Updated: Nov 4, 2022
There are few things the internet loves more than a good, chonky cat. Like a hippo doing ballet, fat cats tend to defy our expectations of combining bulk and grace with catwalk waddles and torpedo-like feats of acrobatics. They even loaf adorably, like little furry sausages in a sunbeam.
Unfortunately, your cat’s extra bulk is more than just an aspect of their charm: it’s actively reducing their quality of life and longevity!
As much as you think your cat’s paunch makes them adorable, we’re willing to bet you’d prefer as many years as possible with your feline companion over those ever-instagrammable moments of them navigating their life with a few extra pounds.
So how can you tell when your cat has crossed the line from “fluffy” to “fat”? Moreover, how can you help them shed those pounds?
Let’s delve into some of the complexities of cat weight loss in this two-part series. This week we’ll cover why managing your cat’s weight is so important, how a standard vet visit can make all the difference, and how to identify your kitties’ main issue with their weight. Tackling these issues early on can give your cat a whole new—but just as adorable—lease on life.
Why It Matters
Your First Step: A Vet Visit
Identifying Your Cat’s Weight Loss Challenge
How to Handle Begging Behaviour
Why It Matters
There’s such a thing as loving your cat to death. Our kitties can be incredibly persuasive when it comes to feeding them, and all good pet owners just want to make their pets happy, which means we often, unintentionally, allow them to slip into obesity. But if you love your cat, you want them to be around for as long as possible, which means taking a serious look at your cat’s extra bulk and what it could be doing for their long-term health.
A recent study showed that up to 60% of cats in industrial nations were overweight at their annual vet visit! This number has been steadily growing for years, and it’s not showing any sign of slowing down. This obesity “pandemic” comes with increasingly higher risks to our kitties’ health.
While this is far from an exhaustive list, the following are some of the main issues that can develop from keeping your cat at overweight or obese weights:
Just like in humans, there’s a clear link between obesity and a higher risk of diabetes. When your kitty is overweight, they gradually lose their ability to effectively regulate the sugars (glucose) in their blood. If left untreated, a cat with diabetes will display an insatiable thirst, dramatic and rapid weight loss, increasingly weak legs and eventually succumb to malnutrition as their body has lost the ability to absorb nutrients.
Joint and Mobility Issues
All that extra bulk your kitty carries around is putting more and more pressure on their joints. As it becomes increasingly uncomfortable for them to move around, your cat will become less active and social, which exacerbates the problem. This can be especially detrimental to older cats, who may already be dealing with regular, age-related joint issues, and any surplus pounds will simply make their joints degrade faster.
Your cat’s extra weight impacts their body’s ability to heal, which leads to an increased risk of skin infections as well as the development and recurrence of UTIs.
It’s not just your cat’s musculoskeletal system being affected by that extra weight—their organs are working overtime, too. Obese cats can be at an increased risk of damage and strain to their heart and lungs, kidney diseases, liver dysfunctions (such as potentially fatal hepatic lipidosis), pancreatitis, and cardiovascular diseases.
Long-Term Chronic Inflammation
There’s one major illness we haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the Big C. Because
excess fatty tissue is a source of chronic unregulated inflammation in the body—and long-term chronic inflammation leads to disease—overweight cats are more susceptible to developing cancers and other autoimmune diseases.
Unfortunately, the solution isn’t as easy as an extra round of zoomies every night.
While exercise is undoubtedly helpful towards weight loss, it can’t compare to the effects of a restrictive calorie diet. Besides, if your cat is older, less agile, or uninterested in exercising, tempting them with a feather wand toy won’t be their best way to lose weight.
In addition, even if your cat is still super agile, too much exercise while wearing those extra pounds might hurt more than help. An overweight cat running at top speeds and skidding to stops, leaping, landing, and pouncing is putting too much pressure on their joints, tendons, and ligaments, and are therefore at a higher risk for physical injury.
So if you suspect your cat has been packing on the pounds, your first stop should be to your vet.
The Importance of a Veterinary Consultation
Before undertaking any weight loss plan, check with your veterinarian that your cat doesn’t have any medical conditions or diseases that may be causing them to gain weight, preventing them from losing it, or limiting what diets may be available to them.
Overall, your vet and veterinary staff are the best tools you have available to assist you in helping your cat lose weight safely, and keep the weight off afterward.
Here Are the Top 3 Things Your Vet Can Help You With During Your Cat’s Weight Loss Journey:
1. Setting a Reasonable Goal
Once you’re sure your kitty is just plain hefty and not chunky from any other conditions, your veterinarian will evaluate your cat and give them a Body Condition Score (BCS) and a Muscle Condition Score (MCS).
A BCS is essentially just rating your pet’s chunkiness on a scale of 1–5 or 1–9. An MCS is done by feeling areas of muscle around your cat’s body and figuring out if it’s an adequate amount under all their fat. Your vet can use an MCS as a baseline and ensure they’re not losing muscle on their weight loss journey!
Using the combined BCS and MCS, your veterinarian will create an approximate target weight. This number might not be the final result, as your cat’s perfect weight may change along the way, depending on several factors. Nevertheless, this will be your general goal alongside developing an ideal BCS for end-goal success.
2. Calculating a Daily Calorie Count
Your veterinarian will be able to help you with calculating how many calories your cat should consume in a day to achieve their weight loss goal after having fully assessed your cat. They should provide you with an exact calorie number in a narrow range of grams or ounces—NOT in cups, as every brand and protein will vary dramatically in their calorie count.
Once you have your calorie count, pull out your calculator and do a little math to figure out how much of your chosen meal your kitty needs to meet that calorie amount. You’ll find that investing in a kitchen scale will go a LONG way in making this part easy and accurate.
3. Teaching You How to Measure Success
Finally, your veterinarian can teach you how to perform a BCS at home so that you can record your kitty’s weight loss journey. Checking in on your cat’s progress every 2–4 weeks and keeping a weight loss journal is the easiest way to ensure your cat stays on track!
Success also doesn’t mean the fastest route to your cat’s goal weight.
Aim for them to lose between 0.5%–2% of their body weight per month. Any more than that and they could be losing too much too fast, which can be dangerous to their health; any less than that, and you may want to recalculate your food quantities or change foods.
Keep in mind that you cannot simply continually reduce their food amount smaller and smaller—at a certain point, they may no longer be ingesting their minimal nutritional requirements, so reduce quantities carefully and under vet supervision.
Another indicator of success will be a visual change in your cat’s body shape. You may see their activity levels going up—or them going up, literally! As they lose weight, your kitty may start appearing at heights they weren’t able to access before. These are all great indicators that things are going in the right direction, but stay accountable and continue to perform your BCS exams and weigh-ins.
Identifying Your Cat’s Weight Loss Challenge
Overweight cats tend to fall into at least one if not all of the following issues of weight gain. Recognizing which of these your kitty is battling will start you down the path of being able to correct it.
1. Not Recognizing the Problem
Not all pet owners are aware their cat is overweight—as we said earlier, so much of the internet glorifies chubby kitties without acknowledging its effect on their health. Not to mention, many vets find bringing up a pet’s weight issue slightly awkward! No one wants to accuse a loving pet parent of not doing their best for their cat.
Next time you’re visiting the veterinarian, ask for your cat’s body condition score number and then ask your vet to show you how to perform a BCS test at home!
2. Food Obsessions
It’s possible your kitty has an unhealthy relationship with food. A lot of cats LOVE treats, table scraps, and little tastes of whatever we’re cooking, and since they ask so cutely, we tend to love to give it to them! Not to mention, some cats are simply unstoppable once they know where their treats are stored!
We’re not saying you shouldn’t treat your kitty—after all, high-value treats like those licky tubes can be important tools when it comes to training our cats or distracting them from something they dislike.
Just remember that everything your cat eats contributes to their daily caloric intake, so you will have to adjust their regular meal amounts if you’ve been dishing out the good treats.
3. Equating Food With Love
Our cats can be incredibly expressive, and every food-focused feline seems to have mastered one particularly baleful look that says, “You’re not feeding me treats, so you must not love me!”
You will have to remain strong to resist this look. Remember, there are countless ways to show your pet you love them that don’t involve food. Bust out their favourite toy and play for 15 minutes or so, letting them take breaks when needed. Set up an obstacle course with plenty of areas to let them hide and pounce out of, or provide enrichment activities like iPad games or bird tv, or even a really good cuddle sesh.
Once you find out what activities other than eating motivates your cat, offer them that next time they try and beg for a piece of chicken off your plate.
Tip: Curb Their Begging Behaviour
A cat that has learned to beg can be a loud, incessant, and conniving mastermind to tug at your heartstrings. Once again, you’ll have to stay strong here: a begging cat does not equal a hungry cat. But if your kitty has worn you down once, they’ll remember it worked once and keep trying: it’ll take a lot of patience, consistency, and time for them to unlearn this behaviour, but it can be done!
Here are three tips to help manage your cat’s begging tactics and keep you sane while you begin their weight loss journey:
Don’t allow them to be in the room while you prepare or eat your food. This will drive home the fact that they’re not getting anything off your plate! If you can’t teach them to stay in a certain area (or out of a certain area), then confining them to another room also works. If they’re not eating at the same time you are, try giving them a super-special toy that ONLY comes out at meal times to distract them.
If they are eating at the same time you are, still don’t allow them into the area where you are preparing your meal, but don’t feed them until you’re finished cooking and ready to eat. If you stay persistent and consistent with this method, your cat will learn they won’t be fed until you have finished your own meal.
Set a meal time for them and NEVER deviate from it, no matter how much they beg. If their dinner is at 7, then it will be put down at 7, not 6:45, not 7:10. (Don’t worry, it’ll never be at 7:10; you can teach your cat to wait until a specific time, but they’ll never let you forget and go past it!)
A Step In The Right Direction
Taking charge of your cat’s weight can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task—after all, they’re not often a fan of the assignment! But by just completing the tasks listed in this blog—getting a reasonable weight goal from your veterinary, calculating a daily calorie amount, finding different ways to distract and show your cat love, and establishing clear boundaries and routines around food—you’re well on your way to giving your cat a longer, happier, and healthier life.
See part 2 next week for general instructions for how healthy cats can shed extra weight on Red Dog Blue Kat raw food!