When pets are overweight or obese, it can cause health problems like osteoarthritis, diabetes, hip dysplasia and even cardiovascular issues.
But it’s hard to figure out what “obese” means — and then what and how much to feed your cat to help them lose weight in a healthy way.
What’s a Healthy Cat Weight?
To determine whether a cat is obese, we need to know what a healthy weight is.
According to Dr. Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, DVM, in her book Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, here’s roughly what adult cats should weigh:
- Males: 9–12 pounds
- Females: 7–10 pounds
“Cats that weigh more than this, unless they are very large-framed cats such as purebred Maine Coon or Norwegian Forest Cats, are overweight,” says Dr. Hodgkins.
OK, so maybe your cat is overweight — but are they obese? According to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, obesity in a cat means that the “body weight that is 20% or more above normal weight.”
The school calls obesity “the most frequently observed nutritional disorder among domestic cats.”
3 Tips for a Healthier Weight
1. No grazing allowed.
Dr. Hodgkins recommends wet food rather than dry.
But perhaps more important, she says, is putting the kibosh on an all-you-can-eat buffet.
“Whatever wet food you choose for your cat, do not free-feed additional dry food alongside,” she says. “Cats do not need to ‘graze’ on a constant basis as if they were cattle.”
Dr. Hodgkins adds: “Twice-daily meal feeding of wet food at about 3–4 ounces of food per meal simulates the cat’s free roaming feeding behaviors as closely as humanly possible and allows the cat to maintain a healthy adult weight throughout its life.”
Changing this behavior is the first step in helping a cat lose weight and be healthy.
2. Make your cat work at it.
Veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, suggests making mealtimes an interactive activity.
“Ditch the food bowls and use puzzle feeders so the cat has ‘nothing in life is free’ when it comes to food,” Dr. Elliott said, adding that dry food works well in these circumstances. “You’d weigh out the daily allowance of food at breakfast time, load up the puzzle feeders and hide small saucers around the house, and then leave kitty to it.”
3. Don’t overfeed.
This one seems relatively simple: We’re feeding our cats more than they need.
Instead of just dumping food into the bowl, get into the practice of reading labels to see what the recommended servings are. Then use a measuring cup so that you can be on point with portions.
Don’t you think these overweight rescue cats bear a slight resemblance to a certain lasagna-loving cartoon kitty?:
First Things First: Consult Your Vet
Dr. Carolyn McDaniel, VMD, of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says, “Any feline weight reduction program should be carried out under the direction of a veterinarian.”
“A cat that is put on a sudden starvation diet,” she says, “is at risk of developing a serious health problem, such as hepatic lipidosis. What you want to aim for is a gradual weight loss, perhaps 1 or 2% loss of body weight per week.”
Start by bringing your cat to the vet for a weigh-in. From there, you can discuss options for weight loss and get recommendations on what type of food would fit your cat’s lifestyle best. The vet will take into account the breed, age and activity level.
We love our cats and want them with us forever. While forever isn’t possible, we can certainly do everything in our power to have them around for a long time.
This pet health content was reviewed for accuracy by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed and updated Oct. 13, 2018.