overweight cat

The Overweight Cat: Are we Feeding Cats Too Many Treats?

A recent study by Cats Protection investigated whether cat owners believed their cats to be overweight or not. Of the 1,120 owners asked, 23% of them deemed their cats to be overweight. The true figure of cats that would fall in to the overweight category is likely to be even higher than that.

The study was conducted right after the festive period, when pets are often given more unhealthy treats than they would usually receive throughout the year.

The study participants reported the unhealthy, festive treats they had given to their pets, which included; meats, cheese, chocolate, stuffing, cow’s milk and even Christmas pudding! Treats such as these aren’t healthy for cats as they are high in fat and calorie rich.

We’ve included a ‘Feline Calorie Calculator’ in this article, so you can work out how many calories your cat needs a day, and how many they should be eating if they need to lose weight, check it out below.

Problems Faced by the Overweight Cat

The study conducted by Cats Protection has shown us that, here in the UK, we are giving our cats too many treats, too often! A problem that is likely mirrored in many places around the globe.

Giving treats to our cats is a simple way to show our affection for them, but if we give too many, we could be causing them problems. An increase in body weight of as little as 1kg can increase the risk of weight related problems such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes (as much as x3 the normal risk)
  • Heart problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer

All of which can contribute to a decreased life expectancy.

How to Treat the Overweight Cat

An overweight cat can still be given treats, even as part of a weight loss programme, as long as we carefully monitor their diet. Anyone familiar with dieting will be aware of how important counting calories is, and cats are no exception!

Instead of giving your cat milk, cheese or other fatty, human foods, look out for specifically formulated cat treats. Treats such as ‘Dreamies’ have as little as 2 calories per treat. Not all human food is a bad for your cat though, why not try giving your cat a little boiled fish or boneless chicken as a special treat.

Just be sure to consider the total calorific intake of both standard meals and treats and make sure it isn’t more than what is recommended for your cat.

Calculating How Many Calories an Overweight Cat Needs

The calculator above calculates your cat’s ‘Recommended Energy Requirements’ or RER, based on their ideal weight (typically 4-5kg for adults). To safely lose weight, it is recommended that a cat receives 80% of it’s RER – this value is shown beside ‘Calories required for weight loss’.

Weight Loss Programmes for Overweight Cats

If your cat is overweight and you want to help them shift those extra pounds, there are a few things you can do. One of the best ways to help your cat to lose weight is to change to a specifically formulated weight loss diet. Look for diets branded as ‘light’ or ones that specifically mention ‘Weight loss formulation’ from reputable manufacturers.

When moving your cat over to the new diet, be sure to do so gradually. This means, for the first week, mixing their old food with the new food; slowly increasing the amount of the new food and decreasing the amount of the old food over time.

If you’re finding that your cat is refusing to eat their new food, try switching to a wet ‘light’ diet as some cats find wet food more palatable. You can also try warming wet food slightly to make it even more palatable. If you find that your cat is ‘begging’ more often for food, try replacing their water with fresh water and this can sometimes satisfy them. If they do continue to beg, only offer a small amount of food (for example, if feeding dry food, offer only about 10 kibble pieces).

Be sure that you don’t dramatically change your cat’s diet or calorific intake as rapid weight loss can cause problems, such as feline hepatic lipidosis. This is a condition where the body’s fat reserves are used for energy, leading to a build up of fat in the liver.

Exercises for the Overweight Cat

With dogs, we could quite easily go for a jog (getting both of us fit and healthy at the same time), but unfortunately, cats aren’t built for physical activity like this. Instead, cats are designed to expel large amounts of energy in a short period of time. Lions for example spend large parts of the day fairly ‘relaxed’, but will sprint after their prey at great speeds to earn themselves a meal.

So with this in mind, why not try constantly moving your cat’s food around, so they have to ‘hunt’ for it. Keep putting the food in different places though otherwise your cat will quickly wise up!

Also, try to engage with your cat for 10-15 minutes a day with their favourite toys. Toys that you can get them to chase are ideal! Exercising cats like this, probably isn’t the best idea…

Your Thoughts

If you were a participant in the Cats Protection study, how would you have responded? Do you consider your cat to be overweight? If so do you plan to help them shift those extra pounds? Have you got any feline dieting tips you can share with other readers? Let us know in the comments below.

We’d also like to hear how you found the calorie calculator to work out your cats calorific needs. How many calories does your cat need a day?

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About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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