Sadly, obesity is a major cause of health problems nowadays – and that includes cats! International Cat Care and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association estimate that between a quarter and a third of all UK cats are clinically obese. Clinical obesity in cats is defined as weight more than 20% above a healthy weight due to excessive fat. Obesity is a risk factor for a number of different feline diseases, including diabetes, cystitis, arthritis, and some liver problems, and significantly shortens lifespan. As a result, weight control and exercise is an important part of keeping your cat healthy!
So, how do I get my cat to lose some of those extra pounds?
There are two approaches, and usually you need to use both together.
Firstly, they must eat fewer calories – essentially, they need to go on a diet! Unfortunately, cats do not appreciate being “starved” by their owners, so if you just give them less food, they’re likely to sulk… And if they’re too unhappy they may decide to leave home and move in with someone more generous!
As a result, using a reduced- or moderate-calorie diet, or a specialist weight-control food is usually best. These are veterinary prescription diets that are specially formulated to make the cat feel full, without providing too many calories. Give us a ring and talk to one of our vets or nurses if you’d like to know more about these special diets.
The second approach is increased exercise. For humans or dogs, this is easy – just go out for more walks or runs. Unfortunately, most cats are not great fans of exercise, except on their own terms.
There’s no way I can take my cat for a run every day!
Well, some people do, and some cats seem to enjoy it… But OK, it’s true that most cats don’t really appreciate that sort of exercise.
The answer is play. Most cats will happily burn calories as long as they’re having fun doing it.
So, how do I encourage my cat to play sufficiently vigorously that they start to lose weight?
Cats are hunters, and even if yours never forages for his food further than his bowl, all those instincts are built-in. Anything that encourages chasing and pouncing will be fun for them, plus being good exercise, toning muscles and burning calories.
To a cat, anything can be a “toy-prey” – most cats will chase rolled up balls of paper if you send them bounding past their noses (just make sure you don’t actually hit them!). The thing to remember is that you need to put the effort in to encourage them to play – many cats are quite lazy and need to be enticed…
Other useful toys are “string-wands”, or “ticklers”, which can be used to give the cat a bright, interesting and (vitally) constantly moving target. Remember, though, if the cat just sits there watching it, they aren’t actually exercising! They need to run after it or pounce on it.
The third option, which can be very valuable but mustn’t be overused, are the cat laser-toys, or “laser-mice”. These project a laser spot onto the floor, which the cat can chase but (crucially) can never actually catch. These are great for getting an interested cat to do some physical work, but if they’re all you use, the cat will get bored fairly quickly as they never actually catch their intended victim! Also, make sure you use a proper cat-toy one – normal laser pointers can harm your cat’s eyes if not shielded properly.
All three should be used, but bear in mind three caveats:
- Don’t get bitten or scratched yourself – cats who are overexcited when playing often sink teeth or claws into anything within reach…
- Don’t use anything that can harm your cat – balls of wool make lovely cards and Facebook photos, but aren’t so good when they get inside the cat, or tangled around their legs!
- Don’t expect even the most enthusiastic cat to play for very long – most cats have very short attention spans, so little and often is the key.