Keeping your cat at a healthy weight is really important, not only for their health, but also their quality of life. Obesity comes with a lot of limitations, like making it difficult to play, climb, and jump, which leads to inactivity and under-stimulated minds.
We adopted our cat Bronson at 33 pounds, and with a lot of help from his vet, successfully helped him get down to a healthy 17.3 pounds (7.8 kg). This page is a summary of what worked well for him.
* Please note that Bronson has a large frame along with a lot of extra skin from his weight loss, so we’re not suggesting that 17 pounds is a healthy weight for everyone's cat. Every cat is different so it’s important to work with your vet on finding the appropriate daily calorie intake for your cat.
How to tell if your cat's overweight
Feeling your cat’s ribs is a good way to check to see if they are overweight. You should be able to feel the ribs with little padding from fat. If the padding has a similar feel to the back of your hand, it’s a good indication that your cat is a healthy weight.
Another method is a visual inspection, looking for signs of a waist. If their waist curves inward, it's a good sign that they're a healthy weight.
Health risks and issues linked to obesity
Obesity is one of the most common diseases in cats. The excess fat in obese cats negatively affects their health for a variety of reasons. Obese cats have an increased risk for many health problems and diseases including:
- Heart disease
- Urinary bladder stones
The quality and length of a cat’s life are shortened by obesity. One of the main causes of obesity in cats is the free feeding method. This is when a cat has dry food available to them at all times of the day rather than having scheduled feeding times. Scheduled feeding times allow you to control the amount of food your cat is having and observe their eating behaviors. If your cat is obese, gradually working with them to use diet and exercise in order to lose weight is the best tactic. Immediately taking away food can lead to other problems such as Hepatic Lipidosis.
Physical Limitations of obesity
When Bronson was at his heaviest, he would sleep all day. The only time he would stand up would be to use the litter box and to eat. So his quality of life was extremely low. Some of the quality of life issues he experienced were:
- Not being able to properly groom himself
- Being too heavy for flea and tick medication
- Risks associated with going under anesthesia
- Low energy level, difficulty getting around
- Unable to jump and climb
Not being able to jump up to surfaces like the bed, hammocks, or cat furniture may seem small. But with Bronson, he had to constantly watch our other cats play and have fun on their cat wall furniture from the ground. It had to feel bad knowing they were all able to jump around like superheroes right in front of him and he was just watching from the floor.
For the first two years of his diet, we needed to wipe him after he used the litter box because he wasn't able to reach his bottom.
If you are bringing a new cat into your home and are interested in starting them on a diet, please keep in mind that before that, your cat needs to continue eating and get comfortable in their new environment. For that reason, the Humane Society suggested we keep Bronson on his dry food diet for the first two weeks. During this time we were monitoring him and making sure he was continuing to eat.
Researching the right diet
If you're switching your cat's food to a new type, it's a good idea to discuss your plan with your vet prior to implementing your cat's new diet.
People have many strong feelings about diets, both for humans and their pets. We did quite a bit of research and talked to a couple of nutritionists prior to deciding on which diet to transition Bronson to. A very common thing we were hearing was to avoid dry food. It tends to have a lot more carbs and to be higher in calories. Dry cat food also doesn’t provide the benefits of the extra water content.
Ingrid King has a website called The Conscious Cat. On the site she wrote a really nice article called "The Best Food for your Cat: My Recommendations" which talks about different types of cat food and shares some quality brands. We found this to be a great resource to check out before choosing a diet.
We ultimately went with a grain-free diet by Weruva and are really happy with the product. One really nice thing about wet food, in general, is that you can add water to it. This helps fill your cat up and also provides extra hydration to their diet which is always good.
Starting with a Vet Visit
Before starting your cat’s new diet, it’s important to start with a checkup where your vet can look for underlying health conditions that your cat may have.
When we wanted Bronson to start his new diet, we took him in for blood work and a checkup. They gave him his first official weigh-in and we explained the diet we were switching him to, a grain-free wet food diet by Weruva.
His vet then gave us a daily calorie number to feed him and offered to give him complimentary monthly weigh-ins, but since Bronson’s always hated car rides, we got a baby scale from Amazon instead.
Weaning your cat to a new type of food
I hear very often people say their cat won't eat wet food. Although it may be true, a really important thing to keep in mind is to make the transition very gradually. We started with about a spoonful and mixed it in with his dry food. to his meal. At first, he wouldn’t eat the gross dry food/wet food concoction of slightly damp dry food, until we found a flavor he liked.
After that, we started the slow process of reducing his dry food and increasing wet food over the period of about a month.
Getting a baby scale was a nice investment because it allowed us to carefully track Bronson’s progress. We did weigh-ins weekly and then made slight adjustments to his diet depending on how quick or slow his weight was coming off.
The best time to weigh your cat is first thing in the morning. That way they have an empty stomach and their weight number will be more accurate from weigh-in to weigh-in. It was hard to get Bronson on the scale at first. Initially, we had to lure him onto the scale with treats. But then since it was in the morning and just before his first meal of the day, he got very excited about the treats, to the point where we had to hold him back from getting on the scale too quickly to let it calibrate.
If you’re shopping for a pet scale, be sure to get one without a lip on the top because while these probably work well for babies, they tip over very easily when trying to weigh your cat. There are plenty of nice options on Amazon, but here is a link to one we found with nice reviews.
Cats learn and act out of habit, meaning that having a scheduled feeding time for them is extremely important. Whether you are trying to help your cat lose weight, or maintain their health, a scheduled feeding time should be one of your main priorities.
One of the benefits of a scheduled feeding time is that it allows you to watch and monitor their eating behaviors. You can observe an increase or decrease in appetite, levels of interest in new food, and if they have a lack of appetite overall. These observations can be crucial to understanding and being preventative about your cat’s health. By having a scheduled feeding time, you will notice immediately if they are not eating, which could be the start of an illness. A scheduled feeding time also allows you to keep track of your cat’s daily calories, especially if you have a multiple pet household.
Do not feed snacks or food when your cat whines for them, or this will become more and more prevalent. We feed our cats at 6 am and 7 pm. This is made for our work schedule and makes it less fun on the weekends, but we’ve found it's really helpful to keep a consistent schedule to help discourage the cats from begging for food. Bronson has these times locked in his head. I typically wake up just before my alarm because Bronson knows it's about to go off and makes noises in anticipation of the alarm.
Early into Bronson’s diet, I began feeding him a small amount of food in the middle of the night. My thinking was that he was losing weight at the right pace, so this would be a small treat. What it taught him to do was to constantly wake me up for food and it took a few months of bad sleep to train this behavior out of him.
This was one of the more difficult aspects of Bronson's diet. Luckily, for the first couple of years, he couldn’t reach a lot of places the other cats could, like on the counters or higher ledges. But as he lost weight he started being able to reach more and more. It’s really important to keep the cat on a diet away from the other cats' food.
Feeding cats in separate rooms is probably the best option, but it adds the responsibility of needing to remembering to let cats out of rooms after they're finished.
We’ve played around with using our cat furniture to create difficult areas for less agile cats to access. If you would like to read about these ideas, here’s a link to that page.
Shop Wall mounted Feeding Options
Adding water to your cat's food
This is one of my favorite things about wet food. You can add water to it to help fill up a hungry cat and to give extra hydration, which is great. Adding the water is something that should be done slowly over time. As you dilute the wet food, it dilutes the flavor and your cat may not want to eat it.
We started with a very little bit of water and slowly increased it over a couple of months. Not all of the cats would eat the food after a certain point of dilution. Bronson has a strong love for food and we never found that dilution point for him.
Today, the cats have their water heated up in the microwave. Then they all get about a quarter cup of water and Bronson gets his filled all the way up.
The only downside to this is that the cats use the litter box much more often. We empty the boxes in the morning and then again at night. It’s good for them to have the extra water and it’s nice to see Bronson completely full after a meal. Without doing this, he would immediately start begging for food as soon as he was finished.
Adding sodium free green beans
Green beans are another nice way to help fill up your cat. Adding these also needs to be a gradual process.
It’s important that the green beans are sodium-free. I was buying canned green beans, dicing them up once a week, and keeping them in a Tupperware container. Then I'd take spoonfuls out during meal times. This went on for about a month and then I started getting tired of the extra work of preparing the green beans and went back to adding water.
I don’t really know if green beans would be better or worse for your cat than water, so this may be a good option if your cat doesn’t like the extra water.
Just because your cat's on a diet shouldn't mean that they don't get any more treats. Since our mealtimes are scheduled, treats are a nice surprise for the cats at a random time throughout the day. We just keep the number of calories in mind and calculate the number with their meal times to make sure it's still under the daily calorie limit.
Treats are also a valuable tool for promoting activity. Heavy cats are very food-motivated and treats are delicious. Here is a list of low calorie-treats that worked really well for us:
Keep your cat active
Exercise is important to keep your cat healthy, but just remember to start in small doses. When we first got Bronson, he would quickly tire out when playing with toys, but when anything with food was involved, he'd push through. Make sure to give your cat a break if they start panting or sticking their tongue out.
We've put a blog together showing some method that worked really well for keeping Bronson active through out the day. Please have a look: 6 Tips To Keep Your Cat Active.
Calorie burning cat toys
Cat toys are an important part of keeping your cat active. When Bronson was really heavy he used to sleep all hours of the day.
One time we put a camera on him and went to work and he didn't get up once in 9 hours. This is why it's important to play with your cats when you're home. If you need some recommendations, here's a list of Bronson's favorites: Best Cat Toys of 2021
Checking in regularly with your vet
It's important to continue working with your vet along the way. This is especially important if your cat is starting at a high weight like Bronson. As your cat loses weight, your cat's monthly goal weight can change along with their daily calorie number. These are both numbers the vet can give you after a checkup.
Track your cat's progress
We think it's a really good idea to track and keep a record of your cat's weight loss progress. It's especially helpful if you're making slow adjustments to their calories. A calendar would work well for this and also work as a reminder to do weigh-ins.
We started Bronson an Instagram page and that worked in the same manner. If you are posting monthly weigh-ins it adds a level of accountability and acts as a good reminder to do those weigh-ins. Another really nice part of putting it on social media is that you can get a lot of good suggestions from the community. If the ideas you're receiving online are related to changes to your cat's diet or products to try (other than toys) please run these ideas by your vet before making the changes.
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Cats are complex creatures, and thrive in environments that best replicate wild behaviors. For our domesticated cats this means enhancing their quality of life by providing environments that stimulate their natural behavior. Behaviors such as foraging to eat, social contact, predatory outlets, climbing, and problem solving are all natural behaviors for cats. Read More...