Obese Cats and the Role of Environmental Enrichment for Weight Loss
It’s a simple equation really. Our pet cats gain weight and become obese when they eat more calories than necessary and don’t get enough exercise. There are other factors, of course. Too many pet owners are unable to recognize that their cats are obese, or, worse yet, think the obesity is cute. But the bottom line comes down to too many calories taken in and not enough burned.
Reducing the number of calories an overweight cat consumes is essential, but the reduction must be managed carefully to avoid a “starvation” diet. At the same time, encouraging the cat to get up and move is a good way to burn some calories. That’s where environmental enrichment comes in.
Environmental enrichment means making the cat’s environment more stimulating and more cat friendly. We can do that in many different ways. Here are some of the enrichment procedures that can have an impact on weight loss.
- Make your cat work for his food. Don’t simply fill a bowl and place it in the same spot every day. Use food puzzles to not only get your cat moving but also to stimulate his mind at the same time. Food puzzles are toys that can be filled with food. These toys require your cat to "work" the toy in order to get the food. Often they are hollow balls with a small hole through which the food spills. When your cat rolls the ball around, he is rewarded with food for his efforts.
- Similarly, food (or even food puzzles) can be supplied in various areas of the home. The location can even change from day to day. In this way, your cat has to travel further to receive his full meal and may even have to search the meal out as he would his prey in the wild. As with food puzzles, this not only forces your cat to get more exercise but also stimulates his mind and keeps him entertained as he searches for more food treats.
- Interactive toys such as feathers, laser pointers, toy mice, and others are another good way to encourage your cat to exercise. You may need to experiment with different types of toys to find the type that your cat prefers. Even if your cat seems relatively uninterested in these toys at first, or doesn’t have enough stamina to continue to play for long, don’t give up. As your cat loses weight, it is likely he will start to become more active and his interest as well as his stamina may grow as he starts to regain his proper weight and body condition.
- Providing perches at eye-level or above will give your cat more opportunity to move through the vertical spaces of your home. Most cats enjoy resting in an elevated location and surveying their domain. Cat shelves are available and can easily be mounted on most walls. You can use several shelves to make a ladder for your cat to climb to the higher elevations. You’ll likely find that your cat not only exercises more moving up and down these shelves but also enjoys his new-found space.
These are a few of the enrichment techniques that can be used to help overweight cats shed the pounds. A creative cat owner can probably find more solutions. Have you found something that has worked well for you and your cat?
Dr. Lorie Huston