By Mandy Murdock, DVM
Weight loss is tough for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for our feline friends. However, losing weight and getting in shape can not only add years to your cat’s life, but it can also make those extra years more enjoyable. Here are some tips for helping your cat lose weight:
- Avoid free feeding and measure your cat’s food accurately to be sure they are eating an appropriate amount for weight loss. An overweight cat that is free fed is very unlikely to lose weight regardless of the type of food offered.
- Calorie needs for weight loss are based on the cat’s estimated ideal weight. Most cats should be able to lose weight at an appropriate rate when offered around 80 percent of the calories needed to maintain their ideal weight. An equation commonly used to calculate maintenance calorie needs is: 30 times body weight in kilograms, plus 70. For an ideal weight of 11 pounds (5 kg), that equals 220 kilocalories per day (30 X 5 + 70= 220 kcal). For weight loss, offer 80% of the maintenance calories per day. For an 11 pound cat, that would be 176 calories per day (220 kcal x 0.80 = 174 kcal/day).
- For cats that are very overweight, we may need to aim for an initial target weight higher than the ideal weight to avoid a drastic reduction in calories and unsafe rate of weight loss.
- Consider a wet food diet. Many cat owners think of canned food as an unhealthy treat, but actually for many cats the best way to lose weight is with canned food fed several times per day. Canned foods tend to be higher in protein, lower in carbohydrates, and lower in calorie density, making them harder to overeat and more satisfying.
- If dry food is preferred, there are a number of weight control diets available that can help cats feel more full and reduce begging. Prescription diets such as Hills Metabolic, use specific nutrients that can promote increased metabolism, helping cats burn calories more quickly.
- Getting a sedentary cat moving can also help with weight loss. Food puzzle toys can be a great option for cats and can help reduce boredom and begging. Start with very simple puzzles and increase the difficulty as the cat learns to use them. You can also try moving the food bowl to different locations in the house so that the cat always has to walk to get to its food bowl, and progress to hiding small portions of food in multiple locations around the house. Check out foodpuzzlesforcats.com and fundamentallyfeline.com for examples.
- For multicat households, cats may need to be separated at feeding time to control who eats what. If one cat is significantly smaller, they can be fed in a location that the larger cat cannot reach. There are also feeding stations available that use the cat’s microchip or ID-tag to control access to food.
- It can be difficult to break the habit in cats that are used to meowing at us for food. Try sticking to a strict feeding schedule so they learn it is futile to ask for food at other times. Feeding the last meal as late at night as possible can help with nighttime meowing. If that doesn’t work, using a programmable automatic feeder can help shift the behavior when the cat learns to wait at the feeder rather than bothering you.