Just like humans, cats can get fluffy around the waistline when they eat too much and don’t exercise. And just like us, their health can suffer when they become overweight.
Diabetes is the most common health problem that SAGE Veterinary Centers Internal Medicine specialist Diane Dereszynski sees in overweight cats. She also sees arthritis and mobility issues. Treating these health issues in cats can be challenging, she says.
“You may need to give the cat an insulin injection under the skin once or twice a day for the rest of the cat’s life,” says Dr. Dereszynski, who sees patients at our Redwood City hospital. “And with arthritis and mobility issues, we don’t have as many medications for cats as we do for dogs. We commonly treat dogs with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, but cats may not tolerate these medications well long term. So the goal is to try to prevent cats from becoming overweight in the first place.”
How Cats Become Overweight
Cats don’t become overweight overnight – it can be a result of any combination of these factors:
- Owner perception
- Veterinarian advisement
- Indoor lifestyle, boredom and lack of exercise
- Food choice
- Overfeeding and multi-cat households
Flip the Scales
Here are some tips for helping keep your pet’s weight in check.
Know what overweight looks like. This handy chart from Royal Canin gives owners visual cues that help keep weight in check. Click to open a pdf.
Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s diet, food, and ideal weight. Studies have shown that cats are more likely to become overweight when their veterinarians do not advise pet owners about ideal weight. Optimal diet and food type varies widely for each cat – your veterinarian can help design a specific plan for your pet. Be wary of food bag recommendations! The recommended feeding amount on food bags may not be the correct amount, especially if the cat is overweight. Feeding calculations should be done by a veterinarian.
An indoor lifestyle, boredom and lack of exercise can be precursors to weight gain. No outdoor activity or restricted outdoor activity can increase the risk of a cat becoming overweight at one year of age. And boredom, caused by lack of activity, can lead some cats to eat more, Dr. Dereszynski says. To combat boredom and weight gain in indoor cats, find some fun toys, set aside play time, and make it a priority. Outdoor leash walking is another option – you and your cat will both benefit!
Switch to wet food. It has fewer calories than dry food. It also has more water content, which helps keep your cat fuller, longer.
Don’t “free-feed.” Cats that graze all day are more likely to be overweight, Dr. Dereszynski says. Set specific feeding times for your cat and minimize treats.
Sometimes, in multi-cat households, pet owners put out food for all the animals and expect they will regulate how much they eat. This doesn’t always work, and the dominant cat will eat more, increasing its risk of becoming overweight.
Ditch the generic scoop, especially in multi-cat households. Talk to your veterinarian about how much food your cat should have and then measure it before serving. If you have more than one cat, be aware that each cat has its own feeding requirements. Technology has made it easier to feed cats in multi-cat households – look for feeders that come with microchips for your cats’ collars. When the cat approaches, the microchip talks to the feeder and the feeder releases food based on who is in front of it.
Be diligent. If your cat is overweight and you and your veterinarian implement a feeding plan, check in with your cat once a month. Is the feeding plan working?
“It’s important to follow up,” Dr. Dereszynski says. “You want your cat to lose weight, but you don’t want them to lose weight too quickly. Monitor their weight, then your vet can help recalculate the amount you feed the cat depending on how the weight is changing.”
Contact your veterinarian if you have questions.
 Obesity Management in Cats: Incorporating Behavior & Feeding Practices. Maryanne Murphy, DVM, PhD, DACVN. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA. AAFP 2017
 Risk factors identified for owner-reported feline obesity at around one year of age: Dry diet and indoor lifestyle.
Rowe, Browne, Casey, Gruffydd-Jones, Murray. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26265631