We get it. It’s hard to keep the weight off your cat, especially in the winter. Even if they’re allowed out of doors, in the winter they often choose to stay inside and loll on the couch. Most city cats aren’t allowed to venture further than a supervised visit to their backyards or balconies at any time.
If your feline friend seems a little more round recently, you aren’t alone. About half of all cats are obese and about 75% are at least overweight. Yet only about 10% of owners with overweight pets actually think their pets are heavy. Since we live with our pets every day, sometimes it’s difficult to notice when Kitty has gained too much weight. Because it is so hard to tell if your cat has put on a couple of pounds, it’s very important to weigh your cat on a regular basis.
What Exactly Is Too Much Weight, Anyway?
Good question! Gaining 1-3 pounds might be difficult to notice on your cat, and it might not seem like much. However, one extra pound on a cat is equivalent to about 20 extra pounds for a human. If your cat has gained 3 extra pounds, that’s equivalent to you gaining 60 pounds! The potential health problems caused by carrying that much extra weight are significant.
How Can I tell if My Cat is Overweight?
Learning how to tell if your pet is overweight is the first step. In general, you shouldn’t be able to see your cat’s ribs and backbone, but you should be able to feel them fairly easily. One way to determine if your cat is overweight is to look down at him or her from above. You should be able to see your cat’s waistline. If there is a bulge or circular shape in front of their hips, chances are they’re carrying some extra weight.
You can use this chart as a guideline:
The most important step in determining if your pet is overweight or obese is to book an appointment with your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to tell you what a healthy weight is for your particular pet. In addition to weighing your pet, the doctor will perform a physical exam to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing the weight gain.
You and the doctor may decide that the best course of action is to put Fluffy on a diet. Your veterinarian will give you the recommended daily calorie intake for your particular pet. There are many different body types and breeds which could alter that number, and it’s important to get it right. If you continue to feed your pet too many calories, they won’t lose the extra weight. If you cut them back too severely they’ll be hungry all the time and may become undernourished.
Once you know how many calories your cat needs, you can use the nutritional labeling on their food to determine how much they should have in a day. Simply measure out the food in the morning and feed it over the course of the day.
What kind of health problems can obesity cause?
Similar to humans, obesity in cats can cause numerous serious health problems. One of the most common problems we see in obese cats is diabetes, which often has to be treated with daily insulin injections, the same as in humans. Constipation, liver problems, heart disease, breathing problems, hypertension, kidney disease, arthritis and skin and coat problems are all common health problems associated with obese and overweight cats. Overweight cats are also prone to skin infections because they simply are unable to groom themselves properly, particularly around the hindquarters.
All of these health problems can result in a shortened life expectancy and should be taken very seriously.
How Do I Get My Cat to the Right Weight?
Here are some tips for getting your cat to target weight and keeping them there. Some of them are very simple and fun.
Make your cat walk to his/her food bowl by keeping the bowl away from favorite snoozing spots. You could also keep the food and water in separate places (preferably on different levels or different rooms of your home). Within reason, the more your cat needs to move and work for their food, the better off they will be.
No free-feeding! With your veterinarian, determine how much you should be feeding and measure/weigh out your cats’ portions.
Twenty minutes of exercise a day. Toys that can be batted around or chased (like balls, catnip-filled toys, and laser pointers) tap into your cat’s natural ability to stalk and capture prey. Many inactive cats will not spend enough time chasing balls or stuffed toys, but few can resist a laser pointer or a teaser toy that you’re dancing in front of them. If 20 minutes is too much, start with 10!
Feed your cat using puzzle balls or maze feeders. Cats are hunters by nature, and they love having to work for their food. Not only will they enjoy the game and challenge of having their meal, they will be taking in their calories more slowly and feel more satisfied. We keep puzzle balls in stock at the hospital, and you can get both balls and maze feeders through our Webstore, or at most pet stores.
Feed your cat one small meal a day by throwing or sliding the kibbles on a hard floor for them to chase. Dr. Eaglesome calls this the “kibble toss”, and it’s a daily event at her house!
Feed separately. If you live in a multi-cat household be sure to feed your cats separately. Cats can be very different with their eating habits. Some cats are ravenous and eat like they haven’t eaten in weeks, while others like to nibble and graze. If you have one of each, you can imagine that the ravenous kitty might gobble the grazer’s food once he or she is done with their own. If you have one of your cats on a reduced diet, you will need to monitor the meals, and make sure that your overweight cat isn’t sneaking extra calories.
Feed a portion controlled, balanced, species and age-appropriate diet. Ask your veterinarian about the food your cat is eating to ensure it’s a good choice for your cat’s health.