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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Feed Your Cat More to Encourage Weight Loss

May 16, 2014 / (5) comments

I cringe whenever I see an obese cat. Enabling feline obesity is almost like putting a gun to a cat’s head in a game of Russian roulette. Sure, he or she may dodge the diabetes or hepatic lipidosis “bullets,” but play the game long enough and the cat almost always comes out a loser.


Don’t get me wrong, I have sympathy for the owners of fat cats. Getting a cat to lose weight is no easy task. Reduced caloric intake in combination with increased physical activity stands the best chance at success, but put the words “cat” and “exercise” together in the same sentence and most owners will break out into gales of laughter.


But what if we could tie exercise and feeding together in such a way as to promote weight loss? A recent two part study published in the Journal of Animal Science points to a simple way to do just that. In experiment one, researchers measured how much voluntary activity ten adult cats engaged in when they were fed one, two, four, or a random number of meals each day. The effect of increasing the water content of the food on voluntary physical activity was evaluated in experiment two.


The study revealed that cats were more active in the two hours before meals when they were fed four meals per day or were fed randomly. According to coauthor Kelly Swanson, “If they know they are going to get fed, that’s when they are really active, if they can anticipate it.” When the cats were fed high water content meals, their activity levels increased even more, but mostly after they have eaten, perhaps due to an increased need to use the litter box, according to Swanson.


Now, the cats in this study were not overweight and the caloric content of the food they were offered never changed, so these results are not directly applicable to obese cats who are put on a diet. That said, I can’t see a downside to increasing the number of meals a fat cat gets per day while simultaneously increasing the food’s water content and decreasing its caloric content.


Most owners aren’t going to want to tether themselves to a feline feeding schedule that has cats eating four times a day, so it seems like an automatic feeder would be a good investment. Get one that allows you to offer canned food (the easiest way to increase the water content of the diet) every 6 hours or so. If your veterinarian has recommended a prescription weight loss diet, go with that one. Otherwise, try a high quality, over the counter, “light” variety. Start by offering the amount that is appropriate based on your veterinarian’s prescription or the label on the can. Adjust the amount based on how quickly the cat is losing weight. Around one percent body weight per week is ideal.


If you give this system a try, keep us updated on your successes or failures.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: HelleM / Shutterstock


Comments  5

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  • Chunky but not obese
    05/16/2014 01:26pm

    My one year old cat a Molly is not obese in any way, however she is getting chunky. The problem lies in that I have an 18 year old cat, Derby, who has kidney disease and is on a dry food prescription diet. It's great for him, as it's higher in caloric content and keeps him at a healthy weight; however because he's always been free-fed, I didn't change that when I got Molly. I know she requires much more protein so I feed her canned food twice a day. But she snacks on Derby's food which has caused her to gain weight.

    My vet advised me to feed her more of the canned food, in the hopes that it will keep her full enough to not want to snack on the dry. I've been trying this for about a week, it seems to have helped her snack less, so I hope I'll start to see some weight loss soon. The good thing is that because she's so young and playful it's easy to get her to exercise.

    I didn't change her canned food to a light variety though. Do you think that would be a good idea Dr. Coates?

  • 05/19/2014 03:29am

    Ideally, it would be best to figure out a way to prevent the cats from eating eachother's foods, but I understand this can be difficult. Switching to a canned light food would be another reasonable option.

  • 06/01/2014 12:19am

    I am having the same problem. One cat with kidney disease, who needs a special diet, and two others who love the expensive and fatting special diet. I have been looking into selective feeders. I ordered a wonderbowl, which works by opening only for the special diet cat, who wears a tag. The bowl is very small and there doesn't seem to be an option to order more bowls, so I don't see it working very well with wet food if you are like me and wash cat bowls in a dishwasher. I just ordered a meowspace, which is much more expensive than the wonderbowl ($45 vs. $211), but could hold an automatic feeder and allow for bowl washing. The meowspace allows the cat to enter via door.

  • Lite Foods
    05/30/2014 08:48pm

    After reading the ingredient lists on some of the "lite" cat foods, it appears there is a whole lot of carbohydrate.

    How does this lower calorie content as opposed to feeding more protein?

  • 05/31/2014 03:04pm

    Cats generally lose weight better on high protein/low carb foods. Canned "diet" foods fit this profile better than do dry.