Three Ways to Help a Cat Lose Weight

It is estimated that as many as 48% of domestic cats are overweight.*
Helping a cat lose weight is the most important thing to do to ensure a cat’s long-term health and well-being.
*Case, Linda. The Cat: Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health. Ames, IA: Iowa State Press, 2003.

How do so many cats become overweight? Obesity is caused, in part, by a cat’s sedentary lifestyle. Over-feeding and too many treats can have negative side effects on weight. How cats interact with each other is also a factor. Cats are territorial and competition between cats can lead to over-eating. 

How we bond with our cats is also important. Swapping treat time for play time and enriching the cat’s environment is a good place to start. Building a positive relationship with a veterinarian can also help ensure a cat’s long-term health and well-being.

1. Control Calories and Fat

Controlling calories and fat is the best way to help a cat lose weight from a dietary standpoint.  In most cases, feeding a diet that provides 60% to 70% of the calories needed to maintain the cat’s current body weight is a safe starting point for weight loss. A veterinarian can help determine if a diet is working for a specific cat.  

Feed cats highly digestible, meat-based foods. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are uniquely adapted to get nutrients in forms only found in meat. A highly digestible food with meat as the main protein source can help prevent weight gain.

Increase the proportion of canned and raw foods in the cat’s daily diet. These foods are high in meat protein, low in carbohydrates and less calorically dense than dry food. Feeding only canned or raw foods has been shown to help cats lose weight. A ratio of 50% wet food to 50% dry also works well, but as little as 25% wet food can be beneficial for weight loss (as well as protecting urinary tract health).

Feed a dry food properly formulated for weight loss. These foods contain adequate levels of nutrients while limiting calories and fat. Many are also higher in fiber, in part, because fiber can add to the cat’s sense of fullness. Weight management formulas work best in single-cat homes, or homes with multiple cats that need to lose weight.

Measure food and feed smaller, more frequent meals. Most healthy, active cats need about 250 to 300 kcals per day depending on size and breed. Consider the cat’s activity level and the feeding guidelines on the bag of food to calculate how much the cat needs each day. Put a measuring cup in the bag to avoid over-feeding. Divide the amount of food into smaller meals, and feed three to six times a day. 

Reduce weight slowly. Weight loss should occur at a rate of no more than 3-4% of the cat’s total body weight per month to reduce the risk of hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease.  This is caused when fat tissue accumulates in the liver. It can usually be reversed when detected early.

2. Play More, Treat Less

The study, “Human-Animal Relationship of Owners of Normal and Overweight Cats” showed that owners of healthy weight cats played with their cats more often than owners of overweight cats. Introducing new toys and games into the cat’s daily routine can decrease boredom, reduce tension in multi-cat households, improve coordination and help cats bond with their human family.

Find out if the cat prefers mouse-, bird-, snake-, squirrel- or bug-shaped toys.  Cats play with toys that look like prey, and many cats have favorite toy “species.” Manufacturers cater to cats’ preferences and make toys that imitate mouse tails, bird wings and beautifully scaly snakes and other prey.

Discover the cat’s favorite color. If a cat doesn’t appear interested in playing, try toys of different colors. Cats can easily see blue, green and yellow and might respond better to these colors.  Vibrant, colorful toys may entice a seemingly reluctant cat to join in the game. 

Try catnip or honeysuckle to perk up a cat’s interest in a toy. Catnip and honeysuckle contain aromatic compounds that between 50% and 80% of cats are sensitive to. Cats that do not respond to catnip often respond to honeysuckle. Refreshing toys with these aromatic compounds can keep a cat interested and entertained.     

Play games. Games are a great way to bond with a cat. Try hiding a few healthy treats around the house for the cat to seek out and find. Cats are natural hunters, and seeking treats might make a cat feel like it is hunting. Pick up a wand toy and help a cat get exercise. Feathers and toy mice and all kinds of prey critters can be attached to wands with strings. Let the games begin!

Get crafty. Want to get creative, even a little quirky? Try making a fitness trail out of rolled up rugs for tunnels, chairs, tables and wood plank ramps. Place one or two toys along the course to encourage the cat to explore. Or, try building a cat mobile out of string and cut-out cardboard shapes and hang it from a windowsill.

3. Create an Enriched Environment

Creating an enriched environment means making our homes friendlier to a cat’s natural behaviors in ways that increase activity and decrease stress. Stress can be a factor that leads to weight gain. Here are a few ideas on how to create an environment that stimulates cats to actively engage in natural behaviors.

Add new things to the environment. New objects might help increase activity and decrease stress.  Empty boxes make great new playgrounds, and hideouts. Many cats respond to the crinkly noise an empty paper bag makes when they pounce on it. Tubes from paper towel and toilet paper rolls are also fun for cats. Bird feeders hung outside the window near a cat tree or post keeps birds safe from cat claws but close enough that the birds might provide hours of entertainment. Adding water bowls, litter boxes, cat trees, scratching posts and even grooming sessions can help significantly decrease stress.  

Create vertical spaces. Vertical space is very important to cats. Cats tend to feel safe when they can retreat to elevated spaces. This is especially important in multi-cat households, or homes with both cats and dogs. Adding a tall, sturdy cat post to a commonly used area of the home is an effective way to add fun, safe vertical spaces for cats. 

Provide several feeding areas in households with more than one cat. A portly cat, in a multi-cat home, is often the cat dominating the food. Feeding cats close together can sometimes make this problem worse. If possible, feed each cat in a separate room. Or, try feeding the overweight cat on the floor, and the other cats on top of a cat tree, or other vertical space.  Overweight cats might be less inclined to eat all the food if it isn’t easily within their grasp.

We’re not veterinarians. Mud Bay staff are well educated, and our writing is well-researched, but neither the advice of a Mud Bay staff member nor reading Mud Bay's written materials can substitute for visiting a veterinarian. We offer carefully chosen, natural solutions, but we believe that veterinary conditions should be diagnosed and treated by professionals.