As common as overweight cats are these days, round is not a normal shape for a cat. Sadly, many cat lovers don’t realize that feline obesity is a health risk. The good news is that the following tips can help your cat stay fit and avoid deadly conditions like hepatic lipidosis and feline diabetes.
Reduce those cat food carbs
While experts suspect feline diabetes is influenced by genetics, you can help your cat minimize diabetes risk through diet, as feline nutrition expert Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, discusses in her book, Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life.
The key to diabetes prevention is to keep insulin levels balanced by avoiding high levels of carbohydrates. Because most cat foods do not list carbohydrate percentages, and wet foods are almost always far lower in carbs than dry foods, a simple tactic is to avoid all dry cat foods.
If eliminating all dry cat food doesn’t sound realistic, there are a couple of other things you can do. First, look for low-carb dry cat foods. Less than 10–15% carbohydrates is ideal. Then, create a rotation schedule between dry and wet cat foods. This will cut down on overall carb intake and help your cat stay hydrated.
You can also calculate cat food carb percentages by subtracting the sum total of the protein, fat, fiber, and ash percentages from 100%. You may have to check the manufacturer’s site for percentages.
Get clear about how much to feed your cat
Most cats instinctively eat the right amount and stay fit naturally once they are on species-appropriate, low-carb foods. However, if that doesn’t happen with your cat, you may have to take portion control into your own hands.
For cats, experts recommend about 25–30 calories per pound per day, depending on activity level. For example, if an indoor cat’s ideal weight is eight pounds, he’ll need about 200 calories per day. Look for the calories (often listed as “Kcal” or kilocalories) on the package or manufacturer’s website.
When it comes to portions for feline weight management, there are three essential things to know:
- Feed according to your own calculations rather than the amounts recommended on the cat food package. The feeding portions recommended on cat food packages are usually higher than advised by sources such as the Animal Medical Center and FelineNutrition.org.
- When calculating appropriate calories for your cat, don’t calculate based on what your cat weighs now; estimate based on your cat’s ideal weight. Ask your vet how much weight your cat should lose. The answer will vary by build and breed.
- Overweight cats can develop a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis if they lose weight too fast. Never let an overweight cat go more than 36 hours without eating, and talk to your vet about how to reduce your cat’s food intake in a gradual way that protects him from hepatic lipidosis.
Create more ways for your indoor cat to be active
Today’s indoor-only kitties need our help in the activity department:
- Try out some popular activity toys, such as fishing-pole type “prey” danglers and indoor cat climbing towers and trees.
- When you adopt, choose a couple of cats who are already bonded to each other—they’ll be more active because they’ll play together.
- Finally, collect and hide toys that have been ignored for a while so you can bring them out later as a surprise. Cats are stimulated by novelty, which helps them stay active and healthy.
Boosting Nutrition With Vitamins
When you’re helping your cat get healthy with diet changes, consider enhancing their nutrition with vet-approved supplements. Here’s why:
- Most cat foods are designed to meet only the minimum feline nutrient requirements.
- Most cat foods are the product of a lot of processing and cooking, which reduces nutrient availability.
- The B vitamins, especially niacin, are essential to cat health, from red blood cell formation to energy production.
- Lack of the essential amino acid taurine causes diseases like dilated cardiomyopathy and retinal degeneration in cats. Cats have a very limited ability to synthesize taurine.
Note: Because some vitamins and minerals can be toxic to cats in high doses, be sure to use only supplements formulated for cats, and follow dosage instructions carefully.
Liz Eastwood, BSc, CNC, is a writer and holistic nutritionist who lives in San Francisco and publishes NaturalCatCareBlog.com. She is the author of Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers: Coping Wisdom for Heart and Soul After the Loss of a Beloved Feline.