Today’s subject is the very sensitive issue of fat cats. Nobody wants to be told that their cat is overweight, let alone obese. But the sad fact is that over 50 percent of our cats are either overweight or obese.

This is a subject that hits close to home for me as well. Two of my cats, Rhette and Rusty, have weight issues that we struggle with constantly. A third, Midge, actually has a tendency to be underweight if I do not feed her separate from the others, where she does not get bullied. Rhette in particular is highly food motivated and has been known to lie in front of the food dish and guard it from the other cats, even when he has already eaten his fill.

How do we handle the weight issues? It’s a constant battle. With six cats, it is difficult to monitor the food intake of each individual cat. I do my best to stay away from foods that have high carbohydrate content. I prefer those that are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.

My cats generally eat a combination of wet and dry. I do believe wet food has benefits, but I also like the fact that I can put the dry food in a food puzzle and encourage some exercise that way. The cats seem to enjoy chasing the food ball. I think they believe it’s magic when it mysteriously spills food kernels out on the floor.

We do measure and count calories too, but I have to be honest: Being able to separate all six of them into different areas with their own quantity of food to eat is impossible. So, I’m sure Rhette and Rusty get more than their share of the food, despite my best efforts. We make up for that, at least as best we can, by encouraging them to exercise a bit more than the other cats.

How do I encourage the cats to exercise? Fortunately, it is not usually too difficult to get them interested in a game of chase the toy, and we make time for that at least a couple times a day. The food ball helps too, and Rhette and Rusty are particularly fond of it. Generally, I do not put a lot of food in it, just enough to keep them interested in the game. But most of their allowance of dry food goes into the ball.

Interestingly, all of my cats have favorite toys. Dillon likes toys with feathers and likes to chase them as they fly through the air. Lilly likes to stalk mouse-style toys that are pulled across the ground. Merlin likes pretty much anything that moves (including tails, which the other cats generally do not appreciate!). Rhette and Rusty like toys that roll, but they enjoy chasing strings pulled across the floor, too. Midge prefers the laser pointer.

What do I recommend for my feline patients who are overweight or obese? In most cases, exactly the same things I do for my own cats: regulate the food intake, don’t let your cat overeat, and encourage exercise through interactive play and other forms of environmental enrichment.

Is weight loss easy? Heavens, no. Is it beneficial? Oh, yes, definitely! A lean cat is a much healthier cat.

With weight loss in cats, slow and steady wins the race though. Rapid weight loss is dangerous and puts your cat at even higher risk.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Katrina Elena / via Shutterstock