Let’s get to the bad news right away. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 58% of cats in the US are overweight or obese. That’s 55 million fat cats sprawled in the sun, sleeping on our sofas, and parked next to the food bowl increasing their chances of type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and many forms of cancer. Making matters worse, we guardians are in complete denial.
“Pet owners think their obese dog or cat is a normal weight, making confronting obesity difficult.” said APOP founder, Dr. Ernie Ward. “[O]besity is the number one health threat pets face.” [source]
What’s a healthy cat’s weight?
So, how much should your cat weigh? According to APOP, a domestic cat should be about 8-10 lbs (3.6-4.5 kg). Your cat’s build will certainly be a factor, with mighty Maine Coons averaging anywhere from 10-25 lbs and a slight Siamese at 5-10 lbs. By now you’ve probably met Tribble with the cutest purr in the world who tips the scales at 18 lbs but has a massive skull to match his big build and indeed would not be considered obese.
To best determine your cat’s weight, they should be weighed at the vet who will have a precise scale. But you can probably determine if your cat needs a weight-loss intervention by feeling their rib cage. Generally, if you can see their ribs or spine at a distance, they are most likely underweight, and if you can’t even feel their ribs through all their fat, they are probably overweight. If their belly appears to hang low but you can easily feel their ribs through their skin, it’s probably just the primordial pouch, but it’s always best to ask your vet.
How much should I feed my cat?
For a standard indoor domestic cat of 8-10 lbs, they should be getting about 180-200 calories a day. Of course, this depends on many factors such as activity level, age, and medical conditions, so verify the amount needed for your cat with your vet. But it’s a good idea to check the food you feed them to determine how many calories they are getting every day before discussing it with your vet.
Should I be free-feeding my cat?
The short answer is no. Many cats sleep an average of 15-20 hours a day with their only exercise walking to the food bowl and back to the cat bed. Their wild ancestors didn’t have food available to them 24/7 within a relaxing stroll’s distance, and this lifestyle is the exact recipe for obesity and health problems in our pets.
However, some cats, like Kodi, are very slender and active and only eat a little bit at a time. If I kept his feedings to regulated times, he would be even thinner! Every cat is different so discuss with your vet to make informed and cat-specific decisions.
Keep in mind, too, that these are general guidelines. There are times when I know we’ll be away all day or overnight somewhere, and I’ll leave 2 bowls full of dry food out for Shorty and Kodi, and plenty of fresh water of course. But most often, they are fed at morning and night, with Kodi having access to dry food all the time, since Shorty loves to eat so much that she gains weight.
If your cat needs to lose weight
If you’ve got yourself a tubby tabby, it’s important to discuss weight loss options with your vet. Cutting their food back drastically can be just as bad as overfeeding them and it could lead to liver disease and behavioural issues. Any changes to diet must be made very slowly over time and it’s best to have this monitored by your vet to ensure safety. Multi-cat households can deal with this by separating them at feeding time, or do as I did, and have the thinner cat’s food in a place where the bigger cat can’t get it.
Play should be a vital part of every house cat’s existence. Make time every day to engage them with their favourite toy and play with them until they lie down or become uninterested. A wand feather toy is great; both Shorty and Kodi love chasing after it and watching it fly and hearing it whirr by. Shorty especially loves her catnip banana which is great exercise that I don’t even have to be involved in! But I only let her have it occasionally and for just a few minutes at a time, maybe once every few weeks so that she doesn’t get bored of it. Watch below:
For more information, see the APOP’s informative website: http://www.petobesityprevention.org/ and talk to your vet.