Safe Weight Control for Your Cat

Managing Cats' Weight Through Diet and Exercise

playing kitten
lacaosa / Getty Images

Subtle changes in weight can be indicative of serious underlying conditions, and for that reason, ideally, your cat should be weighed monthly after reaching the age of ten years. Many veterinarians will perform this service for free, or you could invest in a scale which gives small enough increments for close monitoring.

As cats age and become more sedentary, they often tend to gain weight if continued on their normal diet.

Although this normally happens between the ages of six and eight, sometimes older cats become obese. Even younger cats, if allowed to eat excess amounts of high-calorie foods, may gain weight excessively.

Excess weight can be contributory to a number of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

Three Ways to Accomplish Safe Weight Loss

  • Feed Less of the Normal Diet: This will probably be difficult at first, for both you and your cat. No one wants to see their cat go hungry, but you must remind yourself (and kitty) that he will be healthier in the long run.

    This method is best accomplished by gradually reducing the amount of food your cat receives until he is eating approximately the caloric requirements for his desired normal weight.

    Example: According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, an inactive adult cat requires 45 kcal/kg per day. One kg=2.2 pounds. Assuming your chubby cat weighs 16 lbs, the amount of kcals he would need daily to maintain his weight are 328.5 (16 / 2.2 x 45). At 12 pounds (5.5 kg - his assumed normal weight), he would need 247.5 kcals daily to maintain that weight.

    You could start by reducing Chubby's kcal intake by 15 percent, then gradually reduce it until he is getting the 286.5 kcals for his desired weight of 12 pounds. (A useful kg:pounds converter is available on this site.

    Disclaimer: This is only a guideline. Weight loss by reducing intake of normal food is best done in conjunction with your veterinarian, so he can monitor your cat's health during his weight loss regime.

  • Feed a "Lite" Food:There are several excellent weight reduction foods on the market today. Before choosing one, you need to determine that it contains the nutrients that your older cat needs, including fat (essential fatty acids included), protein, vitamins, and minerals. Most "lite" cat foods increase the amount of fiber while lowering the amount of fat, and sometimes, protein. According to an article by Holly Frisby, DVM, MS, of, the fat content in a weight reduction diet should be 7.14% of dry matter; protein should be 35% on a dry matter basis. She also recommends less than 3.6 kcal of metabolizable energy per gram of dry matter.

    Cats eating a "lite" food may become hungry quickly. It is helpful if at all possible to feed your cat several small meals a day, rather than just morning and evening. Obviously, you need to feed your obese cat separate from your other cats, and keep all disallowed food picked up in between meals.

  • Exercise:Regular play periods with your cat will help to give him the exercise he needs, for muscle tone, suppleness, and to help prevent weight gain. Even an older cat will respond to an interactive toy such as da Bird, as exhibited by the accompanying photo of our Bubba, at 15.

Dangers of Sudden Weight Loss

The other side of the coin, of course, is that anorexia and sudden weight loss, particularly in a previously obese cat, can cause fatty liver disease, which is a very serious condition. Managing your elder cat's nutrition is something that should be developed through close work with your own veterinarian, taking into consideration the "whole cat," i.e. other diseases that may require special dietary formulas. More information on Fatty Liver Disease, its symptoms, and its treatment, may be found in the link on the sidebar.

Water: An Essential Nutrient

As older cats can easily become dehydrated, it is also important that they always have plenty of fresh, cool, water, to enhance urinary tract functioning. This is especially important since most weight-management foods are packaged dry, rather than canned.

I have found it very helpful to encourage cats to drink water by investing in an automatic water dispenser.

My top choices are listed in a link in the sidebar.

By careful observation of your cat's overall condition, including weight gain or loss, and working closely in a partnership with your veterinarian, you can help extend your cat's life with a planned food management program.