Colleen Currigan DVM
Cat Hospital of Chicago
Q: My vet recently told me that my cat is overweight, and advised me to cut back on his food and increase his exercise. He eats mostly dry food, and is not a big fan of canned food. I’ve tried reducing his dry food, but he cries, and I can’t bear to see him go hungry. I don’t think he’s that overweight, but my veterinarian seems to think that he is. My other cat is very thin so whatever I do, I want to make sure that she does not lose weight. What can I do?
A: Unfortunately, this is a situation faced by many parents of multiple cats. There is no “one size fits all” solution, but with some dedication and creativity, it can be done.
A few suggestions for you:
1. Consider switching your plump kitty to a diet with a canned food focus if he will accept that. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they should be fed a diet that is primarily animal meat protein. Commercial canned diets are higher protein and lower in carbohydrates than commercial dry foods. High protein diets tend to promote a thinner body condition versus high carbohydrate diets.
Grain-free or raw food diets are promoted by some for general health as well as weight loss, but there remains controversy among veterinarians on the value of these diets since good evidence on both the pro and con sides is lacking. In my practice, I have not seen either work wonders in making chubby kitties thinner.
2. If he won’t take to canned food, change your kitty’s dry diet to one that is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates and calories. This may mean switching to a therapeutic diet that has specifically been formulated to promote weight loss.
Make mealtime fun by tossing all or a portion of the kibble for your kitty so that he can pounce and catch it. Consider treat balls to prolong the dining experience.
3. Canned or dry, calories are important. Have your veterinarian calculate how many calories your cat should consume daily in order to promote weight loss. Be sure to stick close to that number. Visit the pet food company website PetObesityPrevention.com for calorie information. Slow weight loss is essential in cats (maximum of 2-4 ounces/week in most cases).
4. Divide your kitty’s daily calorie ration into two or more (5-8 would be ideal) small meal feedings throughout the day so there is not 24/7 access to food. Cats that eat multiple small meals tend to feel more satisfied than those that eat one or two bigger meals. Consider separating your cats at meal time. Although caregivers worry that the thin cat will lose too much weight without 24/7 access, in reality that rarely happens. The thin cat learns when the food is available. You may also have a location where you can put the thin cat’s food where the chubby guy can’t get at it.
For your chubbier kitty that cries for food, he is most likely begging for attention—he may not actually be hungry. For many cats, feeding time is one time that human attention is assured. Respond to his pleas by offering attention in the form of petting, combing/brushing, and most importantly, playing (even if he looks at you initially as if to say “Really? I sure thought I said FOOD!”). Cats love to play and playing with your cat is an incredibly rewarding bonding experience. It’s also exercise that burns calories, lets cats do what cats do best, and reduces the stress of boredom (a common occurrence in our indoor kitties left alone all day).
Good luck with your dietary challenges! If you are committed, I can assure you it will happen.
ABOUT the Vet: Dr. Colleen Currigan is the founder and owner of Cat Hospital of Chicago and is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She is Board Chair for Tree House Humane Society, is a member of the Board of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and active with the American Veterinary Medical Association, Chicago Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, and the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association.