It is estimated that up to 50% of household cats are overweight. Obesity in cats shortens your pet’s lifespan, decreases mobility, increases the severity of arthritis, and can be a gateway to more serious disease. Here are five ways you can help your cat lose weight.
Undertake Weight Loss In Your Cat Slowly
Cats, especially obese ones, are sensitive to weight loss. When cats reduce their normal intake of fat (due to stress, illness, forced dieting, etc.) their bodies break down stored fat to compensate for the deficiency. The metabolism of the fat produces triglycerides that accumulate in the cat’s liver and decrease its ability to function, a condition known as fatty liver syndrome or hepatic lipidosis. The condition is fatal if not treated properly. If you decide to put your cat on a diet, weigh him or her at the outset of the diet, then ensure that weight loss does not exceed more than 1-2% of body weight per week. If your bathroom scale is not sensitive enough to accurately weigh your cat, you can request to use the scales that we have at our office free of charge, but call ahead to make sure that we are free to help you.
How Do I Know If My Cat Is Overweight?
Body Conditioning Score
301Vets evaluate a cat’s weight using the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) body conditioning score from 1-9. An ideal cat weight is scored as a 5 and is defined by an hourglass shape when viewed from above (the body of the cat should appear wide in the rib area, narrow in the waist, and wide again at the hips), and the ribs should be slightly palpable beneath a thin layer of fat. WSAVA provides a great reference chart for you to use.
The Hand Test
Another way to evaluate the weight of a cat (or dog) is to use the hand test. Using the tips of your fingers, feel the ribs of your cat. If they feel like the knuckles of your hand when you make a fist (the ribs feel very pronounced), then your cat is too thin. If the ribs are only barely palpable and your cat’s mid section feels like the meaty portion of your palm, then your cat is likely too fat. If the ribs feel like the back of your hand with your fingers extended, then your cat’s weight is likely ideal. As a reminder, weight changes, even those that occur over weeks or months, are usually not normal and should be addressed by one of our veterinarians. For more on evaluating your cat’s weight by sight, see this great article by Dr. Lisa Pierson, DVM.
5 Healthy Ways To Reduce Your Cat’s Weight
Stop Feeding Dry Food
Most veterinarians agree that wet diets are superior to dry diets, not only from a nutritional standpoint, but a weight loss one as well. Wet diets are usually higher in protein, are more palatable, have less calories per ounce, contain large amounts of moisture to support healthy kidney function, and are usually made from animal protein versus plant protein which some argue is better for the strictly carnivorous cat.
Feed A Prescription Weight Loss Diet
There are a number of weight loss diets that are veterinarian approved and available by prescription only. These diets have been scientifically proven to help cats reduce. Some of these diets work by incorporating dietary fiber into their ingredients as a way to improve digestion and help your cat feel full. Others function by incorporating high amounts of protein into the recipe. Higher protein levels help the cat to maintain lean body mass and to feel satiated after eating.
Stop Free Feeding
As house cats age they become less active and sometimes eat out of boredom. Both behaviors contribute to weight gain. Get out of the habit of leaving food out in a bowl for your pet to access at any time. Gradually transition your cat to a feeding schedule where wet food is accessible only two times a day, but ensure that your cat is eating during that time. After ten minutes or after your pet stops eating, remove the bowl until the next feeding schedule. As with all weight loss programs, monitor your cat’s weight every few days to ensure you are not taking too much off too quickly.
Purchase A Microchip Activated Feeder
In multicat or multipet households, one animal can gobble up all the food available and grow obese. In these situations, use an ID activated feeding bowl that only allows one pet access to the food. Scanning devices in the feeder recognize the microchip or personal ID tag on your pet’s collar, then open the lid to the food bowl. When the animal moves away from the feeder, the lid re-closes to keep the food fresh and away from other pets.
Feed Less Food
Many pet owners don’t realize that older, less active pets don’t require as many calories as when they were younger and more active. If you have a cat that you suspect is overweight, or one that you want to maintain at a healthy weight, visit the calorie counter at the Pet Nutrition Alliance. You can enter your cat’s age and current weight and the calculator will tell you how much you should feed per day to increase, maintain, or decrease weight as needed. It can also calculate the number of calories in the current portions you are feeding based on the brand of food that you are serving.
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