Bea Sacks of Huntington Woods, Michigan, calls Jack, her adult cat, “big.” But she has no idea how much he weighs or whether a diet is in order. That’s because Jack, like many housecats, eats whenever he wants and rarely visits the veterinarian. Unfortunately, if Jack is even a pound over his ideal weight, he could be in trouble. Overweight cats are far more likely to develop osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems, and skin conditions.
If you can hear a thud when your cat jumps off the bed, it may be time for a diet and exercise regime. The first step is consulting with your veterinarian. He or she can first rule out health issues that may be contributing to your pet’s weight gain. Plus, your veterinarian can help you formulate a sensible weight-loss and exercise plan. What the vet cannot do is restrain your urge to reward your cat with treats or to give in to his vocal protesting when you change his diet. Remember to stay focused and keep in mind: a slimmer, fitter cat is a happier and longer-lived cat.
Is Your Cat Fat?
An average domestic shorthair should weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, and although you can attempt to put your cat on a scale, there are other ways to check his or her fitness:
- Gently squeeze the sides of your cat’s rib cage. If you can easily feel the ribs, he/she is probably not overweight. If you have to press to get at the ribs, that is a sign that he/she may be overweight.
- Look at your cat’s waistline. A cat’s body should become more slender from the belly to hindquarters.
- Does your cat have a swinging pouch between his/her hind legs? This is a strong indication that your cat is overweight.
Slimming Down Kitty
Your primary responsibility, as your cat’s caretaker, is to limit the calories your cat is getting. A 10-pound indoor cat should be eating approximately 200 calories per day, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Here are some of the basics in limiting calories and slimming down your cat:
- It is VERY important to measure out his/her food. Divide the cat’s targeted calorie intake into four to six small meals.
- Always keep his/her water bowl full.
- Leave out cat food for a limited amount of time.
- Set a weight loss goal with your veterinarian and bring him/her in often to be weighed to track your progress.
- Avoid giving treats, or if you must, use a few pieces of dry food as a substitute.
- Do not share human food with your cat. Our food is too fattening for pets and can cause diarrhea.
- Do not allow your cat access to dog food.
- Implement any new diet slowly. Cats may stop eating if you suddenly switch them to a different food.
- Do not expect a quick weight loss. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says a loss of about 1 pound per month is healthy.
Exercise is also important. Getting your cat moving can be a challenge if he/she doesn’t venture outdoors. Try a laser pointer, which emits a pinpoint of light that intrigues cats and often gets them off the couch and moving around. Other toys, like a stick with feathers dangling from the end are great, too. Climbing structures, such as scratching posts or even over-turned cardboard boxes may also interest your cat. Start activity habits early, if possible, ideally when your cat is still a kitten.