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Being a cat owner means taking responsibility for your cat’s health and wellbeing. One vital part of this relationship is keeping the scales balanced to ensure your cat is neither over or underweight. It can be a tricky balance to strike though, as weight can naturally fluctuate in reaction to the different life stages of a cat. A neutered cat, for example, is likely to need less food than before, and can quickly become overweight or even obese if the amount or type of food isn’t changed to match the changes in their body.
It’s not always simple, but understanding what to look out for and how you can help through their diet and daily routine could stop potential health risks before they can develop.
Why is being overweight a problem?
According to International Cat Care, studies show that obesity reduces life expectancy in cats. Not only that, but overweight cats are at greater risk of suffering from a number of different diseases such as:
- Urinary tract problems
Sadly, excess weight can also result in a far less comfortable and content cat, making it incredibly difficult for them to lead a happy and fulfilling life. This is why it is your duty to:
- Keep your cat at a healthy weight.
- Help them lose weight if they’re already overweight.
How do I know if my cat is overweight?
Regular weight checks are a great habit to get into to help you spot your cat’s weight creeping up. But if your cat is happy being gently stroked occasionally, there are other things you can look out for:
- Is there an 'apron' or roll of fat underneath the belly and between the hind legs?
- Can you feel your cat’s ribs if you gently press down as you stroke them? If not, there is probably too much fat.
- Looking from above, your cat’s shoulders and chest should be wider and the flank — the area between the ribs and the pelvis — should be narrower, like a waist. If you are looking from the side, the outline of the cat’s body should tuck up as it goes from the chest into the abdomen.
Why is my cat overweight?
Most cats are overweight because of overfeeding and it's all too easy to understand why. We quickly learn just how happy some special treats or new food makes them feel.
However, to get your cat back in shape, you’ll need to reduce their calories and/or increase their activity levels. When reducing calories, there are some important things to remember. It can be dangerous to simply cut down on portions of their normal food, as you may end up underfeeding other nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Also, this may make your cat hungry, frustrated, and more likely to beg, steal or be aggressive.
Some tips for managing your cat’s weight
Your vet is the best person to help you set a healthy eating programme for an overweight cat, but these tips can also help:
- Cats should have multiple small meals every day. If you’re away from home a lot, try a food ball or a timed food dispenser.
- If your cat is begging for food, give them extra cuddles and attention instead.
- Make sure you set aside time every day to play with your cat. Treat them to some new toys or just use scrunched-up paper.
- Buy a tall scratching post or activity centre to encourage your cat to climb.
- Simply putting some of the meals in different places or on a different level of the house means your cat will have to move more to get food.
- Watch out for cat treats - they can contain a lot of calories.
- Ask your vet to recommend a weight management food.
- Try feeding tinned food or pouches, as these may help your cat feel fuller and less likely to seek snacks or beg for food.
- Always make sure your cat is eating a complete and balanced diet.
Although the responsibility of keeping your cat at a healthy weight lies with you, your vet can tell you if your cat is overweight and recommend a course of action to ensure they remain happy and healthy.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS