Black and white cat

To keep a cat in good shape, consider no longer free-feeding them.

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How to keep your cat's weight healthy

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Ensuring your cat is at a good weight can be a challenge, but it'll ward off diseases related to excess weight in the long run.

Keeping your cat at an optimum weight is really important for their health. There are estimates that roughly half of pet cats in the UK are considered to be overweight or obese, which has significant implications for related diseases. This will often be due to over-eating, with many cats being free-fed or given too much food at home and then receiving extra meals from well-meaning neighbours. The advice below offers some useful information to help your cat lose weight, but this should complement veterinary advice that is tailored to your individual cat.

What weight is obese for a cat and what is a healthy weight?

There is no one answer here, because cats come in many different shapes and sizes. This means that two cats could weigh the same, but one would be considered a healthy weight and the other obese. The most useful assessment is actually body-condition score. This uses a range of visual cues and touch to help work out whether your pet is in good condition.

Ask a vet or vet nurse to show you how to assess and monitor this. Many people find that a combination of assessing body-condition score, plus keeping track of their weight gives a more rounded approach to weight-loss programmes.

How long does it take for a cat to lose weight?

This depends on their starting weight, but it is important that your cat does not lose weight too quickly, as this can affect their immune system and increase the risk of other health complaints. A vet will be able to advise the best rate of weight loss for your pet. Generally, this will be between 3 to 5 per cent of their body weight each month.

How do I get my indoor cat to lose weight?

If your cat never goes outside, then this means that they are getting all of their food and treats within the household. Keep a food diary for a week, asking everyone in the family to note down when they feed the cat. It’s not uncommon for pets to be fed twice at meal times.

It is then worth booking an appointment with a vet practice to discuss weight-loss management and so your pet can have a thorough health check. Bring along the food diary and the packets for their regular diet, as these will be useful information for the vet or nurse.

Reducing cat weight with activities and no free-feeding

Most of your cat’s weight loss will come from dietary changes, but you can try to encourage your cat to be more active through enrichment such as games, toys and puzzle feeders. Take care not to stress out your cat by too many changes at once, and make sure they still have plenty of time alone to relax in cat-friendly hiding spots.

It is also important to consider no longer free-feeding. Lots of cat owners leave a bowl of dry kibble out for their pets, available 24/7. Yet cats are not as good at regulating their own energy intake as you might think and many cats will over-eat from this feeding method. Even if your cat is on a low-fat diet, they can gain weight from free-feeding. Therefore, the advice is usually to stop free-feeding your cat, especially if they are overweight, unless a vet has advised that it is necessary for a medical reason. This is particularly helpful in multi-cat households, as otherwise one of the cats may be eating food that was intended for the other cats in the family.

Which cat food is best for weight loss?

Generally, your cat will need a diet that is low in fat and there are some specially formulated therapeutic diets that can be particularly effective. Yet these must only be given under veterinary guidance, as they are specially designed to manage weight loss, but may not be suitable for your pet due to the balance of nutrients.

Will wet food help a cat lose weight?

It is easier to find a low-fat dry diet, but there are some wet foods that can be fed if your cat prefers these. It might also be possible to mix wet and dry food, but this is easier if both are from the same manufacturer, as you can ask for information on feeding both in combination while maintaining a healthy rate of weight loss.

How can you help an overweight cat?

You'll need to see a vet for an initial health check and advice. While there, you'll also discuss a tailored weight-loss programme for your cat.

How can I help my obese cat lose weight?

Once you have seen a vet for advice, the main changes will be to your cat’s diet. If your pet is an outdoors cat, make sure they have something on their collar to deter birds and other prey. You can also get special tags for collars asking people not to feed your cat for health reasons.

How many Kcals should my cat eat?

How many kilocalories or Kcals your cat should eat varies significantly between individuals. The best guidance is to follow veterinary advice and the manufacturer’s guidelines on the feed packet. You will often need to adjust portion size during the course of the weight-loss programme, as your pet’s metabolic rate will change over time. Be sure to monitor your pet’s weight and body-condition score regularly during this period.

How much food should a cat eat each day?

The best thing to do is to follow the guidelines on the food packaging as a starting-point, then adjust the quantity to maintain a healthy body-condition score.

When should I see a vet to talk about my cat's weight?

If your cat is overweight, it’s best to see a vet early on, taking the food diary and diet information along to the appointment. Some vet practices will also have weight-loss clinics in place, and you can enquire about how these work. You can ask a vet about the option of a therapeutic diet, or what other alternatives are available. It can be really helpful to keep regular check-ups in place at the vet clinic to help support weight-loss management of your pet.

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