How to Get Your Cat to Lose Weight

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A survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity in 2012 found that a staggering 58% of America’s cats are  overweight or obese. These statistics mirror the equally disturbing increase in human obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one third of adults in the United States are obese.

The serious health problems in cats which result from obesity are the same as in humans:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis, joint problems and and torn or strained ligaments
  • Heart and respiratory problems
  • Gastro-intestinal and digestive problems
  • Compromised immune system
  • Increased risk during anesthesia and surgery

We are killing our cats by overfeeding them. The following factors contribute to creating this obesity epidemic:

Free choice feeding

This is 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 two or three small meals a day.

Dry food

Dry food, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, is the equivalent of junk food for cats. Feeding dry food to cats is akin to feeding sugared cereals to kids.

Cats are obligate carnivores who need meat (protein) in their diet not only to thrive, but to survive. Nature did not intend our cats to consume carbs. Unlike other mammals, cats don’t have amylase, the enzyme required to begin the process of digesting carbohydrates, in their saliva. Instead, they metabolize carbs into stored fat. Dry cat food, even the grain-free varieties, is very high in carbohydrates

Lack of exercise

Even though cats have a reputation for sleeping all day, they need opportunities to exercise, which, for our house cats, means they need an enriched environment that allows them to run and play.

How to get your cat to lose weight

If your cat is at a healthy weight, the tips below will help her stay healthy. If your cat is overweight or obese, they will help her slim down in a healthy way.

A word of caution: if your cat is seriously obese, make sure that you allow her to loose weight slowly. When food intake is cut too quickly in obese cats, they can develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease,) a potentially life threatening condition.

Stop leaving food out 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 an average size cat is about equal to the size of a mouse. Manufacturer directions regarding portion size are usually higher than what your cat really needs.

Eliminate dry food from your cat’s diet

Do not feed any dry food, not even as a treat. Some cat guardians are concerned that dry food is necessary to keep cat’s teeth clean, which is a myth that unfortunately is perpetuated by many veterinarians. The theory behind this myth is that by chewing on hard kibble, tartar is scraped off the teeth. If this were true, wouldn’t dentists tell us to chew on hard pretzels? Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

Feed a meat based raw or canned 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). I do not recommend diets marketed as weight-loss diets, especially not the veterinary prescription diets. Most are too high in carbohydrates, and contain by-products and fillers.

Play with your cat

Playtime is not only a great way to keep your cat trim and fit, it’s also a wonderful way to spend quality time together.

Limit or, ideally, eliminate treats

If you absolutely must feed treats, look for grain-free treats that are high in protein, such as freeze dried chicken, and give only a few.

Don’t let your cat become a statistic. Keep your cat at a healthy weight, and if your cat is overweight, start helping her lose weight now!

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29 Comments on How to Get Your Cat to Lose Weight

  1. Emma
    September 8, 2017 at 4:48 pm (2 years ago)

    I have a question about the play with your cat advice – one of my girls adores playing and it only takes a toy to move a little bit for her to go into play mode, she’s at an ideal weight and 5 years old now. My other cat, a 6 year old, just does not enjoy games at all. She’ll look at toys as if she’s thinking “you’re the one moving the toy, it’s not moving by itself.” She’s also scared of the outside world so will only go outside when the 5 year old is with her or if I go outside with her.

    It’s rare for her to choose to play by herself as well and the only times I get her to begin a game, my 5 year old runs over and takes control of the toy and the game. How can I coax her into playing more without Tigger (the 5 year old girl) taking control and scaring Ebony away from the toy? (Ebony is timid)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 9, 2017 at 5:20 am (2 years ago)

      You may need to try to play with her without the other cats around. Cats don’t naturally play with each other, and when you have a more dominant kitty take control during play, it’s even less likely that she’ll relax enough to enjoy playing. Experiment with different types of toys, too.

      Reply
  2. marian conner
    August 17, 2015 at 6:57 pm (4 years ago)

    We live in a house with 4 cats siblings – one has IBS(vomiting until bloody) and has to be fed ONLY HILLS DRY I/D food in small amounts; one is extremely overweight and has just been told to feed him ONLY HILLS R/D DRY food until he loses weight. My vet bills have been difficult. NOW someone thinks only canned food?? What am I to do?? mcc

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 18, 2015 at 6:19 am (4 years ago)

      I would encourage you to discontinue the Hill’s prescription diets, Marian. The ingredients are not what an obligate carnivore like the cat should be eating. You can find my general recommendations here: http://consciouscat.net/2012/03/22/the-best-food-for-your-cat/ You may also want to consider a diet change for your cat with IBS/IBD, here’s more information on a possible connection between IBD and diet: http://consciouscat.net/2010/09/13/inflammatory-bowel-disease-and-diet/

      Reply
      • amy
        June 15, 2016 at 4:02 pm (3 years ago)

        yes dry food is tres BOGUS and “conner” may not have vet bills if she tries this little “trick”: I have two cats- one is very healthy and slim and the other is fat and seems to not eat much. i finally realized ive been feeding them just dry food ( but the good stuff…) and cats need healthy meat protein that will help their bowels move properly. So…i ve been buying liver and frying it up with a tad of sea salt and blending it up, putting it into jars and freezing it or making it fresh that day and my healthy cats LOVES!!!! it! and ive seen the sheen on her coat start to shine. However, the “FAT CAT” doesn’t like it as much and seem reluctant to try freshly made food with live enzymes. I think live food is ideal. But… switching to wet food is a grand idea and this may help “old fatty” loose some weight…lets “Weight” and see who is right here…..

        Reply
  3. Corrina Tibbert
    December 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm (5 years ago)

    Ive fed my little girl Science Plan dried food since adopting her at 8wks old. Gracie has access to the outside world via her cat flap but she’s very timid so doesn’t go very far. She is now 7 yrs old so not as playful as she once was so I’m finding it quite hard to keep her weight ‘healthy’. Can you pls recommend a good diet available in the UK.

    Many thanks

    Corrina

    Reply
  4. Beverly
    December 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm (5 years ago)

    I adopted my cat 15 years ago when she was 3 years old. I have always left the self feeder out for her and she has gained 1 pound in 15 years. She has been on Science Diet since I adopted her. She weighs 11 pounds.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm (5 years ago)

      The weight gain is most likely the result of the combination of free-choice feeding and feeding a diet with less than optimal ingredients, Beverly.

      Reply
  5. Keli
    December 2, 2014 at 12:50 am (5 years ago)

    This article is so true. I have a cat who was 27 lbs and a food addict. I have a cat who on dry food got to 27 lbs. Luckily I tested his blood sugar and caught his diabetes in the beginning stages. I quickly switched o a canned diet and his diabetes went away and he got active again. Cats who won’t switch easily to canned use a product called FortiFlora made by Purine. I got it online at Amaazon.com for the best price. Sprinkle the product on their food and they’ll eat it. Overtime you use less and less till they eat on their own. I will never feed my cats dry food ever again. It’s the worst thing you can do.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 2, 2014 at 7:13 am (5 years ago)

      Thank you for sharing your experience with your formerly diabetic cat, Keli. Far too few people realize that sometimes, diabetes can go into remission with just a diet change.

      Reply
  6. Sometimes Cats Herd You
    December 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm (5 years ago)

    This is timely, since Ashton is returning to her diet again this week. She lost weight very successfully by kicking the kibble habit and eating high quality canned food, but we got lax about her intake and she’s starting to get a little curvy again. Diet for cats, like for humans, has to be part of a lifestyle change for it to stick!

    Reply
  7. De De
    December 1, 2014 at 10:40 pm (5 years ago)

    While trying to deal with my cat’s obesity, I switched her from 100% dry food to grain-free wet food. I noticed she was losing weight faster than the others in the colony, despite my trying to be careful with mixing the dry with the wet, she refused to eat anything that touched the wet food. Just when I thought she was finally consuming some of the wet food too, she started looking lethargic.

    Today, we are trying to deal with hepatic lipidosis. I am heart broken.

    Please keep a careful eye on your babies as you transition them. Eight of my nine cats are doing very well, just the one has not done well. Please take Ingrid’s warning seriously. Your cat may not choose to eat if she gets hungry enough.

    Reply
  8. Abby
    December 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm (5 years ago)

    Seriously, I keep hearing no dry food, use quality wet food. Avaiod grains… However nobody recommend a particular brand or brands to choose from. Fancy Feast? Simply Chcken? They all seem to have filler. Help please in “”meat based” quality brands. Woul it be easier and healthier just to boil chicken meat?

    Reply
  9. Susie
    December 1, 2014 at 5:04 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you, Ingrid, for another thoughtful overview of very important information concerning our dear kitties and their health. In September 2013 my 10-yr. old cats had their first taste of canned, wet food. Until then I had never heard the term obligate carnivore, but once it was brought to my attention I simply could not ignore the facts! The transitioning from dry kibble was probably harder for me than it was for the kitties — they were patient and filled with gratitude that their Mom had finally gotten the message!! I am happy to report that now they are getting species-appropriate food, homemade by me using a recipe, specifically created for them by Dr. Lisa Pierson and now they are thriving, not just surviving!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 1, 2014 at 6:30 pm (5 years ago)

      I’m glad your kitties are thriving on the homemade diet, Susie. I often feel that cats go “finally, she gets it!” when we change their diet to a species-appropriate one.

      Reply
  10. Brian Frum
    December 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm (5 years ago)

    It does get complicated sometimes. One of the 7 kitties here has diabetes and she needs to have food out during the day to help keep her glucose levels under control. Sometimes it gets really complicated when only one in a multiple cat household needs to lose weight..

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm (5 years ago)

      It can get complicated in multiple cat households, but there are ways to make it work.

      Reply
  11. SlimKitty
    December 1, 2014 at 1:43 pm (5 years ago)

    Great post – going to share. Check our post today at SlimKitty where we talk about calorie needs for cats.

    Reply
  12. MittensMom
    December 1, 2014 at 9:48 am (5 years ago)

    Wow. The timing of this post is so ironic. Just the other day, my friend’s mom and I were having a discussion about this.

    After a series of home remodeling projects, and being confined to smaller spaces in the house, our 9 yr old had put on a little extra weight. After her vet visit last year, her Dr and I decided that she needed to lose about a half pound or so.

    Bothered by the fact that I was happy about my cat having finally lost the weight, my friend’s mom was trying to convince me that cats need “a couple extra pounds” as buffer in case they get sick. A couple extra pounds?! I was rather taken aback by that statement since that’s a lot of extra weight for a cat!!!

    But it didn’t surprise me because she is a chronic overfeeder. Between the multiple cans of food (which she insists on feeding on a very rigid schedule) and the heaping bowls of dry food left out, her kitties are usually either slightly overweight or borderline obese. I know she loves her cats dearly, but she doesn’t seem to get it. She’s unfortunately also the type who “knows everything”

    For a brief moment I did wonder if our two were getting enough but, considering I basically feed them as you describe in this post, they rarely finish what I give them, and are healthy, happy, and active (by a cat’s standard), I know we’re good. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 1, 2014 at 6:29 pm (5 years ago)

      Extra pounds as a buffer just in case? That made mes smile – I can honestly say I’ve never heard that justification for being overweight! Sounds like your kitties are doing great.

      Reply
    • Keli
      December 10, 2014 at 11:43 pm (5 years ago)

      You need to get more strict with your feedings. Cat’s don’t need dry food and they don’t need to have food available all the time. I used to feed that way years ago and lost many cats too young from diseases related to dry food. Diabetes, Hypothyroidism, Urinary tract infections, Urinary blockages resulting in kidney damage and shortly after death. I spent $2000.00 on just that cat trying to save his life. He was only 7 years old. I too had a glutton cat who blew up to 27 lbs and had just started to get diabetes. All I did was switch to canned food, 3 ozs 3 times a day or one 6oz can split feeding twice a day. This amount is per cat. If you have a smaller breed cat they may need a bit less. My cat is a large cat but he is now a normal weight of 15 lbs. for his size. I have 2 cats. One is 11 years old and the other is 22 years old. They are both very healthy and you wouldn’t even know by looking at the 22 year old that she’s really that old. Many cats who’s diet get switch will cry like it’s never enough. Believe me it is and the crying will stop. You just need to ignore them when they beg for extra food.

      Reply
      • Keli
        December 10, 2014 at 11:45 pm (5 years ago)

        Ingrid this post wasn’t meant for you. I know you are a wealth of information and the biggest asset to this board.

        Reply
  13. Gina
    December 1, 2014 at 9:28 am (5 years ago)

    both of mine were overweight. I took them off Science Diet Light and put them on Fromm’s dry. they both lost 2 pounds each right away and are keeping it off. It’s the garbage filler that makes them fat.

    Reply
  14. Rudolph.A.Furtado
    December 1, 2014 at 5:52 am (5 years ago)

    I feed my two traditional Persian cats home made wet food consisting of cereals meat+ fish. They are in excellent health although the 7 year old female cat “Matahari” is a glutton and is slightly obese compared to her 5 year old male kitten “Matata”.An excellent article that is devoid of medical jargon and simple to understand for the average cat owner.

    Reply
  15. Sam Cee
    December 1, 2014 at 4:13 am (5 years ago)

    My cat George LIVED to EAT! He was a healthy weight when he was young but as he got older, he started to fill out. The problem was that he would pester for food all the time. Even when he had food in his bowl, it wasn’t enough. He ate so fast it seemed like he was choking. He was a large grey tabby – an alpha male cat. I put him on a diet but he was so upset about not having food. He would miaow constantly and scratch me to get me to put food in his bowl. It was upsetting for me too. In the end, after about a month of trying, I gave in to him & took him off the diet. He lived to be 15 and had no real health problems apart from the weight (was an out door cat). I loved him very much.

    He died next to his food bowl. That felt right to me.

    Reply

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