Photo credit pouchcotato on Flickr

Article by Kelsey Hanson, DVM

Garfield may look cute, but an overweight cat is no laughing matter. An overweight or obese cat is at a greater risk of many health issues such as diabetes and joint diseases like osteoarthritis. You may be thinking, “I can’t take my cat on a walk, so how can I get him/her to lose weight?” There is much more to it than increased exercise. Here are some tips on getting your cat slim and trim for the summer:

1. Establish meal times – Don’t leave food out 24 hours a day! This goes for all pets. This allows you to visualize exactly how much your cat is eating, and if you have multiple pets, you can see which pet is eating out of which bowl to prevent any sharing of meals. Ideally, cats would eat multiple times per day (around 3-4), but this doesn’t work best with everyone’s schedules.

2. Find the right cat food – You need to ensure that your cat is getting the proper nutrition while losing weight safely, so the diet you select is very important. There are many weight loss diets out there, but we recommend a heavily researched diet such as Purina OM, Hill’s Science Diet Metabolic, or Royal Canin Satiety. These diets have been clinically proven to get weight off of your cat while still meeting nutrition requirements.

3. Measure the amount of food you are feeding – With a measuring cup! A Mardi Gras cup or Newk’s cup doesn’t count as a cup. Use a measuring cup to measure out the recommended amount on your cat’s bag of food. This may surprise you, but most cats only need about 1/2 cup of food per 24 hours!

4. Ditch the bowl – Use cat toys to make mealtime fun. Food toys or prey-like feeding devices are best for feeding cats. Toys that can be filled with your cat’s food and can be tossed or hidden around the house for mealtime will feed your cat’s natural hunting instincts. The size of a cat’s stomach is about the size of a ping pong ball. They are designed this way because they eat multiple, mouse-sized meals throughout the day.  These toys serve 2 purposes – an increase in exercise as well as plenty of environmental enrichment, especially for indoor cats! Interactive toys can be purchased on or can be made using cat-safe household items like toilet paper rolls or cardboard boxes.

5. Switch out the treats for playtime – While it is tempting to pull out the treat bag when your cat is asking for attention, it is healthier for both you and your cat to have a few 5-minute play sessions per day. Use lasers, wand toys, cat plush toys, and cat tunnels to keep your cat active. These short play sessions are great for bonding and exercise.

As always, consult with your veterinarian regarding your cat’s weight loss. You and your veterinarian should choose the diet that works best for your cat. Ideally, cats should lose no more than 1/2 to 1 pound per month. Every cat should have an annual exam, and every cat over the age of 6 years old should have annual bloodwork performed to ensure that there are no metabolic problems causing weight gain or weight loss.