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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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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.

I’d also like the vet to do an environmental history to make sure the cat isn’t fat just because it’s afraid to move - the dog is bothering it or the kids are pulling its tail every time it comes out. That’s actually fairly common. Owners need to know if their cat hides a lot, that’s not normal cat behavior. So we need to help them find a way to structure the home life so the cat is moving around and interacting with its environment.

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