Weight Management for Senior Cats

Cat on Scale

Keeping kitty at her optimum weight is important at any age, but especially in older cats.  Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory distress, lower urinary tract disease and early mortality.   As our cats age and activity levels decrease, weight gain often becomes a problem.

Amber has been on a diet for the past several years – I’ve previously written about this here.  I’m happy to report that our efforts are working, and she has been losing some weight.

There are several factors that contribute to weight gain in our cats:

  • Free choice feeding.  This has been the single biggest factor in causing obesity in cats.  Free choice feeding means that food is left out for the cat at all times, which goes completely against the cat’s natural habit of being a hunter who may only eat one, maybe two meals a day.
  • Carbohydrates.  Unlike other mammals, cats have no carbohydrate-digesting enzyme called Amylase in their saliva.  Nature did not intend our cats to consume carbs.  They metabolize carbs into stored fat.  Unfortunately, most commercially available dry cat food is very high in carbohydrates, contributing to this problem.
  • Lack of exercise.  As we all know, our cats spend most of their day sleeping.
  • Treats.  For most of us, giving treats is one way we show our cats that we love them.  I’m definitely guilty of this – especially since Amber is the master manipulator when it comes to getting her treats!

How can we counteract these factors and help our cats maintain a healthy weight?

  • Stop leaving food out for your cat at all times.  Feeding two small meals a day, and feeding “normal” portions can go a long way toward helping your kitty loose and maintain her weight.   A normal size portion for a cat is about equal to the size of a mouse.  Don’t follow manufacturer directions when it comes to portion size – they’re all much higher than what your cat really needs.  When in doubt, consult with your cat’s vetnerinarian.
  • Feed a meat based diet.  This is consistent with the needs of a carnivore.  There are many quality commercial raw and canned diets available that are high in protein (meat) and free of grains (carbs).  Two brands I like (and they are also Amber-approved!) are the Wellness Core and the Innova EVO lines.
  • Play with your cat.  This is a great way for the two of you to spend quality time together and to get your cat some exercise.  For the times you when you can’t play with your cat, get him some interactive toys.  Check out the toy department of the Conscious Cat Store for some suggestions.
  • Limit or, ideally, eliminate treats.  If you absolutely must feed treats, look for grain-free treats that are high in protein and give only a few.  Amber has, reluctantly, learned that one Greenie treat (not grain-free, but only two calories a treat) is all she’ll get at any one time.  She still longs for the days when getting treats meant having a handful shaken into her bowl….

How do you help your kitty maintain or loose weight?

11 Comments on Weight Management for Senior Cats

  1. Amber
    August 17, 2015 at 7:09 pm (4 years ago)

    I know that this is an old blog, but i have an overweight senior cat to needs to lose some pounds, i have always feed my kitties dry food but have been reading more and more about it being very high in carbs and ultimately detrimental to weight loss efforts. In the article you suggest feeding strictly wet food and I was wondering if you had any suggestions also how you feel about mixing the 2 until my very large bag of dry food is empty.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 18, 2015 at 6:16 am (4 years ago)

      Unless it’s a budget issue, I would eliminate the dry food completely and donate what you have left to a shelter, Amber. If you want to use up what you have, then sure, start mixing it with wet food. You just won’t see results as quickly as you will once you switch to all wet food.

      Reply
  2. Ingrid
    July 11, 2010 at 9:23 am (9 years ago)

    Sounds like you have a great vet, Tamar. How much weight does Petie have to lose?

    Reply
  3. ihavecat
    July 11, 2010 at 9:16 am (9 years ago)

    this reiterates everything my vet said Ingrid – bravo! The thing is, Petie has never had much interest in playing. But I think this is b/c of his weight. Hoping he will have more energy once he loses some of the weight!

    Reply
  4. Ingrid
    September 9, 2009 at 12:01 pm (10 years ago)

    Amanda, thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree – canned food is a much better choice for obese cats (and all cats, for that matter). I always recommend switching to an all-canned diet. For those few hardcore kitties who simply refuse to eat canned food, I recommend switching to one of the grain-free dry varieties.

    Reply
  5. Amanda
    September 9, 2009 at 11:53 am (10 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid,
    People don’t realize that dry cat food is the “weightiest” reason for obese cats. They won’t like it, but the faster your cats can be weaned off of the stuff the easier it will be to control their weight. You are right about not leaving food out between proscribed meal times, too-another bad idea!

    Reply
  6. Ingrid
    September 3, 2009 at 5:09 pm (10 years ago)

    Sounds like just cutting back will do the trick for Musetta.

    Reply
  7. Clea Simon
    September 3, 2009 at 4:45 pm (10 years ago)

    Well, we do hear Musetta crunching and so I’m going to stick with the dry food/can mix – just less of the dry food! Her weight is steady, just a little too high.

    Reply
  8. Ingrid
    September 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm (10 years ago)

    It’s so hard to resist when they beg for food or treats, isn’t it, Clea? Amber likes to pretend that she’s still the poor, deprived stray she was when I first met her nine years ago and that there’s just never enough food in her dish.

    You might want to consider switching Musetta to an all canned diet. Veterinarians are still split on this issue, but more and more, they’re moving away from the idea that dry food is good for cats’ teeth. Even though the t/d diet can help some with removing plaque, that only works if the cat actually chews the kibble. Most cats don’t chew long enough for the scraping action to have any effect. And it’s very high in grains as well as fat. I was nervous when I switched Amber to all-canned initially, because she has a history of dental problems, but it didn’t get any worse, and maybe even improved slightly, on the grain-free canned diet she’s been eating for the past several years.

    Reply
  9. Clea Simon
    September 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm (10 years ago)

    Musetta just had her check-up and we were told she should lose a little. We’re starting by cutting back on her crunchies – from a cup to 3/4 cup – and after her teeth cleaning, we’ll try to mix the T/D diet w/ some Innova. Poor Musetta! I don’t want to kill her with kindness.

    Reply

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