Just like us, cats can put on a few extra pounds, especially as they get older and become less active, or if they spend every day indoors. It’s important to prevent your cat from putting on too much weight, as overweight cats can face many health implications that can prevent them from enjoying a happy and healthy lifestyle.
The good news is that you can do a lot to help your feline friend to keep their weight under control. By monitoring your cat's weight and body condition, you can help to reduce their chances of developing health issues that are common in overweight cats such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, lower urinary tract problems and constipation.
How to tell if your feline friend needs to go on a cat diet
It can be tricky to tell if your cat is overweight, particularly if they’re longhaired, and some cats are naturally stockier than others depending on their breed. Our body conditioning tool only takes a few minutes to complete, and quickly gives you a good idea about what shape your pet is in.
If you’re still not sure, or you think you might have an overweight cat, have a chat with your vet. It’s important to speak to them before you make any changes to your cat’s diet if you think they are overweight, as their weight gain could be caused by an underlying illness, rather than an over-active appetite. For more information before you talk to your vet, take a look at our ‘assessing your cat’s body condition’ article.
How to weigh your cat
Weighing your cat at home is a simple way to monitor their weight. Simply hold your cat as you stand on a set of weighing scales, and then subtract your weight from the final figure to be left with what your cat weighs. However don’t rely on this alone, as a proper body condition check will give you a much better overall picture of your cat’s health.
How to help with cat weight loss
If you’re already feeding your cat a diet recommended by your vet, speak to them before you switch to another food. If you don’t it could stop your cat losing weight or even worse have a negative effect on its health.
Start by cutting out all treats and titbits, including cat milk, for two weeks.
You might feel like you’re being unfair but it’s the kindest thing to do in the long run if you have an overweight cat.
It can be a good idea to divide the overweight cat’s food into smaller, more frequent meals to help them with hunger. Just make sure you keep track of what, and how much, you’re feeding. Your vet may suggest reducing the amount you’re feeding or recommend a special, lower-calorie cat diet the practice may even run a weight-loss programme where you can monitor your cat’s weight loss and get lots of help and advice.
When the two weeks are up, check their body condition again and continue their diet until they’ve reached their ideal body condition and weight. Take it slow and steady as rapid weight loss is dangerous and could be a sign of a serious underlying problem.
Once your cat has reached their perfect shape and size, you can look at slightly adjusting their feeding quantities to stabilise their weight for the future.
If your cat continues to struggle with their weight, you might want to consider the benefits of moving them onto a specially formulated 'light' cat food on a more permanent basis.
Light diets are less concentrated, with a lower calorie content, so you should be able to feed them the same portion size as you have done before. Even though they’re lighter in calories, these diets are still enriched with all of the essential nutrients your cat needs. This means that even if you do need to reduce their food quantities you don’t have to worry about your cat missing out on any of the goodness that they need.
If you’re already feeding your cat a diet recommended by your vet, speak to them before you switch to another food.
No 'crash' diets
It’s dangerous to starve your overweight cat as a solution to make them lose weight, as it can actually lead to serious health problems. By reducing food intake by more than 10-15%, you’ll be denying your cat the right balance of essential minerals and vitamins and they could potentially develop problems such as hepatic lipidosis. This is a serious and potentially fatal liver condition that can be caused by food restriction.
Keep your overweight cat active
Remember, food is only part of the journey to long term health and fitness – your overweight cat’s lifestyle will also affect their weight. In particular, a lack of exercise can pile on the pounds, so encourage your cat to stay active to burn off any excess energy. Try some of these steps to keeping your cat active:
- A dedicated daily playtime can help and many cats enjoy time spent chasing a ball or using a ‘fishing’ toy.
- Climbing and scratching towers make your cat’s environment much more interesting, as well as encourages them to take exercise.
- If your cat is kept exclusively indoors think about allowing access outdoors, perhaps by fencing the garden or building a pen outside to encourage more activity.
- When it comes to feeding, put some of their daily food allocation into a special feeding ball, which they’ll need to play with to release the food inside. Alternatively, place food at the top of the stairs or on top of a climbing tower to keep them moving.
Successful cat weight loss should be slow and gradual, and it can take months. Be patient, take your vet’s advice and, if possible, join a feline weight-loss clinic for extra support if you are concerned that your cat is overweight.