In the previous blog articles, I explained what obesity is, and the dangerous consequences that it can have on your cat’s health. I then presented the different risk factors of obesity to help you prevent it. Finally, in this blog article, I will give you my tips to help your cat lose weight if it needs to. In order to lose weight, a cat needs to have a daily energy expenditure greater than the energy intake, which means that it needs to burn more calories every day than what it ingests. Therefore, weight loss is based on mainly two factors: a proper diet, and physical activity.

Disclaimer & warning

I’m not a vet. If your cat has any health issue, go to see your vet. You should consult your vet to set up the weight loss plan for your cat. It’s important that your cat doesn’t lose weight too fast. In fact, if your cat loses weight too quickly it can have serious consequences on its health: for example, it will especially be at risk of fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis). You should, therefore, monitor regularly the weight of your cat, every week or every other week, to be sure that the weight loss is not too quick. If your cat is very overweight, you should not just reduce the amount of food your cat is eating. In fact, if you feed your cat less, your cat will not only get fewer calories, but also fewer nutrients. This means that it can cause deficiencies. For all these reasons, before starting a weight loss you should plan it with your vet, to define the food quantities in function of the caloric needs, the amount of weight your cat needs to lose every week, and the final weight goal.

Alimentation

Meal measurements

It’s important to measure precisely how much your cat eats so that it doesn’t ingest more calories than it should. Contrary to popular belief, not all cats are able to independently regulate how much they eat. So, if your cat is overweight, it is probably not able to control itself and its food shouldn’t be ad libitum. To know how many calories it needs to eat for weight loss, you should plan its weight loss with a vet. You should measure the quantity of food with a scale. In fact, a study has shown that using a scoop is very imprecise, and the only precise way is to weigh the food.

Mealtimes

Mealtimes have several advantages over free-feeding. When cats have food all day long at their disposition and graze some food all day long, they can lose the notion of being hungry, as they are never truly hungry during the day. They also tend to eat more, because they are bored, or just because they are passing near the food. Mealtimes are also useful if you have several cats, so you don’t have any problem with having one cat on a special diet eating the food of the other cats during the day: after the meal will be eaten there won’t be any food available anymore. If your cats are still trying to steal the food from each other during mealtimes, you can feed them in separate places, or in a plastic (washable) transport carrier. Finally, meal anticipation is a healthy behavior: the cat’s stomach starts secreting the enzyme necessary for digestion. I would recommend at least 2 to 3 meals per day so that your cat doesn’t stay without eating for too long. If you are working during the day, you can, for example, give one meal in the morning, one after going home from work and one before going to sleep.

Slower meals

Like for us, eating slowly will help the feeling of satiety and so your cat won’t feel frustrated or hungry if it needs to eat less. There are several ways to make your cat eating slower. You can use a licky mat or special bowls to encourage slow eating.

Food for weight loss

For a cat weight loss plan, the diet should be high in protein and high in moisture. In fact, a high-protein diet will protect the cat from the loss of lean mass that can happen during a diet: we want the cat to only lose the fat, and not both fat and muscles. A high-moisture diet has many benefits for a cat: it keeps it hydrated and it’s close to a cat’s natural diet. For weight loss, a high-moisture diet has a lower caloric density than dry food, which means that you don’t need to reduce the quantity of food the cat will need to eat, if you switch from a dry diet. Moreover, kibbles are a risk factor for obesity and they should, therefore, be avoided. High-fiber and low-fat diets are also recommended for weight loss, but these recommendations apply only to dry food. I would not recommend any dry-food-based diet, as I think that kibbles should be avoided in every case for cats. Being low-moisture and ultra-processed food, they are not healthy and, again, it’s been shown that kibbles are directly linked to the risk of obesity. For all these reasons, I recommend a raw diet for weight loss: it is a high-moisture and high-protein diet. A raw diet is also adapted to your cat needs and it is composed of whole food which is undoubtedly better in comparison to industrial pet food. Moreover, cats eating a raw diet are at a lower risk of obesity. To learn more about what is a raw diet and how to switch your cat to a raw diet I recommend my complete guide to raw feeding. bruno before after
Bruno from @theebrunobartlett on his path to lose weight with a raw diet! You can read more about it on his blog. @theebrunobartlett is not associated to the content presented in this article

Less treats or healthier treats

Don’t give treats or reduce the amount of treats you are feeding your cats. In fact, treats can provide a lot of calories but not any useful nutrients and they often have a composition that is not adapted to cats. They often contain a lot of fat in order to be palatable, which is not adapted for a weight loss. If you don’t want to stop giving treats to your cat, turn to healthier alternatives such as dehydrated or freeze-dried treats made from meat, with 100% meat as the sole ingredient.

No food scraps

Feeding food scraps should be avoided as our food is generally too caloric, too fat and too salty for cats; it can sometimes even be toxic for them. For example, 10 g (0.35 oz) of cheese cover 20% of the daily caloric needs of a 3 kg (6.6 lbs) cat!

L-Carnitine supplements

L-carnitine has been reported to be a safe and useful supplement to help your cat lose weight safely and keep its lean mass. I recommend asking your vet how you should dose it.

Activity & Environnement

Playing

When you play with your cat, you make it move and burn calories, which directly helps in the weight loss. Playing is also essential to your cat’s well-being and it helps your cat being less stressed, which also helps your cat lose weight. Try to play with your cat at least 3 to 4 times a day, for short sessions. Try to do so when your cat feels more like it. If your cat gets bored very quickly, you can rotate its toys by regularly hiding part of them, so it will rediscover them a few weeks later. To not frustrate your cat when you play: always remember to let it “win”. Finally, if your cat doesn’t like to play much at the beginning, it’s important to remember that the more you play with your cat, the more they will want to play.

Going out on a leash

If you have an indoor cat, a way to make it exercise more is to take it outside for a walk. This is not suited for every cat, as not all cats will like it, but it can be worth trying. You can go read my blog article on how to teach your cat to walk on a leash.

Enrich the environment

Several studies have shown that improving the environment of your cats can help them lose weight. Examples of things that you can do to improve the environment are: adding water bowls and litter boxes, climbing trees, window perches, scratching posts, and toys. Enriching the environment makes your cat less stressed, which helps in the weight loss.

Family

In families in which there are several people who take care of the cats, it can sometimes be useful that only one person takes the responsibility of feeding them, to avoid the cats to be fed several times the same meals, in case of miscommunication. All the family members should be made aware of the weight loss plans so that no one gives extra treats or food scraps to the cats. fat-cat-2

Perseverance

Weight loss is not a quick and easy process and you should be patient and persevere in your effort. It can difficult, and you can feel like you are making your cat suffer or you are starving it. However, cats know how to beg for food even if they are not not necessarily hungry if they know that they will end up getting food. Your ability to resist your cat begging is crucial for its weight loss. It’s also important to remember that losing weight will improve the quality of life of your cat, and make it happier! So you should not feel bad for making your cat lose weight as you are helping it living a better life. Finally, there are some cases in which weight loss may seem impossible, but don’t be discouraged! There are in fact several studies that have been conducted in controlled environments that prove that weight loss is possible and it depends on your willingness and perseverance!

After the weight loss

After the weight loss, it’s important to keep monitoring the weight of your cat, as almost half of the cats will regain weight after a diet! I hope this article will help you if you cat needs to lose some weight. You can also apply these advices in order to prevent obesity. Sources Deagle, Gabrielle et al. “Long-term follow-up after weight management in obese cats.” Journal of nutritional science vol. 3 e25. 25 Sep. 2014, doi:10.1017/jns.2014.36 Michel, K., & Scherk, M. (2012). From Problem to Success: Feline weight loss programs that work. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 14(5), 327–336. Center, S., Harte, J., Watrous, D., Reynolds, A., Watson, T., Markwell, P., Millington, D., Wood, P., Yeager, A. and Erb, H. (2000), The Clinical and Metabolic Effects of Rapid Weight Loss in Obese Pet Cats and the Influence of Supplemental Oral L‐Carnitine. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 14: 598-608. O'Connell, Erin M et al. “Factors associated with overweight cats successfully completing a diet-based weight loss programme: an observational study.” BMC veterinary research vol. 14,1 397. 14 Dec. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12917-018-1740-5 Clarke, D.L., Wrigglesworth, D., Holmes, K., Hackett, R. and Michel, K. (2005), Using Environmental and Feeding Enrichment to Facilitate Feline Weight Loss. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 89: 427-427. Flanagan, John et al. “An international multi-centre cohort study of weight loss in overweight cats: Differences in outcome in different geographical locations.” PloS one vol. 13,7 e0200414. 25 Jul. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0200414 Géraldine Blanchard, Bernard M Paragon, Fabien Milliat, Claude Lutton, Dietary l-Carnitine Supplementation in Obese Cats Alters Carnitine Metabolism and Decreases Ketosis during Fasting and Induced Hepatic Lipidosis, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 132, Issue 2, Februery 2002, Pages 204–210,