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Successful Weight Loss For Cats

Weight loss for cats made easy


Is Your Cat Fat?

For anyone trying to watch their weight or caloric intake this time of year my heart goes out to you.  Everywhere you turn there are homemade desserts, cookies, and snack foods conveniently within arms reach.  It can be downright sabotage!  It’s way too easy to put on an inch or two or gain five pounds.  Sometimes our cats get a little chubby, too, mainly from eating too much and lack of exercise.  (Sound familiar?)  Weight loss for cats can be challenging for a variety of reasons.  Don’t throw in the towel!  It may be easier than you realize.

Health risks for overweight cats

We all see the photos and videos on social media of overweight and obese cats.  While some people may think it’s ok and even cute to have a fat cat, it makes me very sad.  Just like with people, being an overweight cat carries some hefty health risks.  How many of these risks are you aware of?

  • Shortened life-expectancy
  • Arthritis and joint/tendon/ligament pain from the excess weight
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Difficulty breathing due to the lungs not being fully able to expand
  • Hepatic lipidosis, a fatty liver disease
  • Greater risk for urinary tract disease
  • Greater surgical risk due to compromised heart, lung, liver and kidney function
  • Decreased immune function
  • Greater potential for constipation and gas
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of skin fold pyodermas (bacterial infections)

That’s a pretty convincing list of reasons to get serious about helping your cat to lose weight.  

Successful weight loss for cats

Perhaps one of the most important things to do in order to give your cat the best chance for success in weight loss is to make a commitment.  Don’t let your cat tug at your heart strings, and don’t give in by giving extra treats or portions here and there.  Be strong and stick to the plan.

Ditch the kibble

The next thing you absolutely must do to help your cat lose weight is to put him on a feeding schedule.  Lots of cat parents think their cat needs constant access to food (kibble) throughout the day and night, but this isn’t true!  Cats aren’t designed to graze.  In the wild cats eat a small meal and then fast.  Later they eat another small meal and fast again.  If you keep a bowl of kibble out and continue to keep it full this goes against the way cats instinctively eat.  By not leaving out the kibble day and night you control their caloric intake and you put them on a schedule.  This way when you feed them at mealtime they will happily eat what you serve.  

Another thing that is vitally important to weight loss in cats is to eliminate kibble from their diet.  Every kind of kibble–even the grain free kind–is loaded with carbohydrates which cats’ bodies aren’t designed to metabolize.  It contributes a lot of calories, too.  Instead offer your cat a meat-based diet, ideally in the form of a raw, cooked, or high quality canned food diet.  To help transition your cat from kibble to a wet diet check out Dr. Karen Becker’s video below.



Eating separately and daily exercise promote weight loss 

In some multi-cat households it may be necessary to feed your cats in separate areas.  In our home at mealtimes I have to keep a close eye on Rocket.  He LOVES to eat and is notorious for trying to eat the other cats’ food after he finishes his own.  For cats who are on a weight loss program it’s vital to control their food portions and not let them eat the leftovers or steal other cats’ food.  

Regular exercise is also important for weight loss.  There are great interactive wand toys as well as laser toys, but the key is knowing which kind of toy your heavy cat prefers.  Having access to cat trees or stairs to climb also encourages movement and exercise.  If your cat leash-trained try going for a walk outdoors once a day.  

How many calories a day does your cat need?

Finally, determine how many calories per day your cat needs.  Speaking from experience, this will be the most eye-opening factor in your cat’s weight loss program!  Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, shared a great “how to” guide in this article:

To figure out how many calories your cat requires per day to achieve her ideal weight, first weigh her. Next, figure your kitty’s weight in kilograms by dividing her weight in pounds by 2.2. So for example, if your cat weighs 15 pounds, her weight in kilograms is 15 divided by 2.2, or 6.82 kilograms.

Multiply your cat’s weight in kilograms by 30 and then add 70 to that result: 6.82 kilos x 30 = 205 + 70 = 275. Now multiply that result by 0.8: 275 x 0.8 = 220.

Your cat needs 220 calories in a day to maintain her 15-pound weight. If your cat eats less than 220 calories she’ll lose weight. More than 220 calories a day, she’ll gain weight, and keeping her right at those 220 calories, she’ll maintain her current weight.

Let’s say your 15-pound cat’s ideal weight is 10 pounds. Here’s how to calculate how many calories she should be eating:

10 pounds divided by 2.2 = 4.55 kilograms
4.55 kilos x 30 = 137
137 + 70 = 207
207 x 0.8 = 166 calories

To get your kitty down to her ideal weight of 10 pounds, you need to feed her about 166 calories in a 24 hour period – not the 220 calories she’s been eating. So decreasing her caloric intake slightly over time will allow for slow and healthy weight loss.

The total calories in the cat food are not always listed on the label.

Rocket’s weight loss program

My cat, Rocket, loves to eat.  He reminds me of the boy Mickey in the LIFE cereal commercial; Rocket likes everything!  He’s on a 80% raw/20% canned food diet and is always trying to clean everyone’s bowls and cleans up every bite of food that Lili spills out of her bowl.  He is not picky at all.  And he’s pretty lazy.  At his last vet check up the doctor recommended he lose a pound or two, and I just haven’t been diligent about it.  When I read Dr. Becker’s tip for calculating calories I knew I should give it a try!  

Being a big cat for a Tonkinese his ideal weight would be 11 pounds.  

11 pounds divided by 2.2 = 5 kilograms

5 kilograms x 30 = 150 

150 + 70 = 220

220 x 0.8 = 176 calories per day

In case you can’t determine the caloric content…

My next challenge was figuring out how many grams of food this equaled to.   I fix him a combination of canned food and a raw homemade diet, and I’m unable to calculate the total calories in the raw portion.  Furthermore, not all canned foods list the total calories.  Therefore, it makes it difficult to determine how many calories are in it.  While it’s been suggested that cats should eat 1 oz of body weight in food per day, I completely disagree.  If cat owners followed that advice every cat would be obese!  

The 5.5 oz can pictured above has 156 kcal which is just 20 calories shy of his daily limit.  If I followed the traditional advice of 1 oz of food per pound of body weight this would almost double the number of allowed calories per day.   In case the can doesn’t have the calories listed or you feed a homemade diet here’s an option:  use 0.5 oz per pound of body weight as a general guideline for daily food intake.

A 11 lb cat = 5.5 oz per day

If you feed two meals per day it comes to 2.75 oz per meal with room for a few treats

(1 oz = 28.35 grams)

Weight loss tip:  use a food scale

Do you have a food scale?  If not I highly recommend you buy one.  Months ago I was given a food scale, and never gave it much thought.  I finally pulled it out and this made determining Rocket’s portion size so easy!  The food scale can measure in grams, ounces, and pounds.  Weigh the bowl alone and then add the number of grams or ounces needed for the serving.  The process becomes a no=brainer!

Weight cat food portions with a food scale help with weight loss goals.

Weigh the bowl on the scale first. I used the oz unit.


Calculation portions for cats

I added in Rocket’s portion of food to the bowl until it measured 15.2 oz.  This leaves room for a treat or two later.

Will your cat stop loving you if you put him on a diet?

With the humanization of pets, pet parents often think their pets will love them less or constantly beg for food if they restrict their caloric intake.  These negative associations often contribute to the lack of effort to put pets on a diet.  In Dr. Becker’s article above she mentions a Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine study about fears that cat parents have about putting their cats on a diet.  Would they no longer be loving and affectionate?  Or would their cats constantly beg for more food? 

Apparently these fears were unfounded:  “The researchers discovered there’s no need for cat parents to worry about losing their pet’s love if they cut back on their food intake.  According to results reported by owners, after 8 weeks on a diet, the cats in the study were actually more affectionate than normal after they were fed.”  The New York times article featuring the study said “… Owners felt that despite the restricted feeding, the cats did not turn vindictive. Instead, owners believed the cats showed more affection.  After feeding, the cats would more often purr and sit in the owner’s lap.” (The New York Times, Feb 16, 2016)

Help for fat cats

Progress report

Rocket has been on his weight loss program for about 5 days now, and I’m happy to report that he’s doing great!  Like the cats in the study, he is being his sweet, normal self, purring on my lap, and he’s not begging constantly for food!  Even better, he’s been showing more interest in playing too!  He’s definitely moving in the right direction.  

The lesson here is this:  you must read the labels on the cans or packages.  If the calories aren’t listed then use the ounces to determine general portion sizes.  Take the guess work out and use a food scale!  Dr. Becker recommends that for very obese cats you’ll need to go slowly.  In order to avoid developing hepatic lipidosis keep weight loss at no more than 1/2 a pound per month.  For other cats aim for 1 pound per month.  Finally, stick to the plan, and remain committed to your cat’s weight loss.  In the long run he’ll be much healthier for it.

Have you put your cat on a weight loss program, and if so, how did it go?  Leave a comment below!

Want more information on daily caloric requirements, weight loss and weight gain for cats?  Check out this article.



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