Feeding Fat Cats

Discover how cat food, cat toys and exercise can help your overweight cat.

By Scott and Ann Springer

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British Shorthair cat -- Food for Fat Cats
Cat obesity is an increasing cat health problem

Cartoon cat Garfield is the icon of the all-American fat cat. But feline obesity is no laughing matter. It is a serious health concern that all cat owners should be aware of.

Obesity is the No. 1 feline health problem in most countries in which cats are house pets, says Jim Boelke, president of Neenah, Wis.-based Cat Dancer Products Inc.

Some owners may not realize their cats are obese, but a few extra pounds can have a large impact on a cat.

"Three extra pounds on a cat is like 40 extra pounds on an average human," says Kurt Iverson, external relations manager for The Iams Co. in Dayton, Ohio. 

Infographic: Fit Cat or Fat Cat?

Sometimes Less Cat Food Is More

If your cat is obese as a result of other health problems, you can establish a plan to shed those unwanted pounds.

Overfeeding is a common reason for obesity. "Cats tend to be grazers," Iverson says. "By tightly controlling the daily feeding to the recommended guidelines on every bag, most problems can be avoided."

Another method to counteract feeding your cat too much cat food is to offer meals periodically throughout the day to your cats.

Cats living in multiple-cat households may be sneaking more than their fair share of cat food at meal time. "Stores have timing bowls that reveal meal portions at different times of the day, or over a few days for short travel periods," Iverson says.

Advice: Help Your Fat Cat Lose Weight

Limit The Cat Treats

"Treats add calories that aren't always counted, so they can make a cat fat all by themselves if too much is provided," Iverson says.

Low-calorie cat food treats may be a better option for owners who are training their cats or who can't resist spoiling them.

Iverson says owners should eliminate table scraps that can defeat the benefits of the complete and balanced nutrition a cat food formula offers.

Exercise can burn calories and also has other health benefits. "Lighter food and less food are important, but you have to put exercise into the formula," Boelke says. "It's the third leg of the stool."

Some cats, including senior cats, may not jump at the chance to increase their heart rate.

"House cats can be difficult to exercise," says Matthew Porter, employee supervisor at Incredipet in Lexington, Ky.

Cats have a different mentality than dogs, says Amy Brickle, product manager at the Golden, Colo.-based Kong Co.

"Cats say, 'You have to give me something really good to get me to play and to come out from lying around.' "

Interactive cat toys, catnip toys and toys with erratic movement may persuade a kitty to abandon its sunny napping spot to burn some calories, says Chuck Costello, marketing director at Kong.

Quiz: Are You Making Your Cat Fat?

Tempt Your Cats To Exercise

"Cats love those crinkly toys and laser pointers," Porter says. "You can really get some games going with those."

Mix meal time with play time by putting dry kibble into a toy.

"Making kibble feeding a game can help lengthen the feeding process, provide a mental challenge and discourage gorging at the bowl," Iverson says.

Leash training can be successful if you start cats off at an early age. Short and frequent walks, 15 to 20 minutes at a time, are best for cats that have less stamina than dogs, Porter says.

"By slowly acclimating the pet to the feel of the harness and leash for increasing periods of time, cats can enjoy the same sort of exercise that's common for dog owners to employ," Iverson says.

Indoor cats are more likely to be sedentary, but don't be fooled. Some outdoor cats may not be getting enough exercise.

"You still have to monitor them because it depends on the cat," Boelke says. "If the cat is obese, you need to make an adjustment."

Keep in mind that cats are fickle creatures, so variety is a necessity.

News: 5 Steps to a Less Fat Cat

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Feeding Fat Cats

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Reader Comments

Vendetta    McMinnville, TN

9/19/2013 6:18:57 PM

I have somehow adopted 3 cats in the last 8 years. My oldest is 8 and is overweight. She does not like to play with anything that my other two cats play with. She also has to be in another room closed off from my last two adoptees. She hates them. She has always slept with me and wants to be fed at least twice at night and if I don't get up and feed her, she runs right over me! That's 18 pounds jumping on your back or tummy! I worry about her getting diabetics. I have her on special high protein food that I order just for her but she is always hungry.

Brad    Springfield, OR

9/19/2013 2:14:54 PM

Hello, my problem is a little different as I have an 18 year old queen that has kidney failure as the same with me although I am a lot older in human years. I would like to to know how to get my kitty to gain weight. She is given ringers every other day and since January and has gained no weight at all. Her weight is 5 3/4 Lbs. and I would like to get her up to at least 7 to 8 lbs. if she lives long enough. Any information would be helpful.

Lisa    Ludlow Ma, MA

7/21/2013 9:53:48 AM

When I give my cat Hercules treats, I make a game out of it. I hide cat treats all around the room and let my cat go on a treasure hunt for them. Hercules loves it! He walks all around the room searching for the treats, and when he smells one, he runs right to it. He gets a good workout, and it is funny to watch him on the prowl.

Jane    Blacksburg, VA

3/19/2013 5:18:36 PM

People are not aware of how many calories a cat needs. I searched for information and found a sedentary cat needs only 30 calories per pound of body weight. Then I had to search for caloric content of cat food and calculate the amount to feed my cats.

I would like to see caloric content on pet food labels. If owners knew what their pets needed it sure would help.

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