How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight

cat raiding the refrigerator

Is your cat too fat? If so, you're not alone. It is estimated that about 35 percent of cats are too fat (Lund et al., 2005).

Like humans, cats often have a tendency to overeat. And also like humans, obesity in cats can cause health problems, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, dyslipidemia, and gallstones. And it also doesn't help that humans often have trouble with portion sizes for themselves and for their pets.

Most often obesity occurs in cats that have been spayed or neutered, are kept indoors, and have unlimited access to dry cat food. Because it is best to spay or neuter your cat and to keep it indoors where it is safe it is sometimes difficult to help your fat cat lose weight. However, there are ways that will help in managing your cat's weight.

Restrict Access To Your Cat's Dry Food

Most bags of cat food give general guidelines for how much you should be feeding your cat each day based on your cat's weight. If you have an obese cat don't drastically reduce the amount that you are feeding your cat. Instead gradually cut back over time. If you have a cat of a normal weight then you can use the guidelines listed on the package to prevent him or her from becoming obese. For example, most packages state that you should feed your cat a half to a whole cup of dry food each day for a 5-9 pound cat. Cats that weigh more need a larger amount of food. You should check on the package for the brand of food that you are feeding your cat to determine how much to feed him or her. Your veterinarian can weigh your cat and tell you what your cat weighs. After you determine the proper amount to feed your cat you should place this amount in your cat's bowl and not just refill the bowl numerous times each day so the cat can eat 3 cups of food each day. If you are feeding your cat one cup of dry food each day then it is best to put out one half cup in the morning and one half cup in the evening so that the cat can spread his or her eating out over the entire day.

I usually supplement my cat's dry food with canned food. In general, canned cat food doesn't contain as many calories as dry food. This is because canned cat food isn't as nutrient dense because it contains water.

Should You Feed Your Cat Low Calorie Food?

Several brands of cat food make low calorie foods for cats. Whether you decide to feed your cat these foods is really up to you and your cat. Even if your cat is too fat it is important that the cat eat some food each day. If your cat will eat the low calorie food then it is fine to feed this to him or her. However, if your cat refuses to eat the new food then you should go back to the old food. If you do change your cat's food brand and type then do it gradually by mixing a little of the new food with your cat's old food each day until you are eventually feeding only the new food. Abruptly changing your cat's food often leads to diarrhea or vomiting.

It has been my experience that my cats don't seem to like the diet cat foods nearly as much as regular cat food. However, they will usually eat it if there isn't anything else available. If your cat is really overweight it is probably a good idea to try feeding your cat a low calorie cat food such as Hill's Science Diet Light for felines. In addition, for seriously overweight cats there are prescription diets that you can get from your veterinarian. These generally cost about the same as other premium high quality cat foods and are lower in calories than anything you can buy at the store.

Exercise Your Cat Into Shape

Cats like to play. Playing with your cat can also help your cat maintain a proper weight. Playing with your cat will also help your cat to be happy and it will form a closer bond between you and your cat. In addition, it isn't good for cats to remain sedentary and not exercise. This is true even for cats of normal weight. Every animal, human and otherwise, needs to get some form of exercise on a regular basis.

I play with my cats for about 30-45 minutes each evening after dinner. This usually involves interactive cat toys and balls that I roll across the floor that the cats chase after. I also get my exercise playing with them. I usually end up running after some of the cat toys myself so that I can toss them or roll them back to the cats and sometimes I even end up crawling around on all fours during our play time.

In this way, it isn't just the cat that ends up losing weight and getting some exercise, but the human does too!

Also, it is helpful to have more than one cat and often the cats will play with each other and get some exercise in this way. My cats enjoy chasing each other through the house and up and down the stairs.

Finally, it is important to have your cat checked by a veterinarian to determine the best weight for your cat. Some cats are larger than others and will therefore normally weigh more than a smaller cat.

Fatty Liver Disease

Don't try to force your cat to lose weight too quickly! Cats who lose weight too quickly are susceptible to fatty liver disease, a potentially fatal condition.

Cats must lose the weight very slowly and have their food cut back gradually. Check with your veterinarian if you have questions about how much to feed your cat.


E.M. Lund, P.J. Armstrong, C.A. Kirk and J.S. Klausner (2005) Prevalence and risk factor for obesity in adult cats from private US veterinary practices. Journal of Applied Research and Veterinary Medicine 3, 88-96.