Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in cats, affecting around one in three in the UK adult population.
Overweight cats are particularly prone to health issues including diabetes, heart and respiratory conditions, bladder stones and arthritis.
Is your cat overweight?
It can be difficult to tell if your cat is overweight. Regular assessments by your vet are recommended, but to check at home simply run your hands around your cat’s sides and abdomen. You should be able to feel, but not see, the ribs quite easily, without a heavy covering of fat. Click here for a body condition score guide to help tell if your cat is overweight.
Cut out treats and snacks
To help your cat lose weight, start by cutting out all treats and titbits for a period two weeks, including milk (which is a meal in itself). Make sure your neighbours and visitors know your cat is on a diet too. If there’s no improvement, consult your vet. Only if your vet gives the all clear should you reduce the normal amount of main meal food you feed your cat.
Cutting down food intake
With your vet’s go ahead, reduce the size of your cat’s main meals by about 10% for a further two weeks. Try dividing the food into smaller portions to reduce the length of time your cat goes without food, and to help you keep track of exactly what you’re feeding.
For ‘outdoor’ cats, switch the feeding time to just before they go out for the day, lessening the impulse to go scavenging for an extra meal. Feed overweight cats separately to avoid stealing, and only let them into other rooms when your other cats have finished their food.
After a fortnight, check the body condition again and continue the diet until an ideal weight is reached. It can take months to reverse significant weight gains, so be patient.
No ‘crash’ diets
Never starve your cat in an attempt to lose weight quickly.
It is not safe to reduce food intake by more than 10-15%, as your cat won’t get the right balance of essential minerals and vitamins and could run the risk of developing the fatal liver condition hepatic lipodosis.
You may also want to consider moving your cat onto a specially formulated ‘light’ food. Light diets are less concentrated with a lower fat content, so you don’t need to cut down on the actual amount you feed. They also mean you can be sure your cat continues to get all the right minerals and vitamins in the correct proportions. Once back to an ideal weight you can return to a standard adult recipe, although it’s quite safe to stay on a light diet throughout adult years. Light foods are also ideal for less active cats that don’t need as much energy from their food.
Of course, managing your cat’s diet is only half the solution. A lack of exercise is often the reason for weight gain, so encourage your cat to stay active and burn up more calories. A dedicated playtime can help, using toys suspended from sticks on a string. Alternatively, invest in a climbing frame or cat gym to encourage climbing, leaping and stretching.
– Check if anyone in the household is not giving any drinks that contain calories (cat milk/cows milk etc)
– Check no one is feeding treats/table scraps – but worth checking that you have not had anyone new in the house who may feed e.g. visitor or cleaner or builders?
– Consider increasing the exercise with more playing – cats can only mangage about a minute at a time so is it possible to play with the laser or undercover mouse or other toy but schedule in a few (as many as possible) daily sessions for a couple of weeks and see if this helps
– Wrap some of the food up in baking paper and pull it across the floor on string – make your work before he/she catches it
– Hide a little of the food – the has to hunt it to get it
– Try feeding more often than twice a day – every time you eat you burn off a little energy and cats naturally eat about 10 times a day, so if you can incorporate the food into several meals including hiding/run to catch it/ food balls this may help
– Try a ‘do not feed’ collar incase any neighbours are feeding him/her