An obese cat suffers a marked deterioration in athletic ability and appearance. Her decreased flexibility leads to an inability to thoroughly groom herself and she becomes subject to skin problems. Obese cats also face increased risk of contracting diabetes and are poor candidates for surgery and anesthesia.
Obesity results when an animal consistently takes in more calories than needed. Some contributing factors include overfeeding, inactivity, reproductive status, environment, body type, age, and genetic predisposition.
Assess the Body Condition of Your Cat
Assessing body condition is an important step in the overall evaluation of your cat's nutritional well-being and can especially help in determining feline obesity.
Visit the Veterinarian
Weight problems are one of the leading issues veterinarians deal with on a daily basis. Therefore, if you suspect that your cat is either overweight or obese, a complete evaluation by a veterinarian is not only recommended, but a good idea.
Your veterinarian will probably ask you some questions about your cat, such as how much your cat is eating and how much physical activity your cat gets. Answering these questions honestly will help your veterinarian recommend some simple changes that may help improve your cat's weight.
Your veterinarian may also perform some tests. A few medical conditions may contribute to obesity. You want to rule these out before you proceed with any weight-loss or weight management program.
Reducing Your Cat’s Diet
Your veterinarian may first suggest that you reduce the amount you feed your cat. If so, begin by reducing the daily portion by 25 percent. Continue decreasing intake by 10-percent increments every two to three weeks until your cat loses 1 percent of initial weight. This means that if your cat weighs 15 pounds, a 1 percent loss would be 2-½ ounces.
If you feed one large meal a day, or keep food available at all times, try dividing the daily ration into several small meals (at least two meals a day) and pick up what has not been eaten 30 minutes after each meal.
Weight-Loss Diets for Cats
Your veterinarian may suggest you change your cat's diet to one specifically designed for weight loss. Portion control will still be necessary. However, your cat will most likely be able to eat more than if she was consuming her regular diet.
A diet based on replacement of some fat with highly digestible carbohydrates is a good low-calorie alternative. Digestible carbohydrates contain less than one-half the calories of equal quantities of fat and do not have the disadvantages of indigestible fiber. High-fiber foods may reduce the digestibility and absorption of many nutrients. High-fiber diets may also result in large, frequent stools and decreased skin and coat condition. Feeding a diet that contains carbohydrates, corn, and sorghum can result in lower blood sugar and insulin levels as compared to feeding a diet that contains rice as the primary carbohydrate source. Lower blood sugar and insulin levels can also help with maintaining a proper weight.
In addition, a diet that contains L-Carnitine will help to induce weight loss. L-Carnitine is a vitamin-like compound that helps with fat metabolism. Vitamin A is another nutrient that can help with the "battle of the bulge." Boosting dietary intake of vitamin A has been shown to decrease the likelihood of weight gain in cats.
Changing Your Cat’s Diet
Changing diets can be a stressful time for pets. So, if your veterinarian recommends changing diets, proceed slowly.
Begin by mixing a daily portion that includes 25 percent new food with 75 percent of the old. The next day, increase the amount of the new food with 50 percent and decrease the amount of the old to 50 percent of the daily portion. Continue increasing the proportions during the next few days until the daily portion consists entirely of the new diet.
This method increases the likelihood of acceptance of the new diet and decreases the occurrence of gastrointestinal upsets.
Play with Your Cat to Burn Calories
Another way to help your cat lose weight is to increase your cat's activity level. Provide cat "trees" for climbing. Teach your cat to play fetch. Buy or create your own toys that encourage exercise. Many cats enjoy chasing lasers or lights from pointers or flashlights. One ingenious owner throws her cat's dry food ration, a piece at a time! Many enjoy learning to walk on a leash. You can also use your cat's natural hunting instinct to help her lose weight. Hide several small portions of her daily food ration around the house. If you have a multilevel home, make your cat use the stairs.
Use your imagination, but be cautious. Don't let a fat cat become exhausted, overheated, or out of breath. Also keep in mind that an old cat may not be able to exercise vigorously.
Use playtime, grooming, stroking, or conversation as rewards instead of food treats. If you cannot resist the fat cat who begs for food at the dinner table, remove the cat during dinnertime.
If yours is a multi-cat household, the consistent winner of the food competition sweepstakes is often obese. If this is the case, separate the cats at mealtimes if at all possible.
Obesity is easier to prevent than to cure. However, it is never too late to reverse obesity, though it requires long-term patience and commitment. Weight reduction in cats is a slow process. If food intake is too severely restricted, the cat risks other health problems.
Increased activity, behavior modification—for both you and your cat—and calorie restriction are your weapons against feline obesity. However, with all these things, it is important to expect a few setbacks and plateaus. It will take at least four months for an obese cat to realize a 15 percent weight loss.
At this point, reassess your cat's body condition and proceed from there.
Tips for Starting a Weight Management Program
- Always check with your veterinarian first.
- Eliminate all food treats.
- Divide the daily portion into several smaller meals.
- Feed a diet formulated specifically for weight loss.
- Weigh your cat every two weeks.
- Cats should not lose more than 1 to 1.5 percent of initial weight per week.