Updated November 29, 2020
Imagine the outrage if a character called Fat Dog (or fat anything for that matter) was created today. Yet, there we were in Adelaide in the 1980s watching Fat Cat tell us to go to bed at 7:30 every night.
The fact is that an overweight cat is taken less seriously than an overweight dog. We see fat cats as fun and loveable, and somehow beyond our control. Like Garfield and his lasagne.
We’ve also lived with the myth that being fat is somehow less of a problem for cats. Take my word for it, the health problems are as real as they are for dogs. However, in order to be positive, let’s move straight on to what can be done to help.
The key to preventing and treating obesity is understanding its causes.
Why Cats Get Overweight
All these reasons have been shown to increase the chances of having a fat cat
- Frequency of feeding: The more often you feed, the greater the chance
- Frequency of treat feeding: we didn’t need science to tell us this one
- Gender: boys are more likely to be overweight than girls
- Neutered status: since less than 2% of cats are not desexed and are probably driving their owners crazy right now, there’s not much we can do about this
- Age: It’s that dreaded middle age again
- Breed: strangely, cross-bred cats (that means regular moggies) are at a higher risk
- Multi-cat households: anyone who has a few cats knows how hard it is to regulate the food intake of individuals
- Indoor cats: Not every study shows this, but it’s logical that staying indoors will make it harder.
And my personal favourite…
- Not living with dogs: I suspect it’s a case of less interruption equals more snooze
- Free access to food: Yep, leaving food out 24/7 is a sure-fire way to have an overweight cat
So what can you do?
How To Get A Cat To Lose Weight
Somehow you’re going to have to reduce the food intake without everyone going crazy. I believe the only sensible answer is timed, measured meals. The idea is to give the correct amount of food (usually ¼ cup if dry) at exactly the same two times each day.
Unlike dogs, cats won’t usually eat it all in one go. The trick is simple: when the food runs out, which it must, your cat has to wait. At the start, if your cat is used to food on demand, this is almost unbearable. After all, up to now, they’ve been getting food by pestering you, so if it doesn’t work, who can blame them for keeping on trying.
Read much more about the benefits of starting a meal feeding plan for cats here.
Feeding Cats In Families
Without a family-wide plan, you’re doomed to failure. It’s a lot easier if you nominate only a certain person to do a particular meal. That way your cat will learn to leave everyone else in peace.
Be strong: I’ve done this and it does get better. Your cat needs to learn that it’s no longer you deciding when he or she gets fed, it’s the clock. Cats always eventually settle down to the new rules, it just might take a while, even a month or two. And if anything, they get more affectionate, not less once it’s not about the food.
Other Tricks Include…
- Feeders and gyms to promote activity, many of which are featured on this page
- Special feeders that read each cat’s microchip can be purchased- they actually work for many of our patients!
- Using specially formulated foods, though the amount still needs to be controlled
- Switching to homemade raw cat food
- Talking to the neighbours to prevent cats supplementing their diet elsewhere
- Feeding multiple cats separately or supervising closely
- Regular weigh-ins
How Much To Feed
Just like in dogs, label recommendations on cat food are usually too high. Then there’s the problem that excessively rapid weight loss in cats can cause severe health problems. The only safe way is to consult your vet for individually tailored advice.
Good luck! Here’s one last piece of 1980s nostalgia.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!