This is a family friendly blog so I won’t be using the nasty F word, but keeping you cat from being “plush” or “chunky” requires a complete strategy. It has been said that weight accumulates when our calories in are greater than the calories we burn. For cats, as you can see above, the calories burnt are pretty low for most of our house cat friends.
So, how much should your cat weight as a healthy weight? The average cat’s optimal weight is between 7 and 10 pounds. Given the low activity level of most cats, most cats that I see are much higher than that! The average cat that I see is probably closer to 15 pounds, so at least 50% more weight than they should be.
The food side of the equation is also part of the problem. Food should contain all the nutrients your cat needs in a serving size that satisfies their hunger cravings. Most cats free fed on a dry food like to eat between 3/4 and a full cup. However, when you look on your cat’s bag of food, the feeding amounts for a 7 pound cat are often less than a half of a cup! My biggest pet peeve for feeding guidelines is the chart you can find on the back of the bag. It often goes up to over 18 pounds! With more food for the cat as he gets larger and larger! Since I have turned fifty, my own waistline has been an issue. When I stand on the scale and see that I have gained 10 pounds, I don’t celebrate and say great, I get to eat more! yet that’s what the pet food companies are inadvertently doing. See the picture below. If you go with the average cat eating about a cup of this food, he is eating TWICE the calories that he needs! Any surprise that he gains weight?
We must feed our pets according to their metabolic requirements and keep in mind their “serving size that satisfies” or we will have very unsatisfied cats. Unsatisfied cats are not pleasant to be around!
So, I am not naïve enough to assume that if you are reading this blog, that you are trying to prevent obesity, rather you have a “plush” cat that you are trying to reduce back to a “normal” size. The reasons are plenty for wanting to do that. Many diseases are associated with obesity in cats: Diabetes, urinary problems, arthritis, skin conditions, fatty liver syndrome, and the list goes on and on. In fact, I believe that over 80% of what I do as a veterinarian has to do with either obesity or poor dental health. (but that’s another blog topic…)
The solution is to eat less than your cat is burning. If he is significantly overweight already, this should be over seen by your veterinary team. If we reduce his food intake too much, he may not be getting enough of the essential nutrients such as protein and vitamins. In these cases, a “prescription” diet is required to get low enough calories yet still maintain the proper level of nutrition. We provide weekly, monthly and bimonthly weight monitoring appointments so we can tweak the diet mix and keep weight loss moving forward safely.
For moderately overweight cats, you can estimate how much too much he has been eating by following the steps outlined below. If you take your cat’s weight from last year and subtract his weight this year, that equals the amount of fat (sorry for the F word but it can’t be avoided here) that he has put on over the last year. Muscle and bone don’t change very much so we can assume that a pound of gain is a pound of fat. Roughly calculated, a pound of fat (ouch) is worth 4000 kcal. So you can calculate how much extra food has been consumed. For example, if your cat gained 2 pounds over the last year, he was eating 8000 kcal more than he needed over the last 365 days. If you do the math, that works out to about 20 kcal per day. The average cat food is over 400 kcal per cup so that is about 1/20 of a cup per day more than he needs. If we want him to slowly lose weight over the year, we need to reduce his food by twice that amount. So a reduction of about 1/10th of a cup should be enough to stop the gaining and get him to lose the excess weight over the next year. The trouble is, how much is he eating in the first place?
Most people feed their cats free choice, only filling the bowl when it is empty. So finding out the actual amount eaten is a challenge. My solution is to measure out about 2 cups at 9:00 Monday morning into the feeding dish. At the same time Tuesday, measure how much remains. Repeat for 1 week and you should have an average amount for the purposes of getting that starting point. Once you have that, reduce it by the above amount, or what your cat needs to lose, and monitor the weight on a monthly or bimonthly basis. If weight is not coming off, he may need a prescription diet to do the job.
But how do you do this if you have multiple cats? Wait and see. I’ll write about that next week!