TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Ideal Weight Range for Cats
Reasons Cats Gain Weight
Why Your Cat Should Lose Weight
How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight
No matter how often they scratch at your furniture or knock over your houseplants, in your eyes, your cat is perfect. And we don't blame you—cats are cuddly, adorable, and great companions. But if you've spotted some extra fluff around their midsection, it may be time to change one thing about your feline: their diet.
If your cat is overweight, helping them shed a few pounds can improve their overall health and reduce the risk of issues like diabetes and arthritis. It may seem like a difficult task, but with some simple lifestyle changes, your cat will be well on their way to living their healthiest life.
How to Know If Your Cat Is Overweight
While your cat's ideal weight range will vary greatly depending on its breed and age, most domestic cats should weigh between 7 to 10 pounds for females and 8 to 12 pounds for males. "However, there are definitely breeds of cats, such as Maine coons, that can be much larger and still very healthy," says Nicole Savageau, DVM, veterinarian for The Vets.
Because an ideal weight range for cats varies, it's easier to look for the physical signs your feline is overweight. "You can check if your cat is overweight by feeling the side of their ribcage," says Gary Richter, DVM, veterinarian and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. "If you can't feel their ribs without pushing in significantly, they are likely overweight." Similarly, if it's hard to feel definition in their spine, your cat may be too heavy.
Reasons Cats Gain Weight
Your furry friend can gain weight for a handful of reasons, but the most common are too many calories and not enough exercise. "Cats' metabolism also decreases as they age so it can be easier for cats to gain weight after they are kittens, especially during middle age," says Dr. Savageau. "Neutered pets have lower energy requirements than intact pets, and are also at risk for weight gain." Additionally, felines may also gain weight if they suffer from certain medical conditions, like arthritis.
Why You Should Help Your Cat Lose Weight
Overweight cats are more at risk for developing diseases, like diabetes, pancreatitis, arthritis, and heart disease. Additionally, severely overweight cats may even form a skin disease from being unable to adequately groom themselves. "Obese cats are at a 2.8 percent higher risk of mortality compared to lean cats between the ages of eight to 12," says Carly Fox, DVM, senior veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center.
How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight
Helping your cat lose weight goes beyond just putting them on a diet. You'll need to work with your veterinarian to make a weight loss program that is specific to your feline. "If you believe your cat is overweight, consult with your general practitioner on how to create a safe and effective weight loss program," says Dr. Fox. When creating their plan, your veterinarian will take into account a variety of factors, including activity level, concurrent medical issues, and metabolism.
Start Them on a Diet
One effective way to help your cat lose weight is to put them on a diet, but you'll need to consult with your practitioner before getting started. "Simply reducing their food intake may lead to malnutrition and it's possible that a prescription diet may be recommended," says Dr. Fox. Your veterinarian will help you determine how much and how frequently your cat should be fed based on the calorie content of the food.
You should also ask your pet's doctor how best to introduce them to their new diet, which is dependent on how much weight your cat needs to lose. "Usually if a cat is only mildly overweight I will start the diet immediately," says Dr. Savageau. "If the cat is obese—say, for example, 18 pounds when it should be 12 pounds—I might target the weight loss to 15 pounds first so it is not such a drastic food reduction."
Increase Activity Levels
While adding exercise to their daily schedule will help your cat burn more calories, increasing their activity level can be difficult. "Cats do not naturally like to jog or run for long periods of time and are more prone to shorter bursts of energy compared to their dog counterparts," says Dr. Fox.
To work around this, try scheduling playtime with your furry friend in three 10 minute increments throughout the day to promote exercise without tiring them out. Investing in interactive toys—think laser pointers, cat wands, and even treadmills—will help with this.
Reduce Treat Intake
Treats are another major contributor to your cat's caloric intake. Reducing their treats or switching to a lower calorie option is recommended. When administering treats, consider buying an interactive feeding device to encourage more playtime. "Investing in a treat feeder ball or maze makes mealtime fun, engaging and incorporates exercise," says Dr. Fox.
Switch to Canned Food
With advice from your veterinarian, you may want to consider switching your cat to wet food. "High quality brand canned cat foods are fully nutritionally balanced and can help accelerate weight loss. They have a higher percentage of water and less calories for the same volume of food compared to dry food," says Dr. Savageau.
Avoid a Grazing Diet
Rather than sticking to scheduled feedings, some cat owners allow their pets to graze their food any time of day. For overweight cats, switching to set mealtimes will help you regulate their intake. One way to do this is by investing in a scheduled feeder. "Scheduled feeders are great because they remove the owner from the equation," says Dr. Savageau. "It can help to feed your cat smaller amounts of food more often, as well."
Keep Cats From Sharing Food in a Multi-Pet Household
If you have multiple cats, it can be difficult to prevent them from sharing food. If one cat needs to be on a diet and the other doesn't, consider feeding them in separate rooms. The only time this strategy won't work is if the lean cat is a grazer. In this case, you may want to turn to microchip feeders. "These are separate feeding devices that scan your cat's microchip and only let whichever cat is linked to that device eat the food," says Dr. Savageau.