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The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Feeding Strategies for Overweight Cats

Previously we discussed the complications of feeding the overweight cat, especially in the multi-cat setting. Today I would like to offer strategies for the single and multi-cat households.

We need to thank Dr. Mark Brady for his contribution to Practical Weight Management in Dogs and Cats, by Dr. Todd Towell, for the core of these ideas.

The Single Cat Household

The overweight cat with an ideal body weight of 10 pounds needs about 200-225 calories (kcal) per day. The calorie needs for cats with smaller or larger ideal weights is:

(30 x Ideal Weight (lbs.) ÷ 2.2) + 70 = Calories (kcal) per day

(Reminder: Consult your vet before starting any weight loss program.)

A possible strategy for owners who work at home or are able to be with their cats all day is to offer 6-7 scheduled feedings of 30-35 calories of canned food, dry food, or a combination. An easier strategy is to feed two scheduled feedings of 30-35 calories and place the remaining 140-150 calories in four feeding stations, food balls or food puzzles throughout the house or apartment. Locations that require climbing or effort are ideal. This encourages burning energy to obtain food (the modern version of "the hunt").

Canned or wet food scheduled meals and dry food feeding stations also work well. A third strategy is to place all of the daily calories in food stations for free feeding.

If offering treats is an essential part of the daily routine, the number of calories in the treats needs to be subtracted from the scheduled feedings and calorie counts from the feeding stations.

This strategy requires a kitchen gram scale in order to accurately dispense scheduled feeding and food station allotments. The energy content of the food, wet or dry, must be known. If it is not on the container label it can be found on the company website; it is the kcal/kg for the food.

The daily food requirement is then determined by the formula:

Daily Calories ÷ kcal/kg) x 1000 = grams fed per day

The total number of grams is evenly distributed among the scheduled meals and feed stations. Using cans and cups to measure portions is not as accurate. Accuracy is important for weight loss.

The Multi-Cat Household

The actual strategies for multiple cats are the same as above. The difference is the total calorie count for the household, which is calculated and then divided between scheduled feedings and food stations. The calorie requirement for overweight cats or overweight prone cats is the same as above:

(30 x Ideal Weight (lbs.) ÷ 2.2) + 70 = kcal per day

For normal weight, less active cats use the formula:

[(30 X Weight (lbs.) ÷ 2.2) + 70] x 1.2 = kcal per day

For active or unneutered cats the formula is:

[(30 x Weight (lbs.) ÷ 2.2) + 70] x 1.5 = kcal per day

The daily calorie requirements for all cats are totaled. One-quarter to one-third of the total calories are divided between two scheduled feedings. The remaining calories are divided evenly among feeding stations.

Allow a minimum of 2-3 more stations than the total number of cats. The quantity (in grams) of food is calculated with the same formula used for single cat households.


In a 3-cat home

1 13lb overweight cat with an ideal wt. of 10lbs

1 normal 10lb less active cat

1 very active 10lb cat

Overweight cat:

(30 x 10 2.2) + 70 = 206 kcal/day

Less active cat:

[(30 x 10 2.2) + 70] x 1.2 = 247 kcal/day

Active cat:

[(30 x 10 2.2) + 70] x 1.5 = 309 kcal/day

Total Daily Calories = 762 kcal/day

One-third of the 762 kcal (228 kcal) is divided between two meals (114 kcal). So at each feeding, each cat gets about 38 calories (114 ÷ 3). The remaining 534 calories are divided among seven feeding stations; each station will contain about 75 calories.

I must admit that these strategies are more successful for prevention of obesity or stabilizing existing household weights. Weight loss, if achieved at all, is a slow, long process, and owners lose their enthusiasm for the strategy over time. Single cat households experience the most success. Prevention is definitely the best solution for the cat.

What strategies have been successful for you?


Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: mashe / via Shutterstock’

Comments  6

Leave Comment
  • Extra Weight
    03/22/2012 11:19am

    I've always wondered about a kitty having some extra weight so they have something to lose if/when they got sick.

    That actually worked to his advantage when Winston got lymphocytic lymphoma and he didn't do well with the first chemo protocol. He had a really rough couple of weeks at the beginning, but bounced back. If he hadn't had a "reserve" I'm not sure he would have bounced back when the protocol was changed.

    The same was true for Darlene who had a myriad of problems. She wasn't horribly overweight, but had some "reserve" that served her well when her problems began.

    Of course, we'll never know if the extra weight or diet was a factor in their health problems.

  • Simple method
    03/22/2012 05:21pm

    I have 6 cats and several were overweight. I have gotten all but one to lose weight by simply eliminating dry food and using only grain-free canned, which doesn't have to be anything expensive, the Fancy Feast Classic varieties work fine, though I also use some Wellness, Before Grain and BFF. 2 others that weren't overweight but had gained a pound in the year between vet visits so were heading in that direction both lost the extra pound and are now at ideal weight.

  • New Ideas
    03/22/2012 08:04pm

    Wow, thanks, Dr. Tudor.

    In your first post about feeding cats, I dismissed the idea of 6-7 feedings per day as not possible for me, since I'm at work all day long.

    But this post has got me thinking how I CAN make that happen for my cat, as well as make his day more entertaining.

    I have some detective work to do, though, as the brand of ground raw food that I feed does not list calories on the packaging or the website.

    Dr. Tudor, when I view my cat from directly above, his body condition appears very good. However, when viewed from the side, he has fur/skin/fat(?) which hangs down maybe 1.5". Is this just flat out excess weight, or is it normal "sagging" for the aging cat (he's 13)? My vet feels that his weight is good. I would say that he is slightly less than "moderately" active.


  • Multiple Feedings
    03/23/2012 12:13am

    I do have a question about multiple feedings per day.

    From a reputable cat book I read quite some time ago, it said that food should not be left out for cats ... something about when they smell food it triggers a whole chain of metabolic reactions that puts a lot of needless stress on the cat's physiology.

    That is why I've never free-fed, and fed twice per day. This makes me a bit nervous to leave multiple meals stashed around the house.

    Also, I've done this when I've been away for an overnight trip. My experience with it is that my cat starts finding and eating ALL the food at one sitting. He has no problem eating a lot of food at once!

    What are your thoughts about this, Dr. Tudor?

  • 3ogs1Cat
    03/23/2012 04:49am

    You have some great insights and questions. I hope my answers are as good.
    First about BCS scores. As you noted they are from the top and the side. The hind end dew lap that you describe is not an uncommon location for some cats to store their fat reserves. As long as he has an "hour glass" profile from above and easily felt ribs, I would agree with your veterinarian.
    Secondly, your difficulty with data on raw diets is not exceptional. I know I will offend many, but the way these diets are measured in %'s rather than actual gram measurements makes it impossible to analyze their nutritional balance and calorie count against USDA nutrition databases. I formulate homemade diets on a daily basis and the amount, the cut of meat and the other ingredients all factor into calorie counts and nutritional balance. Excessive liver can even cause vitamin toxicosis. You simply can not throw what appears to be a natural prey combination together and expect it to be balanced without mathematical verification. If it is not measured it is not verified. That doesn't mean a raw diet can not be balanced. They just must be more exactly measured and adequately supplemented.
    Thirdly, the hormonal, metabolic and behavioral aspects of hunger and eating in cats are yet to be completely understood and there is no compelling scientific evidence to support the claims you received from the cat book you read. Cats are not frenzy feeders like dogs. They hunt, they eat, they sleep. Sometimes up to 18 hours daily even in the wild. However, many of our modern domesticated feline friends show more ravenous behavior and eat everything in sight and they need scheduled feedings. Your approach is actually great for the chow hounds,er chow cats. As long as they are getting adequate nutrition the time frame is not important. I only offered the strategy in today's post for the majority of cats that are grazers and prefer smaller and more numerous meals.
    Every pet, like every human, is an individual whose circumstances are different. My blog is merely trying to broadly cover the subject with the scientific knowledge of my research so you understand the underlying issues. They may or may not be applicable for your pet's situation but you know the general principles. I have no philosophical agenda, I just simply want to help owners help their pets achieve optimum weight and the extra years of quality life it provides.
    Dr. T

  • 03/23/2012 06:19am

    Thanks, Dr. Tudor! More interesting "food for thought."

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