Tips for weight loss in cats
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
Obesity in pets is at an all-time high and this extra weight decreases the life-span of pets and causes a multitude of health problems (such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and joint disease). Smaller pets seem to become overweight more easily and have a harder time shedding the weight and this is most often due to overfeeding and lack of exercise, but there can be underlying medical reasons so it is best to rule out any medical causes before starting a weight loss plan. It is very easy to overfeed your cat because the correct amount of food they should be receiving seems like such a small amount to us, but you have to keep in mind how small they really are and how few calories they burn. A pet’s metabolism also starts to slow down much earlier in life than humans, so by the time they are a year old the amount of calories they require is much lower than when they were kittens. The type of food you are feeding is also very important since most cat foods solid commercially are just a dog food base with some extra protein and the carbohydrates found in dog food result in weight gain since cats are true carnivores. I recommend the Hill’s M/D diet since it was specifically designed for cats and does not have these unnecessary carbohydrates, but instead was formulated based on the nutrition found in mice (what a cat’s body is used to digesting and using as a fuel source for the body). This helps to keep the weight off and not have all those carbohydrates turned into fat stores by the body. Knowing that having just an extra 10% higher level of body weight can decrease the life span of your cat by years, we are committed to helping your cat successfully achieve and maintain a healthier, more ideal weight and body condition. We love our pets and want them to have the best quality of life possible and sometimes that takes some tough love in the form of not overfeeding them (even when they beg with their adorable eyes or follow you around loudly protesting after starting to decrease their food). Just remind yourself that feeding them appropriately is the best way to show your love because being at the ideal weight is what is best for them! You can also find other ways to show your affection, such as dedicated play time each day (which has the added bonus of helping burn more calories) – I recommend at least 20 minutes of activity together a day and find most cats love to chase a laser pointer! The following are some helpful tips for getting those unwanted pounds off your furry friend!
1. Get everybody on board!
It is important that every member of the family knows how dangerous being overweight is for the health of your cat so that everyone will stay focused during the process. Helping your cat lose weight takes time and dedication and can be very frustrating since it is a life-long process to get the weight off and keep it off. If someone is sneaking treats on the side, adding a little extra to the food bowl, or feeding people food, the chances of a success are slim. This is why you want to sit down and have a serious talk about why this is so important and the reality that it is a huge commitment so that the troops are rallied and do not have unrealistic expectations.
2. Factor in the food.
There are many different changes to the way you feed your pet that can help your cat lose weight. These include feeding less food overall (which means that you have to measure out how much food your cat is receiving each day), changing the way you feed your cat (such as switching to meals versus free feeding) or changing your cat’s diet altogether to a food that is less likely to be stored as fat. If you do change the diet, you want to do this gradually over 5-7 days, slowly removing more and more of the old type of food and replacing it with the new diet. Cats do not like change and will let you know that they are unhappy with a disruption to what they have been used to, but they will adjust as long as you do not give in. Every time you give in, it makes your cat that much more determined to bug you until you cave because they know it worked before. This is just like a gambler at a slot machine – if it took 1000 pulls to get a payout the first time they played the slots, a gambler is not going to think twice about pulling that lever even longer the next time since it did finally pay off for them before!
3. Getting physical.
Most cats spend at least 16 hours asleep each day, so they are not expending very many calories at all. The activity level for cats in single pet homes (or in homes where the pets do not get along) is even less since they do not have that additional stimulation. That is why it is so important to incorporate more activity and enrichment into your cat’s lifestyle. You want to be sure to spend a minimum of 20 minutes a day encouraging your cat to be more active. Some of the ways to stimulate your cat’s normal instinct to hunt and stalk is to encourage play with moving toys or laser pointers – some cats will even play fetch with a balled up piece of paper! Other ways to get your cat moving is to make them work for their meals through placing your cat’s food at the top of a climbing tree or putting it in a food puzzle that they have to manipulate in order to get their kibble to come out. These small changes in your daily routine will help your cat get back to and stay at a healthy weight, and they’re also an excellent opportunity to bond with your cat and form lifelong attachments between you and your cat.
4. Stay positive and be patient – weight loss is a long process and maintaining a healthy weight is a life-long commitment.
You are not alone in your journey to have a cat at a healthy weight, we are here to help! Also, everyone who is dedicated to getting weight off their cat and keeping it off has periods of frustration and times where it seems nothing is helping and you want to give up. This is normal and we are happy to give out pep talks! Despite everyone’s best efforts, there will be challenges during this process, and it’s important to stay focused on your cat’s weight loss goals and reach out for assistance if needed. Regularly scheduled weigh-ins with us will help ensure you are staying on track – or if you have gotten off track, allow us to help you get back on track. Never forget that this process takes time and you need to have realistic goals. Typically we want to see a loss of 10% of body weight over 6 months and you do not want to have your pet lose weight too quickly (which can cause liver disease). Also, be sure to celebrate each milestone as you reach it along the road to your goal – you deserve it!