Resolution for Cats Losing Weight


It’s that time of year when everyone promises to lose weight. Everyone? How about overweight or obese cats losing weight?

A crash diet? That’s absolutely not the answer for people or dogs – but it’s a horrible and potentially life-threatening plan for cats. “The result is cannibalizing the cat’s own liver,” says Dr. Ernie Ward. Hepatic lipidosis is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when cats stop eating, forcing the liver’s function to be severely compromised.

No one ever said losing weight is easy.  If it’s challenging to lose even a few pounds for people or for dogs, it’s even more challenging for cats, says Ward. “It’s physiological, dogs and humans use fatty acids and cats use glycogens.”

Treadmill for cats?

Ward, who is the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, says the problem is real. Sixty percent of cats in America are overweight or obese. This increases health risks for a wide variety of medical problems. What’s more, millions of cats only live to sit on the sofa and eat, and if lucky – use a litter box. These cats even have difficultly grooming themselves. Current thinking is that obese cats may even suffer from depression.

Ward says that we get on a treadmill and at least start running longer distances to lose weight. And for dogs, we hit the park or the backyard for a game of fetch maybe even for too long – but dogs keep going anyway because they want to please us and/or because they’re enjoying it. Long walks with dogs are good for our own metabolism, as much as it is for dogs.

“Cats are another matter,” adds Ward. ”Cats are designed to go all out for a few seconds then cats konk out. Even a cheetah will go all out for only about 90 seconds and then take hours to recover.”

For cats, following veterinary direction for appropriate diet is the first step. Dr. Elizabeth Bales says to have realistic expectations and understand that the cat didn’t grow to be 18 lbs. overnight. So, losing weight should take a while.

So, how can cats lose weight? Diet matters, and that is a topic to talk with your veterinarian about. Also, the number of treats and table food.

Beyond food to lose weight – MOVE!

However, diet alone won’t solve the problem. But there are no long workout sessions for cats. What do you do? The answer in a word is movement.

Motivating the cat to move, and to be a cat.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners recently released a free document called “How to Feed a Cat: Addressing Behavioral Needs”  It turns out what is equally or more important than what we feed our cats is how we fed them.

People tend to leave out food all the time. Most cat homes have multi-cats and it’s impossible to gauge who is eating what. The thinking that cats stop eating when they’re filled is simply not true. Bales says, “We feed cats from bowls like we eat off plates, as if cats are human.”

She adds, “In nature, cats hunt and catch many small portions, the more the better. The cat’s stomach is only the size of a ping pong ball.”

Also, given most cats’ preference they don’t want to share food sources with others. “The way which we feed cats not only causes weight issues,” says Bales. “We also unknowingly often create all kinds of behavior problems.”

Indoor Hunting Feeder

Indoor Hunting Feeder

Bales created her own solution called The Indoor Hunting Feeder. Devices resemble mice, and kibble is deposited inside. The idea is to use three of these feeders per cat, at first near the cat’s current bowl. Over time, spread the feeders out – with the goal to ultimately hide them. Cats learn to “hunt” for their meals, and naturally consume small quantities at a time. Searching for their meals activates their hard-wired prey drive, and offers physical exercise (particularly when food is hidden at various levels, so the cat has to scamper on to a shelf or window ledge), as well as beneficial mental exercise.

If you feed moist food, portion out the food into small dishes and place those around the house in the same manner.

Ward says he plays the laser light game with his cats. Some obese cats will just look at the light and say, “So what?” Even if you can start by enticing the cat to move toward the light, it’s a start,” Ward says.

The only problem with the laser toy is that the cats never really get a chance to catch anything, which must be frustrating. End the game by dropping a low calorie treat, such as Bonito flakes for the cat to “kill.”

One step at a time

All cats are individuals, though most will express interest in an interactive toy – a fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric. If you can start with the cat batting at the end, then moving to follow, and then finally to chase for 10 seconds – that’s all you need. Short bursts of energy is the goal.

Also, small steps matter. It’s the same idea that so many people are now counting their daily steps. If you live in a multi-level home encourage the cat to go upstairs and downstairs multiple times daily. Encourage your cat to follow you as you do housework. When you get off the sofa, take the cat off your lap and place him down in another room, forcing him to simply walk back to where he was.

The good news is that there have never been so many cat toys on the market as there are today. Then again, for many cats a wine cork or aluminum foil ball can make for great fun. Create tunnels for cats to move through. Sure more svelte cats may run through, but again it’s just a matter of adding more steps. Think of your cat’s exercise regimen as one step at a time.

“Other advantage of interactive play,” says Ward, “You can see your cat is moving, and it builds the human-animal bond.”

When you order the Indoor Hunter Feeder, and type ‘Catswin’ as coupon code, a percent of sales benefits the non-profit Winn Feline Foundation, which raises dollars to support cat health studies. Remember, while what you feed your cat counts, it’s how you feed your cat that matters most – a topic which has been greatly overlooked.