t resist. Secondly, regardless of the diet, you can always add savory fortifiers such as a drop of tuna juice or omega-3 rich salmon oil.
4. Plan to Play!
Ah, the importance of playtime. Can you remember the rambunctious kitten days when your furry friend could be found stalking, chasing a dust ball under the couch, and pouncing out of nooks? You used to get so much joy out of that, and so did your cat.
Not only is playtime vital for exercise and metabolism, but it also serves as a much-needed counterpoint to eating. When your cat begins to associate play with food and food with play, its cravings will naturally fall into equilibrium. To encourage a less than enthusiastic cat, begin rewarding it with a small treat after each session. They usually can’t resist freeze dried minnows!
Now let’s talk toys. Of course, if your cat already has an old favorite, use that. If not, it’s time to experiment. (This is actually lots of fun!) Maybe your cat really loves to bat a felt mouse around on its own. Or perhaps it’s the laser pointer that gets it off the couch.
5. Vet Check
After a couple of months, no matter if it’s losing or gaining, you’ll want to schedule a follow-up visit with your veterinarian. They can consult you on any changes you may need to make to improve your cat’s progress. They can also determine if it’s time to return to a normal diet without falling back into old habits.
5 Tips for Cat Weight Loss
But that’s not all. There are some ways to make losing weight a little easier. Try these tricks for a week and see how your pet’s behavior changes.
1. Curb the Cravings (And the Begging)
Do you love waking mid-slumber to claws on the door? Neither do we. If your cat has gotten used to begging, stick to your intentional feeding regimen, but work in a snack before bed. Might we suggest freeze dried duck nibs?
Also, consider a fibrous vegetable treat such as canned pumpkin. And occasionally, you could spoil your cat with some chicken. Remember the yin and yang of hunt and eat; it’s possible the begging is about something other than food.
2. Keep the Best Treats Hard to Reach
Get your cat moving with find and seek treats. Hide them on the cat tree or on the sill of the third-floor window. Keep the spot consistent but don’t treat them every day. This will keep your cat guessing and checking for more.
3. Try the Great Outdoors
Your cat may be an indoor cat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create some outdoor time. Perhaps you have a yard you could fence in. All the stumps and furniture make for good cat play. Otherwise, try walking your cat! It may not be for every cat but give it a try. Be warned: it’s not like walking a dog. Think supervised outdoor time instead of long neighborhood stroll.
4. Adopt a Partner in Crime
Have you considered the benefits of companionship for your cat? While it’s not right for every cat and family, a companion pet can often keep life interesting and get your kitty hiding, stalking, pouncing, and losing weight.
5. Manage Multi-Pet Mayhem
Okay, so you did get that second pet! Well, this article would be amiss not to address some of the growing pains that may come with your cat’s special diet. To keep things simple and proper, you’ll need to separate feeding zones and times if possible. If not both, then one or the other will suffice. And you’ll have to get out of the free feeding habit for all your pets. Having food laying around could jeopardize your cat’s progress. And besides, you don’t want your dog eating cat food.
Let’s Wrap Things Up
By now, you should have a solid cat weight loss plan. If not, you certainly know where to begin (hint: with a vet visit). Just remember to enjoy the journey and you’ll reach your destination before you arrive. If Beau Nugget could do it, your cat should do just fine.
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