Helping Your Cat Lose Weight: Food & Exercise Tips

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If your cat's veterinarian has told you that your kitty is heavier than they should be, you're not alone. Approximately 60 percent of cats in the U.S. were classified as overweight in 2018, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. And it's not just a problem for American cats: International Cat Care says that 39 to 52 percent of U.K. cats are overweight.

But, how do you help a cat lose weight? The key is a combination of proper nutrition and exercise. Follow these steps during your journey to helping your cat lose weight.

Is My Cat Overweight?

Overweight long-haired orange and black cat staring out a window.

If you're not sure whether your cat is overweight, there's a simple way to evaluate their size at home — no scale needed! The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends using the Body Condition Score, a three-step system:

  1. Rib check: Run both hands, palms down, across both sides of your cat's rib cage.

  2. Profile check: Look at your kitty from the side.

  3. Overhead check: Stand above them and look down.

If you can't feel your cat's ribs or see their waistline, then your cat is probably overweight.

To confirm ifwhether your cat is overweight and to discover their ideal weight, bring them to the vet for an overall wellness check and to rule out any underlying reasons for the weight gain.

How to Help a Cat Lose Weight

Once you know that your cat is overweight, it's up to you, together with your kitty's vet, to create a nutrition and exercise plan for your pet. A good mantra to guide your cat's weight loss plan is "Eat well, play more."

Striped gray cat sleeping.

Choosing the Right Food for Weight Loss

Nutrition plays an important role in weight loss, but before changing up your cat's meal plan — and especially before cutting down the amount of food you feed them — you should consult a vet to avoid creating potential health issues. "Crash diets aren't healthy for anyone, but for cats especially a crash diet can trigger a sometimes-fatal liver disease," says the American Animal Hospital Association . While this is a worst-case scenario, any change to your cat's meal plan will affect their health, so be sure to work closely with your vet if you want to adjust their food.

While you can find “light” or “weight management” foods at your petstore, it is always important to check in with your veterinarian to see if these foods are appropriate for your cat.   If your cat has a lot of weight to lose, your vet may recommend a therapeutic food that is specially formulated to help get your cat to a healthy weight.  These foods tend to have high fiber and have less calories per cup than other foods.   They are also formulated to provide enough protein, vitamins and minerals to ensure that your cat can lose weight safely even though they are eating less calories each day.

Finally, if you're into spoiling your cat with treats or table scraps, the best way to improve their health is to reduce or omit feeding them these unnecessary calories. While you might think that your cat will hate you, they will be just as content with getting extra cuddles and playtime with you.

How Exercise & Fitness Can Help

Cats are typically sedentary creatures, but during the hours your kitty is awake, get them moving! Nutritious food is just one part of weight loss. Think of yourself as your cat's personal trainer. Toss around a small toy that they can chase, or build a DIY cat scratching post. Even a wadded-up piece of paper will entertain your little hunter. Mix up activities to keep them interested.

Want to combine exercise with your cat's feeding time? Consider getting a puzzle feeding box. These special dishes require your cat to work to get their food out, helping them burn those extra calories.

Preventing Your Cat From Packing on Pounds

According toThe Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, , an average 10-pound cat should consume between 180-200calories per day. While this is a generalization of the average cat, it is important to speak with your vet for a personalized recommendation. . On average, a healthy rate of weight loss is one-half to 2 percent of body weight per week, but your vet will be best at setting specific goals.

Establishing a regular feeding schedule is also key to help your cat keep off the weight. Some cats are happy with one or two meals a day, while others prefer smaller, more frequent meals. Observe their eating habits to determine the best meal practices for your cat to help get them to their optimal weight. Your kitty may not be happy with these changes at first, but they'll appreciate it in the long run. After all, staying at a healthy weight allows them to move and play more, and enjoy an overall better quality of life.