Overweight Cat? 5 Tips for Cat Weight Loss

Indoor cats need extra initiative to exercise.

A 2011 study by Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that over 50% of cats were either obese or overweight. It’s time to make a resolution for your tubby tabby.

Side Effects of Cat Obesity

Obesity has been associated with increased risk for serious medical conditions in cats.  Studies have shown that obese cats are five times more likely as cats of normal weight to develop lameness requiring veterinary care.  Excess weight puts stress on joints, muscles and ligaments, and can predispose cats to soft tissue injuries and osteoarthritis.  Obese cats are four times more likely to develop diabetes mellitus, are two times more likely to suffer non-allergic skin conditions such as dry, flaky skin and chin acne, and are at risk for a potentially life-threatening liver disease called hepatic lipidosis.  All of which also have a side effect to your wallet. Pet insurance can help cover medical issues with cats but to alleviate potential financial and emotional stress on yourself, it’s best to help your cat shed the pounds.

Factors that Affect Obesity

Many factors affect obesity, including reproductive status, gender, age, level of activity, diet type and feeding style.  For instance, neutered or spayed cats require fewer calories for their daily need,  and indoor cats that are inactive and fed “free choice” (food available at all times) will tend to overeat.  The bottom line is this: we feed them too many calories.  Any calories not burned off in exercise or used for basic body function will be stored as fat.  So how do we get a fat cat to lose weight?

The 5 Best Tips for Cat Weight Loss

1) Get a Vet Overview

Start with a thorough physical examination and consultation with your veterinarian to determine your cat’s current body condition and check for any obesity-related medical conditions by basic testing with blood and urine samples.  Next, your veterinarian will evaluate your cat’s current diet and living conditions and will plan a weight loss program for your cat’s specific situation.

2) Best Food for Weight Loss

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are my preference for weight loss in cats. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must have meat in their diet in order to obtain key amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary for normal body function. Canned foods, especially the grain-free variety, generally meet the requirements of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet better than dry foods.  This is because the manufacturing process for dry diets requires higher carbohydrate content.  Cats can use carbohydrates in their diets quite efficiently. However, excess carbohydrates in a cat’s diet are not burned as energy, but are instead converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. Protein is THE key nutrient in a carnivore diet, so canned food is the best option.  In addition, cats do better with two to four small, controlled portions daily.

3) Exercise 

Exercise is another important part of the weight loss equation.

Outdoor Cats – If your cat is in an environment where he or she is safe getting outside on a regular basis, then it is OK to consider letting them out.  This can be a great way to get them moving.

Indoor Cats – Otherwise we need to get them moving at home.  Interactive toys that mimic the random, quick motions of prey in the wild should entice most cats.  Schedule twice daily play sessions with your feline and use imaginative toys to get the job done.

Boring indoor environments can be a contributing factor to obesity in cats.  Environmental enrichment can help a cat become more active and expend energy to obtain its food.  Try hiding food throughout the house in multiple dishes so your cat has to “hunt” for it.  Other items that can be provided to increase activity include climbing towers, window perches, scratching posts and cat toys.

4) Slow and Steady

Getting an obese cat to lose weight needs to be done gradually…no crash diets allowed!  Rapid weight loss or prolonged periods of anorexia can lead to the hepatic lipidosis mentioned earlier.  Slow, steady weight loss results in a better chance that your cat will maintain its new lower body weight in the long term.

5) Be Committed

Be committed to the weight loss program and try to avoid getting discouraged if things don’t go smoothly from the start.  It takes time for cats and owners alike to adjust to lifestyle changes. Successful weight loss means that your cat will probably live a few extra years and have a much better quality of life.  That will make you happy too!

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  • Christine Burke Fitness

    Thanks for this article! My fluffy kitty loved dry food and ate it all day.

    Happy to say Vector has maintained his build at a lean and mean 10.5 lbs for over half a year now, and we were able to up his dry food to 2 scoops per day.

    His favorite toy is his Cat Dancer.

    • Dr. Jane Matheys

      Christine-great job on keeping Vector at a healthy weight!

  • Margaret Harris

    Is some regular canned tuna fish ok or is it too processed? For my 7-8 pound cat I give her about 2 T a day. Or fresh baby shrimp? About 1 T a day.

  • Dr. Jane Matheys

    Margaret-a small amount of human grade tuna (in water only) or shrimp fed occasionally is OK, but I would recommend a fish flavored, high quality canned cat food for feedingamong on a daily basis. The cat food contains more of the essential nutrients that your cat requires.

  • Tiffany

    Hello, I have a question for you. I have an almost 3 year old Siamese male cat. When I first got him I would feed him raw chicken once a day and then one packet of wellness cat food. Well, a year ago my vet told me to stop feeding him the raw chicken. He said it was not good for him. So, I stopped feeding him the raw chicken and have been feeding him wellness core dry food and he gets two packets of wellness tuna. He will NOT eat any other wet cat food. He is very picky and will only eat the wellness wet tuna. Well, the vet says he needs to lose weight. He weighs 10.5 pounds. How do you know what an ideal weight is for a cat? I do not think that my Siamese is overweight. Also, my vet thinks that the dry wellness core that I am feeding him is what caused him to gain weight. I just prefer to feed my Siamese a high protein diet and I want him to be eating the best he possibly can. So I get confused on what is really good. I was also told to not feed him the wellness tuna all the time. Is the wellness tuna not good to feed cats on a daily basis? I can see where human grade tuna would be bad on a daily basis, but a high quality food like wellness tuna, is that really bad? Thank you for any suggestions and comments!

    • Dr. Jane Matheys

      Tiffany-It is good for both you and your veterinarian to be concerned about your cat’s weight. Obesity is becoming an epidemic with our pets, so your doctor wants to keep your cat at a healthy weight. Body condition scoring is the easiest method to tell if your cat is overweight. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do this. The concern about raw diets is that they potentially can be contaminated with organisms such as E. coli which can cause serious illness or, in some cases, death. High-protein, low carbohydrate diets (such as grain free diets) can be beneficial for cats, but it is important to note that the dry grain free products can be very high in calories due to the higher fat content. So it is likely that your cat has gained weight if overeating the dry food. I prefer high-protein, low carbohydrate canned food for cats. It is most like what they would be eating out in the wild (i.e. a mouse), and is a good source of water for them. It is also much lower in calories than dry food. 100% canned food is my preference for helping cats to lose weight. Consult with your veterinarian before starting any weight loss diet for your cat. Some doctors caution on feeding fish-based diets too often. Fish tends to be one of the more allergenic (allergy-causing) proteins in cat food, so feeding it daily could potentially lead to food allergies in genetically predisposed cats.


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