Here are some practical tips to help slim down overly-cuddly kitties to healthier proportions.

It’s time for Fluffy’s annual vaccination check-up. You dread the appointment, not because of the stress of getting there or the cost of the visit, but because the vet will once again point out the cat is over-weight.

How is that helpful? You know Fluffy is carrying too many layers of love, but what to do about it, that’s the big question. Yes, the vet suggested a diet food, and yes they offered a pet weight watchers clinic. But your cat is a fussy eater and who has the time for extra vet visits?

If this sounds like you, worry not. This blog post is written with you in mind. It provides practical tips that work, to help over-ample kitties shape up into fit felines.

Know the Cat Isn’t Hungry…She Just Wants to Please You

One of the commonest comments clients make to me is that their cat pesters for food and seems hungry all the time. Unless the cat is actively losing weight (or has a medical problem such as diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism) then this is very unlikely. Instead, the cat is seeking attention.

Fluffy has learned that by rubbing round your ankles, purring, and looking at you adoringly, this prompts you to go to the fridge and get her food out. Then you spoon the pouch into her bowl and place on the floor for her to eat. For that couple of precious minutes she has become the centre of your world…and she loves you for it. In fact, she’ll go so far as to eat the food to show appreciation for your efforts and, yes, reward you for being so kind.

What Fluffy really wants is some attention. Next time Fluffy pulls this trick and you know she can’t be hungry, try simply stroking her instead. Or brush her. Or get out a favorite toy and play with her.

The learning point here is that cats that appear hungry may actually be after affection rather than food.

An Active Mind Makes for Less Kitty Comfort Eating

What do you do when bone-achingly bored? The chances are you raid the fridge or break open a packet of potato chips. The same applies to cats. Eating is an activity that helps pass the time. Unfortunately, this is a quick way to become overweight, since it’s super-easy to consume a day’s worth of calories in a couple of snacks.

Whilst you’re out at work, look at ways to keep the cat’s mind active. This can be something as simple as providing a tall cat tower by a window. Cats love to be up high (that’s why they climb trees!) to look down on the world. Put a cat tower by a window and this provides hours of amusement watching the birds in the bushes.

Also falling in this category is meeting all the cats behavioral needs, such as hunting (more of this later), climbing, scent marking, grooming, and scratching. When a cat is encouraged to show these natural actions, it aids contentment and, yes, reduces comfort eating.

A few suggestions include:

  • Cat scratching posts: Is your cat a horizontal scratcher (ie they claw rugs and carpets) or vertical (destroys sofas, door frames, and wallpaper). Provide a substantial cat scratch post with that orientation (flat for horizontal scratches, and upright for vertical scratchers). Make sure it’s large enough for the cat to really arch their back and stretch, and anchored firmly enough that it doesn’t move. Locate the post by their bed (cats like to claw on waking)
  • Wall walkways and Climbing frames: Cats like to move around vertically (climbing again) not just on the floor. Provide interesting ramps, climbing frames, and shelves for them to patrol along. Place a treat or toy at the end of the shelf to act as motivation.
  • Play: Actively play with the cat, at least twice a day. Bear in mind they are sprinters rather than marathon runners, so five to ten minutes at a time is fine. Great toys to engage those cats too chilled to chase around after a ball, include wings-on-strings. Toys that flutter erratically and mimic the action of a fluttering bird and very hard to resist. And stick with it. Don’t be discouraged if the cat is slow to catch on. Be content with the occasional flick of a paw if the cat has forgotten how to play; over time that flick will become a swipe and eventually a full on pounce.
  • Harness technology: There are many different types of devices which can be activated remotely, to engage the cat in chasing the red dot whilst you are out. And there are even iPad apps for cats to play (under supervision) which stimulate the mind as they catch fish by pawing the screen.

Meals that Burn Calories

There are special diets that can help weight loss, but listing these is not the purpose of this article. If weight loss was as simple as switching diets, there would be far fewer fat cats. Quite simply, life isn’t that simple. To be effective, the cat guardian needs to be aware of some simple home truths and strategies to aid weight loss.

Weigh Out the Daily Food Allowance

If a cat consumes too many calories they gain weight; this applies even to diet foods. Therefore, always weigh out the cat’s daily food allowance on kitchen scales, then pop it in a container to be given over the course of the day.

How much should you feed?

Start by having the vet suggest a realistic initial target weight for the cat. Then look on the food pack and see how much the manufacturer recommends for a cat of that weight. Then weigh this amount out BUT be aware the manufacturers often err on the generous side. It’s not unusual for the recommended amount to be too high by as much as 25%. So if you’re rigidly weighing out the right amount and the cat isn’t losing weight, then decrease the allowance by 10%.

Can’t I use a measuring cup?

Nope, ‘fraid not, not if you’re serious about weight loss. Fill a measuring cup with kibble and depending on how the biscuits pack together, the weight can vary quite a bit. When narrow margins make the difference between weight loss or not…reach for the weighing scales and get things accurate.

Wet food vs Dry Food?

Many well-meaning clients diet their cat by restricting the wet food (because it looks a lot in the bowl) and keeping the dry kibble the same. This is a mistake. This is because dry kibble is far more calorific per 100g than wet food. Think about it. Wet food is up to 75% water, which means the equivalent weight of dry food contains around four times the amount of calories. So if you’re going to cut back, trim down on the dry stuff.

Feeding in a Multi-cat Household

OK, so you have two or more cats, and the fat cat simply steals food. How can you stop this?

It’s not easy but with a little ingenuity you can foil the food thief.

  • Supervised meals: Speaks for itself. Supervise mealtimes with the fat cat eating on a different side of the room.
  • Avoid ad lib feeding: Stick with mealtimes, so no food is left down for inappropriate snacking.
  • Use microchip activated feeding bowls: If for some reason ad lib feeding is essential, then use microchip activated feeding bowls. Provide each cat with a smart-bowl, with their individual ID chip number programmed in. That way, they only get access to their bowl and can fill-up on another feline’s food.
  • Facial recognition food bowls: If you want to get super-techy, there are now food bowls which recognize the individual cat’s face and only open for that individual.

Meals that Mimic Hunting Behavior

Natural cat hunting behavior involves prolonged periods of dozing up a tree, followed by short bursts of activity. Science shows us that the mental challenge of tracking and pouncing on a meal, adds to the feeling of fullness which means the cat doesn’t have to eat again for a few hours. Conversely, when the food sits in a bowl and can be eaten in 20 seconds, this bypasses this natural satiety control and leads to boredom eating.

A powerful way to get reduce the urge to gorge is to have the cat hunt for food. And no, this is nothing to do with live food, but about the cat uses all her senses to track down her meal. A simple way to do this is with puzzle feeders – any number are available from pet stores. These work by putting food inside a toy that requires the cat to manipulate it in such as way that the food falls out.

But you can easily make home-grown puzzle feeders or improvise. Here are some suggestions.

  • Cardboard tubes: Keep the cardboard inners from toilet paper. Use pet-safe adhesive to glue 10 or more together in a pyramid shape, with the hollow part of the tube horizontal. Put a few biscuits at the centre of each tube, so the cat has to use a paw to push them out to eat.
  • Muffin trays: Place a teaspoon of wet food in each pan of the muffin tray, so the cat has to take time to eat
  • Hide food: Wash out some plastic yogurt pots and put a small amount of food in each one. Hide the pots around the home, so Fluffy has to find them.
  • Plastic bottles: Clean a used plastic bottle and drill small holes in it that are large enough to let kibble pieces fall out. (Make sure the edges of the plastic are smooth and not sharp in any way.) Put a few kibble inside, so that Fluffy has to bat the bottle around to release the biscuits.

Of course these methods have the added advantage the Fluffy moves around at mealtimes, which helps burn calories.

Feline Fitness

Exercise is the friend of feline weight loss. But how do you get a reluctant kitty moving?

  • Step training for cats: Encourage the cat to go up and downstairs. Provide an incentive such as a treat (some of their daily ration set aside for the purpose) or an enticing toy that’s too tempting to resist, such as chasing that irritating red dot.
  • A smart treadmill: Yes, you can get exercise wheels for cats, whilst some are smarter than others. Looking like a giant hamster wheel, you can imagine most cats regarding such pointless exercise with disdain. Enter the ‘Little Cat‘. This device has the added attraction of a red LED that moves inside the wheel, encouraging the cat to chase after it.
  • Consider getting a second cat: Lone cats can benefit from the addition of a playmate. As a general rule, they are more likely to accept and get along with a kitten of the opposite gender. But those kittenish ways can rejuvenate an older cat that would otherwise have no reason to move around. However, be aware this can backfire if the existing cat takes a strong dislike to the newbie, so consider your cat’s pawsonality before taking on another.
  • Feline agility: Just like dogs, cats can enjoy tackling an obstacle course. You may wish to train the cat to follow a target first, then use the target to guide the cat through the course.
  • Use the power of catnip: Not all cat respond to catnip, but for those that do it can pep up their interest in play. Try blowing catnip-scented bubbles to get Fluffy on her paws.

So there we have it, some practical suggestions to help get your feline fighting fit. Any suggestions to add? Help other cat guardians and leave a comment below.