Did you know that approximately 35% of adult cats are overweight? If your cat suffers from obesity, know that you are not alone. In cats, as in people, obesity results when energy intake (through food and treats) exceeds energy expenditure (through exercise). Therefore, the best ways to promote weight loss in cats is to limit food intake and to increase exercise.
Limit food intake
Feed multiple small meals per day instead of allowing free access to unlimited food. Only the rare cat can resist the urge to overeat when provided with access to a 24 hour buffet.
Limit treats and table scraps. Did you know that feeding your cat just a 1 oz piece of cheese is equivalent to you or I eating 2 ½ hamburgers?! Due to their small body size even the smallest of treats can pack quite the caloric punch. Remember- cat nip is a calorie free treat!
Try switching to canned food. Canned food is high in moisture and protein, both of which have been shown to limit hunger. Also, it is lower in calories than the same amount of dry food. Importantly, cats should be offered canned food at first in addition to their normal dry. If they eat the canned food willingly you are free to substitute one or more meals per day with canned food. Most cats should have no more than 1 large (8 oz) can of food per day or two small (4 oz) cans total.
Use measuring cups instead of “scoops.” In baking, 1 cup = 8 ounces. When your veterinarian hears that you are feeding 1/4th a cup of food we may assume you are feeding 1/4th of a measuring cup, or 2 ounces. Because dry food is very high in calories, cats should rarely eat more than ½ cup per day, total!
Try using an automatic feeder. An automatic feeder that can be set to dispense an exact amount of food at specific times of the day will not only control the calories that your cat receives but will also take you out of the feeding picture. This can be particularly useful when your kitty is begging early in the morning. *Note- avoid automatic feeders that dispense food based on motion sensing or pressing a lever- this is similar to a never-ending supply of quarters and a vending machine.
Increase activity level
Purchase or build a cat tree. A cat tree with multiple levels, climbing and scratching options, and dangling toys is an essential jungle gym of entertainment and activity for your cat.
Purchase or create toys that dispense food while the cat plays. Hollow toys can be filled with food that is dispensed only when the cat plays with and rolls it around. A water bottle with the cap on and small holes drilled in works fine. Remember that food used within the toy should be factored into the daily calorie count.
Move the food dish around the house each day to make your kitty work for each meal. Moving the food dish to new location- upstairs then downstairs then upstairs again not only stimulates the cats’ natural hunting behavior but forces them to walk to the food dish each time.
Set aside playtime for your cat. Many cats love to chase after paper balls, feather toys, or the light from the laser pointer. Start slowly with 2-3 minutes each day and work up to 10-20 minutes per day. Interactive play promotes chasing, running, and jumping.
Arrange a hunt. Purchase a couple of crickets from your local pet store and release them in a confined space (such as a bedroom) with your cat. Crickets are a natural food source for cats in the wild and your cat will not be able to resist the urge to hunt. Note that younger crickets are less likely to chirp, but of course—be prepared for the occasional escapee. If you do not like the idea of releasing crickets you can still set up a “treasure hunt” by hiding small treats and cat-nip toys around the house and letting your kitty search for rewards.
This blog post was written by Heather White, DVM, DACVIM, of VMC's Internal Medicine team.