Q: I have an overweight cat, who makes Garfield look tiny. My vet says because Stella is now middle aged, she’s going to have many problems if we don’t get her weight down. She’s on a special diet, and we adjusted her feeding, so she’s only eating at the times we feed our dog. Our vet wants Stella to exercise, but how do I get a couch potato cat to even move? I’m glad we don’t have mice, because there’s no way Stella would chase them. —C. G., Charlotte, NC
A: Your veterinarian is correct: Overweight cats are prone to various physical ailments, including diabetes, skin problems, multiple types of cancers, arthritis, and others.
Even if your cat’s prey drive is dormant, she is still a cat and is hardwired to seek, hunt, and pounce. Start slow by dangling an interactive toy (something with a play mouse or a feather at the end of a fishing pole works). If she bats at the toy, it’s a start, and you can move gradually from there.
Your cat obviously enjoys food (that’s why you’re in this mess in the first place). So, you might want to look into the NoBowl Feeding System, which encourages your cat to “hunt” for food.
As important as what a cat eats is how a cat eats. NoBowl objects are like little mice, which kibble is deposited into. The objects consists of a soft outer skin to simulate prey and a food-safe, BPA-free plastic inner container, which holds 1/5 of the cat’s daily ration. There are two holes on the back of each NoBowl™ object or “mouse.” When the cat rolls and plays with the NoBowl “mouse,” food is dispensed.
The idea is to split a meal between the five NoBowls, and hide them (beginning by hiding them in easy places for the cats to find and gradually increase the level of difficulty as needed). Cats learn to “hunt” indoors by searching for, finding, pouncing on, and manipulating each NoBowl to dispense the small meal. Feeding the cat three times daily is better than twice a day, and four times is even better. Cats naturally eat several times daily in small portions. And, there’s more exercise involved with more frequent feedings.
Remember, you can train a cat to come when called (well, most of the time). It’s fun, and a great calorie buster. Begin with your cat near the refrigerator with a special treat in your hand. Your cat can see and smell the treat, and she’s only steps away, so, of course, she’ll come when you call. Repeat this several times, and slowly move farther and farther away before calling. About two weeks in, instead of offering a treat each time, sometimes offer a treat and sometimes a piece of ordinary kibble and sometimes provide praise. Eventually, you’ll be able to call Stella from another part of the house and she’ll scamper to see you.
If Stella likes your lap, whenever you change the TV channel, get up instead of using the remote, and use a toy or your voice to entice Stella to follow. When you sit back down, allow her to rejoin your lap. Experts on calorie burning suggest that just a few extra steps daily can add up over time.
Stella didn’t gain the weight overnight, and she won’t lose the weight overnight, either. Never try to put your cat on a “crash diet,” which are very dangerous in cats and may cause a potentially deadly liver disease.
A year from now, I want you to write back about how Stella is chasing mice.
By the way, NoBowl just announced a percent of proceeds from each purchase will support the nonprofit funder of cat health studies, the Winn Feline Foundation,
Use the code CATSWINN at the NoBowl online store to support cat health and to help cats everywhere.
Looking for more ideas on how to enrich your cat’s home environment? Check this out.