Weight loss is tough for anyone – two- or four-legged! However, losing weight and getting in shape can not only add years to you or your pet’s life; it can also make those extra years more enjoyable. Shedding a few pounds off of your furry feline may be easier than you think. It simply requires understanding the need for weight loss and fitness, attention to detail and simple assistance from your veterinary healthcare team.
Why a healthy weight is important for your cat
As little as two pounds above your cat’s ideal weight can put it at risk for developing some serious medical conditions. Unfortunately, when a cat is overweight or obese it is no longer a question of “if” your cat will develop a condition secondary to the excess weight but “how many and how soon!” Some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include:
Type 2 diabetes
Many forms of cancer
High blood pressure
Further, overweight cats are expected to live shorter lives than their fitter, normal weight counterparts. Heavy cats tend to physically interact less with their families and are less energetic and playful. Because they tend to lay around more, it is easy to overlook illnesses since we attribute their lethargy to their “normal laziness.” We are just now learning how serious and threatening a few extra pounds can be for both humans and our cuddly companions.
Start with a Medical Exam
One of our veterinarians will examine your pet to make sure your pet does not have a medical condition that may be causing the excess weight. An exam with some blood work and a good medical history will rule out these diseases before putting your cat on a weight loss plan.
In addition, cats that are overweight or obese must eat. Their physiology is different than humans or dogs and if they do not eat for as little as two consecutive days, they can develop a life-threatening form of liver disease known as hepatic lipidosis. Obese humans starting a diet program are also vulnerable to this serious condition. It is for this reason that you should never put your cat on a diet without the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team.
A weight-loss formula seems simple: fewer calories in plus more calories out equals weight loss. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Once we recommend a diet, the next step is calculating the calories your cat needs.
First, we will calculate your cat’s ideal weight. If your cat has a lot of weight to lose, we may strive for an initial goal weight that is higher than your cats ideal weight. We will use your cat’s initial goal or ideal weight to figure out how many calories your cat should eat each day.
The art of changing foods
You’ll most likely need to offer your cat a diet food if it’s overweight. When you’re introducing a new food, allow several days for the transition.
Exercise the Right Way
In an ideal world, we’d take a jog with our cats or enjoy a mile swim in the morning to stay fit. We certainly don’t live in that world! Getting our cats to engage in aerobic activity isn’t just difficult – it goes against their very nature. Cats weren’t designed to function as scavengers and persistence hunters the way humans and dogs evolved. Instead, cats evolved as stalkers who expended very little energy in seeking their prey and seldom strayed far from their territory. When they came across prey, they burst into an intensely aerobic and short-duration hunt. Most wild cats would pursue their prey at top speed for less than a minute. Once this activity was complete, they required hours to recover for the next hunt. If they missed several prey opportunities in a row, they could be in serious danger of lacking the energy necessary to hunt successfully.
Our domestic cats are simply smaller versions of these wild felines. While we may take our dogs out for a brisk walk or jog, our cats aren’t designed to perform that sort of activity well. Our cats prefer the hundred-yard dash to the marathon. Even more complicating is the fact that our cats evolved on a diet based on protein as opposed to humans and dogs that can eat vegetables, proteins, fats, you name it. Since cats are obligate carnivores, the same dietary rules don’t apply. Many cats will do better on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss for this reason.
Just because cats aren’t good endurance athletes doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage them to move. Some simple tips for getting your cat to move more are:
Play “Find the Food” move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs and rotate it so that the cat always has to walk to get to its food bowl. Cats are smart, and if the food bowl moves upstairs, they’ll start relocating upstairs, too.
Move the food bowl as far away from your cat’s favorite haunts as possible. Again, many cats will sleep and lay near the food bowl so they don’t have to go far when the eatin’ urge hits!
Use feather toys, flashlights, paper bags or balls, anything that your cat finds interesting to chase. Try to engage your cat for ten minutes twice a day. You can do this while you eat, watch television or even read. There are numerous toys that move and squeak that may also be interesting to your cat. Experiment and understand that what is exciting today may be boring tomorrow.
Additional tips for succes:
What about the cat that wakes you at four in the morning to be fed or the cat that meows incessantly or head bumps you until you feed them? Our cats have often trained us well and know exactly which buttons to press when it comes to getting their way. Here are some tips for handling a pesky kitty:
- Do not use a self-feeder. These are unlimited candy machines.
- Pet or play with your cat when it begs for food. Many cats substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces chowtime.
- Feed small meals frequently – especially give a last feeding for those cats that like to wake you up in the wee hours begging for more goodies – divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals – whatever you do, don’t feed extra food
- When the bowl is empty and your cat is pleading, add a few kibbles to the bowl. By a few, try ten or fifteen – not a handful.
- Offer fresh water instead of food. Many cats love fresh water so when they are eyeing the empty food bowl, fill up the water bowl instead.
What do you do if one cat is normal weight and the other is diagnosed with obesity? While there are countless creative solutions to this problem, here are a few we’ve found successful
Feed separately – this is the ideal solution for multi-cat households. Feed the cat diagnosed with obesity its diet in one room while feeding the other cat its food elsewhere. After a prescribed time, generally 15 to 30 minutes, pick the food up until the next feeding.
Feed the normal weight cat on an elevated surface where the obese cat can’t go.
Do not leave food out while you’re away. In this scenario, you can’t be sure who ate what and the smart money is on the cat with obesity.
Information from petobesityprevention.org
Rechecks and weigh-ins after you’ve put your pet on a weight loss program are critical to determine if the plan is working for your pet. Each pet is an individual and may require many changes in diet or routine before finding the correct approach. In general, your pet should be weighed every 30-60 days until the ideal weight is achieved. If there is no significant weight loss in 60 days a new approach should be pursued.
*Weight progress Evaluation ($) (with a doctor) should be done at a minimum every 4 months in order to continue to be part of the Weight Loss Program. Every exam is charged separately. All prices are subject to change without notice.
**Blood test should be done at least every 12 months or more often if the doctor deems it appropriate to continue to be part of the weight loss program. Every blood test is charged separately. All prices are subject to change without notice.
***Technician evaluations are free of charge. However they do not include a Veterinarian during the evaluation.