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10 Tips to Prevent Your Cat from Becoming Overweight

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

fat cat outdoors
Image Credit: Andreas Almstedt, Pixabay

Pet obesity is a common problem in the US. Like humans, cats that eat too much high-calorie food and don’t get enough exercise can become overweight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, around 60% of cats in the US are either overweight or obese.

Extra pounds can lead to quite a few health problems in cats. Some of the most common are:

  • Diabetes
  • Urinary tract issues
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Increased stress hormones and inflammation
  • Shorter lifespan
While these problems can occur in normal-weight cats, obesity can make them much worse.

How can I prevent my cat from becoming obese?

Proper diet and exercise are the keys to preventing your cat from becoming overweight. Since your cat depends on you for food, your cat’s weight is in your control. And while cats don’t exercise in the same way dogs do, there are ways to encourage your cat to be more active. Here are some commonsense tips to prevent your cat from becoming overweight. But first, how do you know if your cat is too fat? (Picture)

How do I know my cat’s ideal weight?

Not all cats are the same, so ideal weight can vary by breed and body type. The best way to tell if your cat is overweight is to talk to your veterinarian. Vets commonly use a body condition scoring system. You may have seen some infographics showing images of cats ranging from emaciated to obese. Your vet will also feel your cat’s ribs to check for body fat. You can try this too. Once you determine what your cat’s ideal weight and body condition should be, it will be easier to monitor and track changes. Let’s look at how a few simple diet and exercise tips can keep your cat looking and feeling great!

10 Tips to Prevent Your Cat from Becoming Overweight

1. Eliminate free feeding.

white pluffy cat eating
Image Credit: vlad_bil, Shutterstock

Many cat owners will place a bowl full of dry cat food out in the morning and leave it for their cat to graze on all day. This is common, especially when you’re out of the house for several hours a day, but it can lead to overeating. Measure out the daily portion of dry food (check the package label for recommended serving size), divide it into 2 or 4 feeds per day, and don’t refill the bowl, even if your cat begs for more. Keep in mind that dry food can have more carbohydrates than wet food. You can eliminate dry food from your cat’s diet and just feed your cat fresh or canned food, which can be better for weight management.


2. Choose a high-protein cat food.

Cats are carnivores, so they thrive on food with a high content of quality animal proteins and very few non-meat fillers. How can you tell if a food is high in protein? Check the ingredient list on the label to make sure that the top ingredients listed are quality animal proteins like chicken or fish. Wet food generally has more protein and fewer carbohydrates than dry food, which is another good reason to limit dry food intake.


3. Cut back on treats and people food.

cat smelling apples
Image Credit: HelloRF-Zcool, Shutterstock

Treats are fun, but there are ways to keep treat time healthy, treats should not represent more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories. Consider trying dental treats, which will help clean your cat’s teeth. You can also buy freeze-dried chicken or salmon treats, with no added ingredients. Cats are picky eaters, but many enjoy high-fat people foods like butter and ice cream. It’s not a good idea to feed your cat dairy because their digestive systems have difficulty digesting it after kittenhood. Better people food treat choices include small pieces of cooked fish or chicken. Many cats also like liver and other organ meats.


4. Feed small meals more frequently.

To cut back on begging, avoid feeding your cat a couple of larger meals per day and opt for 3—4 smaller meals throughout the day. Be sure not to increase the overall amount of food with the extra mealtimes. Just divide up your cat’s normal portion into smaller sizes and feed more frequently. This can be especially helpful late at night so your cat will have some food before you go to bed and be less likely to pester you during the night.


5. Try food puzzles and drinking fountains.

Don’t just put your cat’s food and water bowls down and walk away. You can make feeding time more interactive with food puzzles and water fountains. Food puzzles are a good way to limit the amount of dry food and cat treats you give. Put a few pieces in a food puzzle and your cat will spend time and energy getting the food. Cats enjoy running water, so a drinking fountain is a fun way to encourage your cat to drink more. Plenty of water is good for overall health, and to decrease appetite.


6. Feed cats separately in a multi-cat household.

Sometimes one cat in a multi-cat home will be overweight while the others are a normal weight. The best solution for this situation is to feed the cats separately. Each cat should eat in its separate area, and all food should be picked up until the next feeding time. This may be less convenient than feeding your cats together, but it will help maintain a healthy weight for all of them.


7. Weigh your cat regularly.

You don’t have to wait for an annual veterinary checkup to see if your cat has gained weight. Monitor your cat’s weight with weekly or monthly weigh-ins. Step on the scale and note your weight, then pick up your cat and weigh yourself again. Subtract your weight from the combined weight to get your cat’s weight.


8. Encourage exercise with cat furniture.

Ginger cat with nice furniture
Image Credit: Switlana Sonyashna, Shutterstock

Most cats enjoy jumping up to high places, so you can encourage this activity with a few well-placed cat shelves and tall cat trees. You can install a series of step-like cat shelves on your walls to encourage vertical movement. Tall, multi-level cat trees also inspire jumping and climbing. Look for trees with areas of sisal for scratching.


9. Get interactive cat toys.

Your cat can be bored with the same old toys, so try some new ones that encourage movement. Good toys for active play sessions include wand or fishing rod-style toys, laser pointers, circle ball-in-track toys, and battery-powered mice on wheels. Don’t forget the old standbys like cardboard boxes and paper bags. Cats are always ready to investigate any new shopping bags or delivery boxes that come to the house. Any toy can encourage exercise if your cat likes it, so kick toys they can grab and kick with their hind legs or little stuffed catnip toys they can bat around the house are good choices too.


10. Try walking your cat on a harness.

As you’ve probably seen on social media, some cats enjoy going outside for a walk. Not all cats are open to walking on a leash, but it’s worth a try, especially if you start when they’re still young. Start gradually in a safe, quiet area. Let your cat take the lead and explore. Some cats might slink low to the ground at first, but they can become more confident with practice.

A Word of Caution


Featured Image Credit: Andreas Almstedt, Pixabay

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