Because indoor cats tend to have a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, you may find yourself with an overweight cat.
Typically, weight gain occurs when your cat eats too much, or in some cases, has a medical condition. If you notice your kitty is putting on pounds, contact your veterinarian right away to rule out illness or even pregnancy.
Once you determine that your cat does not have any underlying health issues you and your vet can create a wellness program for her that helps her maintain or reach a healthy weight. Doing so may reduce her chances of developing diabetes or arthritis and even increase her lifespan. A healthy cat is a happy cat.
Her larger girth may creep up on you, and you may not even realize it until her yearly vet checkup. But don't fear, you don't have to install a kitty home gym to create a healthier lifestyle for your cat!
Before focusing on an exercise program, retool her meals. It's not easy to keep an eye on your cat's activity level when you're away from home, but you can monitor her food intake. Pay close attention to how much she eats each day to figure out if she's eating too much and when. Then, chat with your vet about how much she should be eating based on her age and size.
If she's already over the limit of the recommended amount of cat food per day, it's time to take action. Weight loss in cats is most successful by establishing a healthy, veterinarian-approved reduction in food that takes place gradually over the course of a few weeks. No crash diets! You may find that it's time to transition your furry friend to a cat food formulated for weight loss that helps her reach and maintain her goal.
Diet alone won't result in weight loss for cats. Exercise matters for helping her lose weight. Just like their human pet parents, cats benefit from a balanced combination of healthy meals and regular activity. Exercising a cat can be difficult, but it's not impossible. She most likely won't take up the treadmill or swim laps with you, but she can use her precious "awake" time to engage in stimulating games that help maintain a healthy weight. There are many options for cute DIY cat toys out there, too, so you don't even have to invest in any expensive equipment.
As with her new meal plan, gradually introduce your overweight cat to her new exercising regimen, as the rigor of a "too much too soon" approach could lead to injury. Because cats retain a strong predator instinct and love to hunt, a gentle game to get her moving is to give her something to chase, maybe a crumpled up piece of paper or a bouncy ball. Just make sure it is not small enough that she could swallow and choke on it.
To really get her hunting instinct going, allow your cat to hunt her own food, just like her wild ancestors. You can hide pieces of food or cat treats throughout the house and watch her stalk her prey. Be sure to vary the heights to get her jumping and climbing — this could include using stairs or a cat tree. More movement, means more calories being burned, just remember where you hid the pieces of food in case she misses a piece. You don't want her to find an old piece of kibble a couple of weeks later that has been sitting out.
For the times when you aren't at home, leave out her toys for solitary play, and set up the house for cat-only playtime by giving her a scratching post, an exercise wheel, or a cat tree to climb. Even keeping the blinds or curtains open during the day to provide her with a clear view of birds, squirrels, or neighborhood dogs will kick her instincts into high gear, and she'll be charging from window to window in no time.
A bonus? Your bond with your kitty with strengthen as you play and enjoy activities together to help her achieve a healthy lifestyle. Cats may seem like independent creatures that have it all figured out, but they rely on you to keep them healthy and happy a lot more than you think. Paying special attention to your cat's weight and overall health can help her lead a much healthier life for years to come.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.