Weight Loss for Cats

How did my cat get so fat?

In theory, if an animal burns more calories than it takes in, weight loss should be the result.  After all, your cat can’t exactly raid the refrigerator at midnight.  Weight loss should be simple, right?  Perhaps but that doesn’t make it easy.

Problem #1: Cats are very thrifty when it comes to calories.  Their slow metabolic rate means that some cats can eat a relatively small amount and still get fat.

Did you know that 1 cup of maintenance is too much for the majority of cats?   Yet when we speak to many owners in our clinic we frequently hear that is what they are feeding. The truth is, many cats can actually get by on a 1/3 cup or less of food per day.

Problem #2: Most domesticated cats don’t do much. We keep them indoors and lazy.  They may move from room to room but any hunting they do consists of finding their food bowl  Even worse, if they eat a dry kibble, that food may contain 40% or more carbohydrates.  No wonder our cats are fat.

Conversely, a typical outdoor feral cat covers thousands of square feet of territory daily to find, capture and kill its own food.  Outdoor cats may eat up to 6 – 9 mice per day (about 180 -200 calories).  Even more important, a mouse diet is comprised mainly of water, protein and fat with very few carbohydrates.

So how much should I feed my cat?

Solution #1: Most of us have no idea how much our cat eats.  We just refill the bowl when it’s empty.  Try using a ¼ cup scoop to measure how much you’re currently feeding. This will give you a base to work from.

Dry Food Suggestions

  • If you are going to continue using the same diet try reducing the amount by 10 -15% to start with.
  • If you are changing to a dry weight loss diet, figure out how many calories your cat is receiving and decrease that amount by 10%.  You should be able to do this with the information on the bag but if you have trouble we can help out.
  • If you can’t figure out how much your pet is eating now, then make your diet change, measure accurately and move on from there.
  • DO NOT decrease calorie intake too fast on cats. They can develop fatty liver disease if weight loss occurs too quickly, which can be deadly.  1 % per week is a good goal for a cat. That is about 0.2 pounds per week on a 20 pound cat.  A dog can lose up to 2% per week.
  • Feed your cats separately if you have more than one.
  • Please work closely with your veterinarian to keep your cat safe and healthy while losing weight.

Canned Food Suggestions

  • One school of thought is that because canned food is high in protein and low in carbohydrates when compared to dry, it is also much closer to the birds and mice that cats were designed to eat. Furthermore, because cats are not really made to consume a high carbohydrate diet, dry foods can predispose them to develop diabetes. This is a valid theory but it is important to note that not all nutritionists agree with it.
  • If you would like to feed canned food, the average 6 ounce can contains 180-200 calories.  So one can per day would be a good starting point.
  • Research tells us that we can actually cut calories faster on a canned diet because of the higher protein level.  A good goal should be about 20 -25% in the beginning.  That amount can be adjusted if the cat does not lose weight.
  • In general, canned diets with gravy have higher carbohydrates and should be avoided.
  • If your cat won’t eat canned food then try a dry prescription diet which will generally be lower in carbohydrates than over the counter diets.

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