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Healthy Weight for Your Cat

WebMD veterinary experts answer commonly asked questions about cats’ weight, diet, exercise, and more.
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Q: What kind of diet should my cat be on to lose weight?

A: If we want a cat to lose weight, we have to do two things. We have to think about what we feed him and we have to figure out how to make him more active. One easy way to do both is to feed out of a foraging device. These are small plastic containers with holes that we put the cat’s food in. The cat then has to play with the device to get the food to fall out. Cats will work for food, which a lot of owners don’t realize.

But remember, we never want to change an animal’s diet without asking their permission. And the way we ask permission is offer the new food or new feeding device alongside the old dish or food.

Owners also need to know that the food intake recommendations on pet food packaging labels are generally well above what most pets need to consume. Those recommendations were developed for intact, active animals, while most of the animals I see are sedentary, spayed or neutered pets.

Q: I tried putting my cat on a diet and he howled for days. Are some cats just too old or set in their ways to change?

A: When trying to change a pet’s food, never take away the old food completely. For many cats, the old dish and food are actually a safety signal. Cats like familiarity. They don’t like a lot of change. So if you need to offer a new food, offer it alongside the old food. Give your cat a choice. Usually, when it’s done that way, the cat will at least try the other food eventually, and if he likes it, he’ll eat it.

Q: My cat is an indoor only cat. Can he get enough exercise inside to lose weight?

A: Of course he can get enough exercise if you’re providing him an enriched environment. So give your cat climbing structures because cats love to be elevated. They need windows they can look out. Use foraging balls to encourage exercise. And they need to feel comfortable enough to come out. If they’re afraid of half the things in your house, they won’t come out to exercise.

And that includes people. Remember, you should never use punishment as a teaching tool. If you slap a cat, he thinks you’re trying to kill him. He can become immobilized with fear. But cats respond marvelously to praise and treats.

Q: Does my cat need to see a vet before starting an exercise plan or a diet?

A: It’s a good idea just to be sure there’s not something else going on. There are probably a dozen different causes of obesity in cats, ranging from overeating and overfeeding to inadequate activity, seasonal obesity, and even some drugs and diseases can cause weight gain.

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