We’ve all heard the old adage, “a fat cat is a happy cat.” However, overweight cats are prone to osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart and respiratory problems and abdominal cancer. Weight loss diets may help them achieve a healthier body.
Who Needs to Diet?
It’s fairly easy to tell if your cat is overweight. Overweight cats may have a swinging pouch between their hind legs or a virtually non-existent waistline. You can also feel if your cat is overweight. Gently squeeze the sides of his ribcage. If you can’t easily feel his ribs, he’s most likely overweight. Don’t just start him on a crash diet, though. Felines are prone to a liver condition called hepatic lipidosis or “fatty liver disease.” Hepatic lipidosis can occur when cats stop eating for a period of days. Any abrupt diet changes can cause this period of anorexia and subsequent liver failure; overweight cats are especially predisposed to this condition. Take your cat to the veterinarian for a thorough physical exam, blood work including thyroid evaluation and an accurate weight measurement before starting any weight loss program.
Choosing the Right Food
Cats are carnivores. That means their bodies will best process and function with a diet high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates. Many dry cat foods contain more flour and sugar than canned food. A cat’s ideal diet will contain 35-45 percent protein, around 40 percent fat and a lower percentage of carbohydrates. A portion-controlled diet of this sort should help your cat shed a few extra pounds. However, while some lucky overweight cats can eat a variety of high-protein, low-calorie foods others, like those prone to bladder stones or who have diabetes, require specialized diets to manage their medical conditions. Your veterinarian can help you decide which weight-loss food is right for your cat.
A 2011 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that over 50 percent of cats in the US were overweight or obese. Free-range feeding is one of the main culprits when it comes to fat cats. When your cat is on a diet, he’ll need regular, portion-controlled feedings two to four times daily in order to meet his weight loss goals.
The average housecat should weigh between eight and ten pounds. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, if your cat’s ideal weight is 12 pounds, he should consume 190 calories each day. If it’s 10 pounds then he should eat 170 calories and so on. Of course activity level plays a role in the amount of food your buddy should eat. Stay vigilant and monitor his weight with weigh-ins every three weeks or so. If he appears to be losing weight too quickly, more than half a pound every three or four weeks, feed him a bit more. If he’s gaining weight, feed a bit less.
Your cat may seem hungrier than usual as he adjusts to his new weight-loss diet, but don’t feel guilty and don't start supplementing his meows with treats. Some cats substitute food for affection. Try petting or playing with him instead of pulling out the treats when he cries or begs for food.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.