In recent weeks we talked a lot about weight loss in cats, ending our discussion with a guide for creating and managing your cat’s weight loss. But there are several more things you can do to make your cat’s diet more effective and healthy. Find out about those in this article.
- Visit a veterinarian. If your cat is overweight or obese, it’s a wise choice to start by visiting your veterinarian. First, because any weight-related problems can have a medical origin, and second, your cat’s health history may affect how you proceed with the weight loss program.
Do not starve your cat! If your cat has been overweight for most of his life, there is no need for quick results. Starvation may cause rapid weight loss, but it also can irreversibly damage your cat’s health. In human nutrition, experts say that the healthiest weight loss program with the best long-term effectiveness is a program that helps you lose weight slowly but consistently. Depending on your cat’s excess weight, a normal program could last from two weeks to several months, and your cat should lose no more than 2-4% of his body weight per week. Example: If your cat’s current weight is 7 kg (15.4 lb) and his ideal weight is estimated at 5 kg (just over 11 lb), you should aim at reducing his weight by no more than 280 grams (0.62 lb) per week. In this case, the entire program would take 8 weeks.
- Increase your cat’s exercise. The quickest way to do so is to play with your cat. You don’t have to play for hours–we know you’re busy–but you should consider playing for 5 to 10 minutes before every meal. So, let’s say you play for 10 minutes and feed your cat three times per day (which is our suggested feeding frequency in most cases). That accounts for 30 minutes of exercise. It may not seem like much, but it’s a huge amount of activity for a cat who has led a sedentary life so far. Besides, if you have never played with your cat, he or she is unlikely to pay attention for longer than 10 minutes at a time. Have a play, and end it with a meal. Good!
- Stop free feeding your cat. That is, if you do. There are many reasons to stop free feeding, but the most important reason is so you can control how much your cat eats. If you don’t want to take the bowl away, you can measure how much food your cat needs daily and add this amount to the bowl each morning. It’s guaranteed that his bowl will be empty well before evening.
- Switch to better quality food. We have summarized what to look for in a good commercial cat food here. The most important considerations when it comes to maintaining healthy weight are more protein and fewer carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are sugars that are found in plants. Most common sources in cat food are corn, wheat and rice–not necessary to cats. Lower quality cat foods are stuffed with carbohydrates, because it’s much cheaper to put corn in the food, making you believe you’re getting a lot of food for less money.
- Consider commercial cat food for weight loss. They are usually marked as “Light” cat food, just like cigarettes. Are they good for weight loss? Yes, and they are also good for weight maintenance. What’s inside? “Light” cat food usually contains more protein–which 99% of commercial cat foods are short on anyway, so PLUS for that one–slightly more fiber, which helps your cat to feel “full” from a smaller amount of food, and less fat, which results in fewer calories for the same amount of food. We will talk about so-called Light cat foods in depth sometime in the future, so stay in touch with us.
- Enrich your cat’s environment. If your cat comes inside, or stays indoors full-time, your house needs to provide some natural activities that cats enjoy. In general, these are climbing, jumping, perching and playing. The most efficient way to provide for these activities is to add two or three cat trees to your home, grant access to the tops of furniture and–along with frequent playing with your cat–provide him or her with loads of solo play opportunities. You can read more about environmental enrichment for cats here.
- Avoid treats and table scraps. Treats are good for training. If you do give treats during a weight loss program, monitor how much you give and subtract the same amount of calories from his daily portion. Table scraps, even though your cat loves them, should be avoided at all times. Why?First, because they are not at all appropriate for cats (like potatoes with ketchup!). Second, it promotes begging behavior. Third, offering scraps in addition to your cat’s regular food leads to obesity.
- Monitor your cat’s weight regularly. Do it weekly or every other week–just make it a habit and, if possible, log the results. There is no point in doing so every day (although you may do it if you wish! Make an Excel table and, after several weeks, make a graph to see where it’s going). The easiest way to weigh a cat is to weigh yourself with the cat in your hands, then weigh yourself without the cat and do the math. Keep in mind that weight loss is not a competition. Neither you nor your cat need instant results. Rapid weight loss in cats is almost as bad as extra weight, so be careful. If your cat loses more than 4% of his body weight per week, you’re going too fast: feed your cat more!
Remember, healthy weight is not about surviving a diet and then returning to old habits. It’s about changing the lifestyle to be more healthy, active and fit. It’s true for your body, and it is also true for your cat’s.
That is what we wanted you to learn in our series about reducing and preventing obesity in cats. Thank you for being attentive.