Cat Weight Loss Tips from Bronson the 33-Pound Cat

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Oct. 22, 2018
Cat Weight Loss Tips from Bronson the 33-Pound Cat

Image courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

By Nicole Pajer

In April of 2018, Megan Hanneman and Mike Wilson visited the Humane Society of West Michigan, where they stumbled upon an unexpected new family member, a 33-pound polydactyl cat named Bronson. At the age of 3, Bronson weighs as much as three full-grown domestic cats.

“We walked through the doors and couldn't help but gravitate to this adorable giant. He was the largest cat we had ever seen,” Wilson says. “Right after leaving, we couldn’t stop talking about him.”

When the doors to the Humane Society opened the following day, Hanneman and Wilson were waiting, eager to meet their potential new family member. And it was definitely love at first sight.

“He was so happy and playful. He had the most awesome paws we had ever seen,” Wilson explains. “He had a calm, loving energy about him, and we fell in love right away.”

Bronson Finds a New Family to Kickstart a Healthy Lifestyle

Bronson’s new family knew that upon adopting him, they immediately needed to help him lose weight. The couple owns a cat furniture company called Catastrophic Creations, and they design pieces to promote exercise and mental stimulation. So they were the perfect candidates to help Bronson get to his optimal weight.

Megan and Michael Wilson

Megan, Michael and their other cat, Ickle, courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

“We also hoped that our two active cats at home, climbing all over our wall-mounted cat furniture, would inspire him to be more active,” Wilson says.

Wilson does not know much about Bronson’s backstory and how he came to weigh 33 pounds at such a young age. “All we know about his last family is that his owner passed away and that their family brought him in to the Humane Society. We were told that he was probably given people food because he was so young and had gained the weight so rapidly,” he recalls. The Humane Society of West Michigan suspects that in his previous life, Bronson kept to himself most days and that he may have been eating for comfort.

The day after adopting Bronson, the couple decided to start an Instagram account for him. “We thought it sounded like a fun project to show his weight loss over time,” says Wilson, who hopes the page will also help inspire owners of obese cats to safely help their pets get in shape.

The Journey to a Healthy Cat Weight Begins at the Vet’s Office

Bronson’s owners came up with a game plan with his veterinarian, Dr. Marisa Verwys at ‪Kentwood Cat Clinic in Kentwood, Michigan. “It is important for cats to maintain a healthy weight, because obesity will predispose them to several medical conditions,” Dr. Verwys explains. Such conditions include heart disease, diabetes, skin conditions, respiratory issues and osteoarthritis issues.

When it comes to weight loss in obese cats, Dr. Verwys notes that slow and steady wins the race. “Ideally Bronson should be losing no more than 0.5-2 percent of his total body weight per week.” She explains, “The goal is to maintain a safe weight loss rate to decrease the risk of developing liver disease and preserving lean body mass.”

To make sure Bronson’s weight was being lost at the correct pace, the family was instructed to start with a higher calorie count and slowly lower it after each monthly assessment, depending on if he lost weight or not.

Bronson the Cat

Image courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

“So far he hasn’t lost more than 1 pound a month, and we’ve recently started weighing every two weeks in case there are any changes we need to make,” Wilson explains.

Bronson’s owners are also slowly increasing his fitness routine and incorporating a wide variety of exercises that work out different parts of his body on different days to allow him to build up muscle without working him too hard.

Finding the Right Diet for Cat Weight Loss

Bronson's current diet plan consists of about 85 percent Weruva wet food—"his favorite flavor is Mack and Jack,” says Wilson, who notes that even though Bronson is allowed four cans of wet food each day, he usually only cracks into three of them. The rest of his calories are made up of 1/8 cup of dried kibble and a few different cat treats, including freeze-dried chicken snacks.

With the help of Dr. Verwys, Bronson's current daily maximum calorie plan has been set at 300 calories, which is advised for Bronson at his current weight and metabolism. The veterinarian encourages owners of overweight cats to reach out to their vet to figure out the caloric needs of their own cats. These are unique to each cat and based on a variety of factors, such as a cat’s age, health and mobility level. Bronson's caloric goal is adjusted month to month, so his owners stay in close contact with the vet.

To keep Bronson full and satiated, the couple recently started incorporating pet grass into his diet, which the couple notes has made a big difference. “He has a lot more energy now and walks around the house randomly throughout the day, where he used to sit around a lot more,” says Wilson.

Wilson works to keep Bronson under his maximum calorie goal for each day, and whenever he is hungry, he will toss him some cat treats throughout the day.

Using Treats and Food to Get Bronson Active

“I encourage owners to exercise their cats with increased interactive playtime, elevating their food so they have to work to eat, and incorporating food puzzles,” says Dr. Verwys.

Bronson just happens to be extremely food motivated, so his training plan has definitely been centered around his snacks and meals. Treats have doubled as a means of providing Bronson with a source of additional exercise, as the couple incorporates an activity into treat time.

Bronson the Cat Exercising

Image courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

Wilson says, “Bronson gets 1/8 cup of dry cat food each day that we use in a number of ways. He can stand up on his back feet to reach up to get the treats. He can do this about 10 times before he gets tired, so we also toss treats across the floor for him to chase after,” he explained.

“We also play a game with Bronson where we have food for him, but every few minutes, we move the dish to a new spot, which encourages him to walk more,” Wilson explains.  “We toss treats high and low on the stairs, so that he's actively climbing around in different positions on them,” Wilson says.

Wilson has recently started incorporating some clicker training, utilizing a dog training clicker and rewarding Bronson with PureBites Chicken Breast Freeze-Dried Treats.

“We see everything evolving as he is able to do more and more. When he first started standing up for treats, he would be worn out after standing twice, and now he can do it around 10 times before he loses steam,” Wilson says proudly.

Cat Toys to Make Exercise Like Playtime

The rest of Bronson’s exercise comes from playing with cat toys while he's laying down. The goal is for his owners to get him to roll onto his back and stick all his feet in the air, which looks very similar to a sit-up.  

“When we first brought Bronson home, we got the Smartycat Hot Pursuit, which is an automated toy that moves around in a full circle, underneath an enticing sheer. This toy is also great for multiple cats, as they can all play with it at the same time,” says Wilson.

He loves to play with his Yeowww! catnip-filled canvas toys—“there isn't more than an hour a day that he doesn't have one of them within 4 feet of him,” said Wilson, who notes that the couple has a graveyard for old, over-chewed and “slobbered-to-a-different-color” catnip toys at home. 

Video courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

Cat wands like the Cat Dancer Cat Charmer and Toy and the Cat Dancer Original Cat Toy are also crucial tools in his cat weight loss journey. “There is something about the way this toy moves, or maybe the colors that gets him going instantly, so this toy is great for a quick play session. He'll bite at it and try to catch the moving string with his two large paws. He will sometimes roll onto his back to get a better reach on the toy, and when he finally catches it, he bites into it viciously,” Wilson says.

Hitting Goal Weights

Sine his adoption, Bronson has dropped down to 30.6 pounds, and his owners have already noticed a huge change in his energy level.

Bronson at a weigh in

Image courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

“The Bronson we have today is so very different from the Bronson that we brought home that first day from the Humane Society. His personality has certainly flourished, and rather than sleeping throughout the day, waking up only to eat his meals and for short play sessions, he now hangs out with the other cats throughout the day. He hangs out in the living room, hops up on the couch in our three-season room, gazing out the windows. When we come home, he’s started to greet us at the front door, when he used to wait for us to go see him in our bedroom,” Wilson says.

Bronson and his owners are diligently working to get him to his goal weight (12 to 15 pounds, per his veterinarian) in a healthy and manageable way. But his owners have a few weight goals for him to hit along the way.

Bronson Weight Loss Goals

Image courtesy of Megan and Michael Wilson

“One is for him to get down to 27.5 pounds, so that he can get on prescription flea and tick medicine that will allow him to go on walks outside,” explains Wilson. The second weight goal is 25 pounds, which would allow him to be more safely put under anesthesia so that he can get a broken tooth removed.

Progress Is a Process

Losing so much weight is a process, but Bronson is well on his way. “Ideal weights are not so much associated with a number, but more body condition,” explains Dr. Verwys, who notes that for Bronson's weight loss journey to be done safely, it will most likely take him over a year to get to an ideal body condition. 

“Bronson's owners have been doing a wonderful job with his weight loss; they are very dedicated to him, and he was very lucky to be adopted by such a great family,” says Dr. Verwys. She adds that before any pet owner embarks upon a cat weight loss journey, the first step should be to make an appointment with their vet for an assessment to get an appropriate diet and exercise plan.

Bronson’s owners express that it brings them so much joy to see his progress. Wilson stresses that when it comes to cat weight loss, consistency is key. “It’s so important to stay consistent with the number of calories and also the exercise routine. Sharing his journey with others has helped us because he has fans we don’t want to let down. It feels very similar to working out with a buddy to stay motivated. There’s accountability when we’re posting his weight publicly,” Wilson says.

But the couple plans to stay on top of his weight and looks forward to the day when they are able to celebrate him reaching his goals, one pound at a time.

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