Keeping slim and trim helps your cat stay healthier and happier.
Adorable roly-poly cats might be amusing to look at on social media, but in reality, those extra pounds can take years off a fat cat’s life and have a negative impact on his quality of life. Among the many diseases associated with obesity in cats are type-2 diabetes, arthritis, heart problems, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.
You owe it to your cat to give him the best and longest life possible and part of that involves making sure he maintains a healthy weight. This process starts with yearly visits to the veterinarian, where among other things your cat will be weighed regularly.
If your kitty is at a fine weight now, as he ages and becomes less active you might have to reduce his caloric intake. However, if your vet tells you your cat is already overweight, it’s time to act. Ask her what his ideal weight is. Her answer will depend on many factors: the type of cat (is he a big-boned Maine Coon or a delicate little domestic shorthair?), age and activity level (is he a rambunctious young cat or an elderly couch potato?) and overall health. Now you know how much weight your cat should lose. Also, ask your vet how many calories per day your cat should have, and then stick to it. Read labels and measure his food, no matter how much he complains.
Cats’ metabolisms are very different from dogs’ and humans.’ Weight loss must be gradual in felines. Cutting off calories too drastically too quickly can result in liver damage. So be patient—if your cat loses a pound or so a month, you’re doing fine. Here are a few ways you can help him take off those extra pounds.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their diets should consist mostly of proteins and fats, with very few carbohydrates. Start by adding wet food to his diet if you aren’t already feeding it to him. Most dry foods contain too many carbohydrates for cats and these excess carbs are converted into body fat. Even grain-free dry foods can contain high levels of carbs from starchy vegetables.
Another advantage of wet food is that it contains high levels of water. The small-feline diet in the wild consists of rodents, lizards, birds, even insects. This prey contains a lot of water. Cats should also have access to plenty of clean drinking water at all times.
Feed a variety of wet foods. This will help prevent your cat from developing food sensitivities or becoming a picky eater.
If your vet advises a significant change in your cat’s diet, start slowly. Add a little of the new food to the old food over a two-week period, gradually increasing the proportion of new food. To make the new food more appealing, add a little liquid from a can of water-packed tuna or salmon.
Don’t free-feed. While leaving a bit of dry food out all the time works with many cats, it’ll sabotage your efforts. Give small meals frequently throughout the day. Once you know the number of calories your cat should have in a day, divide the allotted amount of food into four to six small feedings.
Treats should be used sparingly. Give healthy treats that don’t contain a lot of carbs or sugar and include the calories in your calculations. Instead of processed treats, try giving small pieces of fish or shrimp. Otherwise, no human food. Some cats love things like cheese, fried chicken, or lunchmeat. If your cat is used to getting small bits of these unhealthy foods from you, give a few pieces of kibble instead. The cat won’t like it, but you’ll gradually retrain him to accept these new snacks.
Another important factor is increasing your cat’s amount of exercise. This is much harder to do with a cat than a dog. Feline hunters are sprinters, not marathon runners. They spend the rest of the time lying around. You can encourage your cat to move by playing with him often using enticing toys, such as fishing-pole-type toys, feathers, catnip-infused toys, laser toys and wind-up mice.
It’s not easy to change a fat cat’s diet and habits, but it’s worth it when you consider the extra healthy years you’re adding to his life.
About the Author: Lisa King is a freelance writer living in Southern California. She is the former managing editor of Pet Product News International, Dogs USA and Natural Dog magazines. Lisa is also the author of two well-received murder mystery novels, “Death in a Wine Dark Sea” and “Vulture au Vin.”