Does your cat lay around all day, only getting up to eat and visit the litter box? Chances are, he’s overweight. Maybe you’ve switched to the “diet” cat food or tried feeding him less, but you might have noticed it’s not easy to get that weight off. A new study from the University of Illinois explains what it takes to get kitty to slim down.
“The intent with this diet was a healthy weight loss: getting rid of fat while maintaining lean mass. The big question was how much does it take to make cats lose weight, especially lazy neutered males? It turns out you have to keep reducing their food intake because they’re not very active. It takes a long time,” says Kelly Swanson, Kraft Heinz Company Endowed Professor in Human Nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I.
Swanson and his colleagues wanted to target a safe level of weight loss — enough to notice a change, but not enough to cause health problems. “The risk with rapid weight loss, especially in a cat, is hepatic lipidosis. The body releases too much fat, and the liver gets bogged down. They can’t handle that much,” Swanson says. “We targeted a 1.5 percent body weight loss per week, which falls in line with the range (0.5-2 percent per week) suggested by the American Animal Hospital Association.”
To achieve that 1.5 percent loss, the researchers had to cut food intake by 20 percent compared to a maintenance diet. But that was only the first reduction. Swanson and his colleagues found that to achieve continued weight loss, they had to keep cutting intake every week.
Tips to aid weight loss
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.
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.
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.