According to the PDSA, vets estimate over a third of cats are overweight, and obesity is one of the most common health problems in middle age cats.
With 68% of cat owners unaware that their cat is overweight or obese, we’ve compiled our top tips on how to maintain a healthy weight for our feline friends.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR CAT IS OVERWEIGHT
The best way to tell if your cat is overweight is by looking at their shape and giving them a nice light stroke:
- When you look at them from above, you should see their waistline – a nice ‘tucked-in’ waist
- Feeling under their tummy, their belly should go in, tucked under their ribs, not bulging out
- You should be able to feel their ribs, backbone and hips when you gently stroke them, but they shouldn’t stick out
- There shouldn’t be a fat build up, or bulge, where their tail meets their back
HOW MUCH TO FEED YOUR CAT
How much you feed your cat depends on their life stage and weight. If you are unsure of your pet’s weight, you can use scales at home (weigh yourself, then weigh yourself again holding your cat), or some pet stores have scales. You can also take your pet to the vet to be weighed.
Unless your cat has specific dietary or health needs, follow the guidance on the cat food packaging. Generally, the recommended feeding amount can be adjusted up or down by ten percent; for example if your cat’s stool is loose it can be a sign of overfeeding, so reduce the feed amount by ten percent and see if that makes a difference.
You can use this calculator to receive an estimate on the amount of food you should be feeding your pet.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I FEED MY CAT?
This again varies depending on the life stage of your pet, but as a guide:
- Kittens eat little and often; three to four times a day until six months old, then you can move to between two and four times a day
- For adult cats (aged one year until around seven years old) generally feeding once or twice a day is appropriate
- Senior cats (eight years and over) should keep the same eating schedule they had as an adult
Always consult your vet if you are unsure how often to feed your cat or kitten. If you have more than one cat, and they are different ages - or one is overweight - it may be wise to feed them in separate rooms.
SHOULD I CHANGE MY CAT’S DIET WITH AGE?
Unlike some other animals, cats don’t need less protein as they get older. As they age, however, senior cats may start developing some other, specific nutritional needs. For example, cats can develop problems with their joints such as arthritis. To help keep their joints protected and your cat mobile, look out for cat food with glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM.
If you are changing your cat’s food, remember to do it slowly, starting with a mix of their old food and the new, before switching over completely.
SIGNS MY CAT’S FOOD DOESN’T AGREE WITH THEM
Just like all of their ancestors and feline cousins, cats are obligate carnivores, which means they get all their nutrients from meat. Cats can’t digest plants, which is why you may sometimes notice the odd bit of grass from the garden, or leaves from your indoor plants, in their vomit or cat litter tray.
Intolerance or allergies can occur at any time in a cat’s life and is usually something in their food. Signs to look out for include:
- Frequent scratching
- Hair loss
- Red, inflamed skin
- Coughing, wheezing, sneezing
If you suspect your cat has had a reaction to something, contact your vet immediately for advice.
WHY IS MY CAT ALWAYS HUNGRY?
You may be tempted to give in when your pet nags you - and cats can be extremely persistent, even playing owners off against each other - but it’s important not to, as you could encourage begging.
Cats are creatures of habit, so will be looking out for their food at about the same time each day. Just like us, their empty stomach sends a signal to the brain to say it wants filling. They may cry, run your legs and stare at you until their food bowl is filled, then wolf it down. Don’t worry – they’re hungry, not starving.
HOW CATS EXERCISE
Weight gain is usually down to type and quantity of food, but it can be boredom or laziness.
Cats who go outdoors generally get their exercise when they are exploring, climbing and scratching, but they could still benefit from using up some more energy by playing with you. Indoor cats may need a bit of help and encouragement being active, so ensuring they have ways to exercise is extremely important.
Ways to exercise your cat include:
- Playing with your cat daily; it’s in cats’ instincts to hunt in bursts, so give them a break to catch their breath – 5 or 10 mins at a time is probably enough
- Ensuring you have lots of toys that you rotate so they don’t get bored – feathers on sticks and balls the jingle go down particularly well
- Investing in a cat tree/scratching post; cats like being high and trees encourages them to jump and climb – also, scratching is a natural instinct, so you want to encourage them to do this on a scratching post, as opposed to your furniture!
- Using puzzle feeders; these make cat’s work for their food, so exercise their brain muscles too