It can be difficult to convince a cat to exercise, and just as difficult to regulate how much food they are allowed. Many cats have us trained to feed them what they want, when they want. It is also usually quite challenging to motivate an overweight cat.
Measuring out your cat’s daily food requirement is important and will help you monitor how much they are allowed to have in meals and snacks for that day. I often recommend measuring the total amount of food your cat is allowed for the day and putting it in a Ziploc bag or container. Then throughout the day, you can give meals and treats from this container. When the food is gone, you know they’ve reached their limit for the day.
Below are some ways you may need to approach changing your cat’s food and exercise regime to help with their weight loss.
Suggestions for the "Always Hungry" Cat
Some cats will bug their family for food all the time! They feel they need breakfast first thing in the morning, and snacks all day long. These are often cats that are looking for attention even more than they want food.
Try taking out a toy and playing with your cat. Using an interactive toy such as a wand toy with a feather or crinkle ball on the end for your cat to hunt and catch may satisfy their need for attention. Play for 5-10 minutes, then allow them to find a comfy spot to relax with a few of their kibbles from their allotted amount for the day.
For a cat that ignores the toy and really wants their food, make them work for it! Use food dispensing toys for them to push around the house that dispense kibble as they roll in the right direction. This will help increase your cat’s activity while they work for their food.
Many cats will enjoy working for their food, and another low cost option is giving your cat a treasure hunt with their meal. Take some of their kibble from their allotted daily portion and place it in various places throughout the house – some in their bed, some in their bowl, some on the different levels of their scratching post, etc. Only place a few kibbles in each location.
Cats that continue to feel hungry may need a diet that makes them feel more full. Talk to your veterinarian about a diet food for your cat to help satiate their hunger.
Suggestions for the cat that doesn’t eat that much
Many times we will see overweight cats that we are told don’t eat that much. They are often cats that are free fed, meaning food is available to them all the time.
In these cases we like to start by measuring how much food is going into the bowl on a daily basis. It may also be important to measure how much is left the next morning. A “bowl full” is often a lot more food than expected, so make sure to use a measuring cup. Assigning one person in the house to feeding may be important in ensuring that the bowl isn’t being refilled unknowingly.
Once we find out how much the cat is eating on a daily basis we can assess whether this amount is appropriate or needs to be scaled back.
Also take note of what the cat gets besides their dry kibble – Do they get a canned food meal throughout the day? Do they get treats on a daily basis? How many? All of these little snacks add to your cat’s daily calorie intake.
The next step for the cats who are free fed is encouraging them to be more active throughout the day. These cats are usually poorly motivated by food so food dispensing toys are not usually a good option. You can move their food bowl to different floors of your house throughout the day to encourage them to walk further and use the stairs to burn more calories.
Again, finding toys they like to play with and interactive toys may help in increasing their activity level. See the link at the end of this post for more ideas for encouraging your cat to be more active.
Suggestions for the multi-cat household
In houses where there are two or more cats there will often be one cat that eats more and weighs more than the other. There are a few ways in which we can prevent the larger cat from over eating or stealing the other cat’s food.
If the cats are of a significant size difference, feeding the smaller cat in a box with a door big enough only for the smaller cat to access the food can prevent the larger cat from entering and stealing more food. This can be particularly helpful in homes where the cats are free fed.
Meal feeding is another option where each cat is fed their own bowl of food. Some cats will be slower eaters than others, so separating the cats in separate rooms for their meals may once again help with a cat that steals the other cat’s food. If you are able to use separate rooms, you can also create a treasure hunt in each room for separate cats to encourage them to search to find their food.
Here are some additional ideas to encourage your cat to play and exercise: http://www.everydayhealth.com/pet-health/ten-cat-exercises.asp
Remember when trying to find toys your likes to play with that each cat has different preferences. Some love feather toys, while others love crinkle balls! Experiment with different types of toys to find what your cat enjoys.
The suggestions above are also useful to increase your cat’s mental stimulation and environmental enrichment, so you can apply these to cats that are of appropriate weight as well. If you continue to battle with your cat’s weight issues, make sure to talk to your veterinarian about the next steps which may include ruling out medical issues or starting on a prescription weight loss diet.