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Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Overweight Cats
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
Weight Control
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Click here for a pdf version of this article.  See related products at Pet Supplies
Will spaying or neutering make my cat fat?

Overweight catSpaying or neutering your cat will not make your pet fat unless you feed your cat too many calories or do not give your cat enough exercise. It is true that neutered and spayed animals burn fewer calories than intact pets, so we generally need to feed them less.

How can I tell if my cat is overweight?

As in people, some cats are big-boned and some are fine-boned, so just checking the weight of an animal can generally not give us enough information to make a determination. Some cats are at their optimal weight at 7 pounds, while others are in fine shape at 14 pounds. By checking several areas on your pet such as the ribs, base of the tail, 'waist,' and abdomen, we can better determine if a cat is overweight. Such an evaluation is called 'body condition scoring.' For more information, check out our article How do I determine if my cat is overweight?

Do I have to use a 'reducing diet,' or can I just feed less of my cat's usual food?

Your veterinarian will be able to give you the best advice on what diet you should feed your cat. Some cats, especially those who do not have to lose a large amount of weight may do fine on a lesser amount of their normal food. Cats who are on a special diet because of another condition (e.g., bladder stones) should remain on that diet and simply be fed less of it.

In most cases, getting good results from a weight loss program means the cat should be placed on a 'reducing diet.' There are several advantages to feeding a balanced commercial weight reduction diet. First, weight reduction diets are generally high-fiber, low-fat diets which have a lower energy density and allow a greater loss of body fat than simply feeding smaller amounts of a high-fat diet. This is because fat contains over twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates. Foods with lower energy density tend to produce satiety (a feeling of being full) at a lower level of calorie intake. In addition, more energy is used in digesting and absorbing low-fat, high-fiber diets. Finally, if you are using the regular diet, and simply reducing the amount of the food currently being fed, you are also decreasing the level of protein, vitamins, minerals, etc., the cat is receiving.

How fast should my cat lose weight when placed on a weight reduction program?

In general, a good goal would be to have your cat lose 0.5-2.0% of his body weight per week. A weight loss of more than 2% per week could cause more harm than good. It is especially important that obese cats do not lose weight too rapidly. Before starting your cat on a weight loss program, have him examined by a veterinarian and discuss what will be the best road to success for you and your cat.

Why did my cat gain weight when I fed what the manufacturer's label recommended?

The label recommendations are a guideline and are based on caloric needs of what the manufacturer considers an 'average' cat with 'average' activity. In my opinion, many cats will gain excess weight if fed what the manufacturers of cat foods suggest. For most cats, I would start at the low end of the suggested amount to feed, monitor the cat's weight for several weeks, and adjust the amount fed accordingly.

Also in answer to this question, I would have to ask another question: 'What else does your cat get to eat?' If your cat gets table scraps, treats, and a 'little something to make the food taste good,' that is most likely the reason your cat is gaining excess weight. The calories in the 'little extras' add up very fast.

What factors may contribute to obesity in cats?

Cats become overweight because they are taking in more calories than they are using. Possible contributors include:

  • Food type, availability, and palatability
  • Activity level
  • Neutering and spaying
  • Genetics and breed predispositions
  • Age
  • Social environment
  • Physical environment
  • Medications
  • Metabolic disorders
  • For a detailed discussion of these factors, please see Diseases and Conditions Contributing to Obesity in the Cat.

    Obesity is a significant health risk in cats, increasing the possibility of diabetes mellitus, fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), lameness, skin and grooming problems, and risks from surgery and anesthesia. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your cat is overweight, and start a weight control program. You'll be glad you did.

    How Do I Determine if My Cat is Overweight? 
    Characteristics of a Good Weight Loss Diet for Cats 
    Click here for a pdf version of this article.  See related products at Pet Supplies  
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