Q: I think my cat is overweight. His stomach hangs down and he sounds like a small dog when he jumps down from the couch. We feed him canned food in the morning and it is only half a can of Fancy Feast. He can eat dry food all day but his bowl is never empty so I don’t think he eats that much. We don’t give him people food and only a couple of treats daily. How can I get him to lose weight?
A: Cats can easily become overweight, especially if they live mostly indoors and aren’t active. The average cat should weigh between 9 and 11 pounds, and you should be able to feel a couple of bony points on his back or over his hips. If your cat is a typical domestic shorthair and is over that 11-pound mark and a little soft or squishy, as I like to say, he could probably lose some weight.
The place to start is to change his feeding and food choices. Cats are hunters. In the wild, they would eat multiple times daily, depending on their ability to catch mice or other prey. So to keep them happy while promoting weight loss, try feeding them smaller meals multiple times daily.
They are carnivores, so a canned diet is best. Cats that have never eaten or do not like canned food can be moved to a canned diet slowly by decreasing the amount of dry food and increasing the amount of wet food offered until only canned food is available. Be patient; it will take several weeks.
We count calories to lose weight, and you should count calories for your cat if you want him to shed those extra pounds. The energy that cats need each day varies based on age, activity level and health status. For a healthy, 9- to 11-pound cat, you should aim for no more than 250 kilocalories per day for maintenance.
If you put that in terms of mice for your hunter, that equates 6 to 8 mice a day to maintain that ideal body condition. This is based on the fact that the average mouse contains 30 to 35 kilocalories worth of energy. Yes, that is a random fact that veterinarians know and will use to win on “Jeopardy!” one day.
Food review: Canned food only, in multiple meals to keep them happy and count calories to be sure you are feeding them less than 250 kilocalories per day.
What about the other part of the equation — activity? Yes, you need to try to get more activity out of your cats through play.
Remember, cats like to hunt and chase things. Fishing poles and laser lights will help them chase “prey” and burn calories. A routine of prey play a couple of times daily will definitely help.
Adding another cat can be a way to get a quiet cat more active, but it could also be a problem if they are not compatible, so pick wisely. Lastly, you can try moving the feeding area to a different level in the house so cats need to walk up or down stairs each time to eat. This is often well tolerated and a sneaky way to make them move around more.
Lastly, when trying to get weight off of a cat, you have to do the work too. Weigh the cat at the start and then every two to three weeks, and make changes if there are no results. It doesn’t help your cat to make a few food and activity changes, then stop without seeing if the changes worked. No plan is perfect for every cat, and being flexible is so important to reaching your goals.
Remember, these goals are small in cats; 2 or 3 pounds of weight loss is fantastic and often all you need. So get a baseline weight, talk to your vet about how much your cat should actually lose based on his life stage and activity level, and go from there. He will thank you for his newfound, awesome feline physique for years to come. Good luck.