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How to Get a Fat Cat to Lose Weight

November 25, 2010

fat tabby

Who are you callin' fat?

How Can You Get a Fat Cat to Eat Better Food and Less Food, Especially in a Multi-Cat Household?

Is It Bad for a Cat to be Fat?

Ralph was obese.  The 24-pound 4-year old striped tabby cat tipped the scales.  His blubber overflowed the bucket scale, and we weighed him on the dog scale.

50% of pet cats and dogs are obese in the United States, following the lead of their humans.  This fat shaves 2-4 years off of the cats’ lifespans.  Arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis abound in the US feline population.

Risks of Cat Obesity:

  • 2-4 years shortened life
  • arthritis
  • back problems – intervertebral disc disease
  • aggravating hip dysplasia
  • diabetes mellitus
  • asthma and chronic bronchitis
  • sudden death from heart disease
  • pancreatitis

None of this is news.  Some people think the fat is healthy-looking, or cute, or inevitable.  Most people know the extra poundage is unhealthy.  The problem lies with the diet, exercise, and management of these obese cats.  Today we’ll address diet and management.

What Kind of Food Can I Give a Fat Cat?

50% Protein, What is this, the Catkins Diet?

fat tabby cat belly

Wow! What a belly expanse!

Here’s some good news: the modern high protein diets designed to manage or cure diabetes in carnivorous cats, also helps combat obesity.  Skinny cats gain or maintain weight on high protein diets and fat cats loose weight.  The diets normalize the feline metabolism.  Feed your cats a high protein diet. Protein on the order of 45-50% is thought to be best. Read the labels, it’s on there!

Because the newer high protein cat food formulas fit the carnivore metabolism, you can usually feed the same food to all the cats.  The fat ones get thinner and the thin ones plump up.  This is this the basis for the “Indoor Formula” foods coming onto the market in the past few years.

“Do not let your obese cat go more than 24-48 hours without eating!  Your fat cat could develop fatal hepatic lipidosis,” says Doc Truli.

Cats are Obligate Carnivores

Unlike dogs and humans, cats are obligate carnivores.  While humans and their dogs can eat vegetables or meats and stay healthy, cats cannot survive without meat protein.  Cats store almost no glycogen energy in their livers between meals.  Instead, cats use protein and fat to make energy for their metabolic functions.  In contrast, people store excess energy as a glycogen molecule in the liver through a process called gluconeogenesis (pronounced glue – coe – neo – genesis).  When a human or a dog needs energy in between meals, the glycogen is activated and broken down by the liver to release immediate energy for use by the body.   Marathon runners and other athletes will “carb load” before an athletic performance to enhance their glycogen reserves.  Nutritionists and handlers for the Iditarod race sled dog teams will also load the dogs before the grueling 1,150 mile race.  The dogs will release energy from the liver between meals like humans will.

Cats Cannot “Carb Load” Like an Athletic Dog or Person

fat tabby cat top view

Look at that Sausage-Shaped Body!

Being an obligate carnivore, a cat barely stores any glycogen at all.  In between meals, cats use fat and protein for energy.  If your fat cat goes without eating, maybe the cat is feeling sick, you will suddenly notice the bony spine and ribs sticking out.  The muscle mass loss is profound and quick because, while not eating food, the ill cat’s body steals protein from its own muscles for survival.  In addition, an obese cat that goes 2-3 days without eating experiences a metabolic crisis in the liver called hepatic lipidosis.  The liver (hepatic) turns to fat (lipid-osis).  Of course, this fatty liver disease is useless to sustain life.  These cats need urgent nutritional support and sometimes prolonged hospitalization and intensive care just to save their lives.  Do not let your obese cat go more than 24-48 hours without eating!

Therefore, feed your cat high protein weight loss food, and not high-carbohydrate weight-loss food like dogs and people eat.

How Can I Get My Fat Cat to Stop Gorging and Then Throwing Up the Food?

Low Stress Environment

Be certain your fat cat is not agitated or food-protective when eating.  A cat that licks his or her belly fur short or bald, licks the front legs until the fur is almost gone, or gone, or sometimes misses using the litter pan, might be suffering social anxiety.  Give your cat privacy and quiet to eat.  Clean the litter pan daily.  Be certain there is +1 litter pan for your cats. For example, if you have 2 cats, try 3 pans.  If the peace seems okay, then you can focus purely on the feeding timing strategy to get your cat to settle down and stop gorging with calories.

Fair, Reasonable Amount of Food

Doc Truli uses a very general guideline of 1/2 measuring cup (4 level ounces) of dry cat food per 10-12 pounds of cat. You can always ask your veterinarian to calculate the energy needs of your cat based on exact weight, research the kilocalories in the food, and then come up with a fairly exact dietary plan, but this plan will work as a general guideline.

Figure out how many 10’s of pounds of cat you have in the house, total.  If you have an 8 pounder and a 24 pounder, you have 32 pounds of cat, or roughly 3 10’s of pounds of cat, or 3 1/2 cups.  1 1/2 cups of average dry food left out for 24 hours should be in the ballpark for calories for your cats.  Do not add treats and wet food at this time, you will go way over on calories!

Adjustments for Kitty Mental Health

This obese brown-striped tabby cat's belly sags down to the table where he sits.

See that belly dragging on the table?

If your cats free-feed throughout the day (most do), leave out the day’s supply.  Let the cats decide who eats what and when.  They will probably gobble the food because they are used to you adding when you feel they need more.  The cats will run out of food between 3 and 5 pm.  They will whine, cry, beg, climb your legs, etc.

Here’s the key: to keep the peace, pinch about 10-15 kibbles into the bowl to keep the cats happy for a few hours.  You can do this at about 5 pm and about 10 pm if they start insisting again upon more food.  Generally, this pattern will persist for a few days.  Then you will notice the cats eating more slowly and leaving some food until 5 pm or longer.  With the proper type and amount of food, within about 2 weeks, the gang will adjust to the new feeding regime and stop begging for extra food!

Simple.  Get to Work.

[Even though Doc Truli is a licensed veterinarian, please  use your discretion and consult your veterinarian before starting any change in kind or timing of feeding your cats.]

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2013 2:24 pm

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that
    over again. Anyways, just wanted to say great blog!

    • December 14, 2013 6:18 pm

      Thank you for your feedback. I cut and paste my long blog comments because that happens to me a lot.

      I also moderate all comments on VirtuaVet which stops any exciting conversations but also stops inappropriate content. Plus, any urgent questions should be handled in person.

  2. April 2, 2013 5:03 pm

    Wonderful article! We are linking to this particularly great article
    on our site. Keep up the great writing.

  3. Bre permalink
    August 4, 2012 12:39 am

    Hey what’s the cats name in the photos?

    • August 4, 2012 7:41 pm


      • Bre permalink
        August 4, 2012 10:14 pm

        Really? Cuz my cat is every detail and when he was four he was 24 pounds

      • August 6, 2012 12:18 am

        Did he finally lose some weight?

      • Bre permalink
        August 6, 2012 11:57 pm

        Hes 18.5pounds now

      • August 8, 2012 1:17 pm

        Wow! That’s almost skinny! Does he play more?

      • Bre permalink
        August 8, 2012 2:39 pm

        Not really skinny his tummy still hangs down and jiggles when he runs but he only plays at night now >.<

  4. January 11, 2011 11:43 am

    We have a cat who’s trying to lose weight too! This will be very helpful for him!

  5. December 11, 2010 4:09 pm

    Great post, after yo-yo dieting my 5 year old Sphynx (remember, not Sphinx) I realize just like us, I can get him down to a certain weight but without exercise, he ‘plateaus’. At his cat show fit weight, he was 10.5#, and due to inactivity (having to be confined to one room due to spraying) and possibly the side effects of the anxiety meds (that is questionable but it can cause weight gain in humans)…he ballooned up to 16#. I got him down to 12# once on canned food only, 3 oz in am and pm. And then thought maybe he could go back to ad lib dry as he would be more active. But no, he got up to 16# again in a fairly short time.

    Then I tried again with a new food (Nulo) and he had a slow time of it while eating both canned and dry. I had my vet (my employer) recalc his calorie needs and he was eating way to much still. Now he is losing again, getting ~ 2 oz of canned twice a day and 2 tablespoons of dry. He is losing about 4 oz a month, a safe amount and while I am supposed to be exercising him ~ 15 min twice a day, he gets about 5 minutes a day chasing a laser or fishing pole type lure up and down the stairs.

    I did notice while tracking his weight loss over the 90 program with Nulo that he was pretty much a pet rock compared to the activity level of my svelte cats, and it was noticeable that at first the stair climbing was tough but now he can do maybe 6 reps before needing to rest.


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