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Obesity in Cats

Obesity in Cats

Obesity in cats is becoming increasingly more common, partly due to the fact that a growing number of cats live exclusively indoors and thanks to cat foods continuously becoming more available and nutritious.

Does your cat need to go on a diet? This is how to do it properly

By David Rosenblatt, D.V.M

“Doctor, Sharkbait isn’t feeling well. I think he has a heart problem.” I looked at the nice women in front of me in the exam room, and at Sharkbait the huge ginger cat who was splayed across the exam table, purring and grooming in clear satisfaction. Three questions went through my head:


Why does she think Sharkbait has a heart problem? How on earth did he get to be so big? And where did he get his name?

After the owner explained that she gave Sharkbait his name because eight years ago, when he was a tiny kitten, the volunteer at the animal shelter told her that he was rescued from a fisherman who was going to use him as shark bait. She went on to describe his medical condition. The cat had been having a hard time getting up lately, pants like a dog, limps occasionally, and looks a lot less alert and happy. I placed my stethoscope on Sharkbait’s chest and once I had convinced him to stop purring, I barely managed to hear his poor heart pumping through the immense layer of fat. There was no evidence of an audible heart disease. I finished examining Sharkbait, took some blood for further testing, but at this stage I was fairly certain that I knew what was bothering him.


One of the most common diseases among cats – obesity

Sharkbait was suffering from one of the most common feline diseases: obesity or, more commonly, “the fat cat syndrome”. He was so fat that his leg muscles couldn’t carry his body weight which was why he was limping and having trouble getting up. The fat tissue has difficulty dissipating excess heat, which is why on hot days he panted to stay cool. He was tired because his heart was straining to pump blood throughout his massive body. Fat cats are in a high-risk group for heart disease, joint disease, skin disease, reproductive disorders, diabetes, and more.

Obesity in cats is becoming increasingly more common, partly due to the fact that a growing number of cats live exclusively indoors and thanks to cat foods continuously becoming more available and nutritious.

The treatment for obesity is simple, in theory. Not just for cats but also for dogs, humans, and other animals. We manage an energy “bank”. As long as we spend what we deposit, our weight does not change. As soon as we eat more calories than what the body needs, the excess energy is stored in fat reserves. In cats, these stores are under the skin in the abdomen and chest area. There are also fat stores inside the abdominal cavity adjacent to internal organs such as the heart, kidneys, and the digestive system. In order to lose the excess weight, you have to eat fewer calories, or do more exercise, or both. Opportunities to exercise more in cats exist, but are limited. A cat is not a dog and you can’t run with him in the park or throw him a frisbee (you can throw him a frisbee, but then you’ll be the one getting the exercise). Nevertheless, you can keep your cat active using special cat toys, which encourage activity. Pet shops usually carry a variety of activity toys for cats.

That being said, the obvious key to successful weight control for cats is restricting their caloric intake.


Don’t limit the amount of food, but rather the amount of calories

In order to achieve calory restriction, don’t limit the amount of food, but rather the number of calories! This is a very important distinction. It’s true that if you reduce the amount of food, the number of calories decreases accordingly, which is why it seems like an obvious solution. However, food provides more than just calories. It also contains essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. We don’t want to reduce any of those. We want a slim cat but not a sick one! Furthermore, there are stretch receptors inside the cat’s stomach. When the stomach is full, the wall stretches and these sensors are activated. This transmits a signal to the satiety center in the brain, telling the cat to stop eating. If we decrease the number of calories for a fat cat by decreasing the amount of food, he may feel hungry and miserable.

The correct way to manage a diet for fat cats is to switch the cat to a balanced calorie-reduced diet. These diets have fewer calories per unit of volume compared to regular food, and contain the right amount of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. The cat can feel full without ingesting too many calories.


If you are concerned about your cat’s obesity and have decided to treat it, make sure you follow a few rules to increase your chances of succeeding:

  1. It’s important to follow a veterinary supervised weight loss plan! Rapid weight loss can be dangerous and cause severe liver damage. Use calorie-reduced food made by a trusted brand. Determine the amount of food according to the food company’s professional guidelines written on the package or according to their website.
  2. Weigh the cat at the beginning of the diet and every two weeks. Many veterinary clinics have an electronic scale for weighing cats. If not, use a regular scale for people. Weigh yourselves holding the cat and then again without the cat and subtract the difference. If there is no weight loss, decrease the amount of food slightly.
  3. Do not let the cat eat anything other than his low calory food. Even if your cat is fat, he is still much smaller than a human. Snacking on a cube of cheese for us is insignificant, but if we give that same small cube of cheese to a cat, it’s as if we ate a block of cheese the size of a cellphone.
  4. Divide the daily amount of food into 5-10 small meals. Cats like to have small meals throughout the day, which is why it’s usually OK to leave a bowl of food all day and refill it when it’s empty. However, fat cats that are on a diet might eat the entire amount in one meal and expect more. Therefore, it’s best to divide the calculated amount to 5-10 small meals per day. Also, there are cats who are so hungry during the diet that they eat their food too quickly and eagerly, and then often vomit immediately afterwards. You can slow down the speed at which they eat by putting 2-3 ping pong balls inside their bowl with the food. There are also special feeding devices that are capable of automatically dispensing measured amounts.
  5. When the cat has reached its target weight, continue feeding it a measured amount of the calorie-reduced food for the rest of its life.

Sharkbait was put on a low-calorie diet. Under my supervision and with the cooperation of the entire family, he lost 4 kg in four months. He regained his looks, agility, and alertness. It wasn’t easy, and there were some times when he would meow agonizingly at his food bowl. But the family didn’t cave in to his demands, and it probably saved his life.



So, be a pal and make sure your cat gets enough opportunities to exercise and, most importantly, choose the right food and control its amount.



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