Cats are obligate carnivores, but the cat diet is much more complex than just the requirement to eat meat daily. Your cat’s diet is an incredibly important part of their overall health.
Especially if you have a chonky cat on your hands, you might have many burning questions about how to feed your feline friend. Why do vets not like grain free cat food? What are some veterinarian-recommended ways to keep my cat’s weight in a healthy range? How can I help my cat lose weight?
Here’s a guide to all your frequently asked cat diet questions and some other tips for keeping your cat in a healthy weight range.
Top Four Most Common Questions About Cat Diet
Let’s start by clearing up some of the most common questions pet owners have about the proper cat diet:
- What is the right amount of food for my cat?
- Should I feed my cat wet or dry food?
- How do I know if my cat needs to lose weight?
- Why do veterinarians not like grain free cat food?
How Much Cat Food Does My Pet Need?
The amount of food your cat needs will depend on many factors, including their age, breed, size, and activity level. The general rule is that an adult cat needs about 25 calories per pound of weight, but that varies greatly depending on the other factors.
Younger, more active cats might need more calories, while older, more sedentary senior kitties can probably use a little less. Usually, this averages out at about a third a cup or a half a cup of food per day for your cat, which can be fed to them once or spread into two meals.
Is Wet Food or Dry Food Better for My Cat?
The wet food vs. dry food debate has been plaguing cat owners for a long time. It’s fairly simple, though, depending on your cat’s needs. The most important thing is the nutritional content of your cat’s food – whether it’s wet or dry is a secondary issue.
Obviously, cats with dental issues will benefit from the soft texture of wet food. Furthermore, wet food can support your cat’s hydration levels and even be better for cats who are prone to urinary tract issues. Wet food can also be great for overweight cats because it generally has fewer calories without sacrificing flavor.
Dry food is more basic and affordable, and it’s best for cats who might be too thin and need more calories because it is calorically dense. It’s often the most cost-effective choice for cats who don’t need a weight loss diet. Consult your veterinarian for the final say on whether your cat should eat wet or dry food.
How Do I Know If I Have an Overweight Cat?
Shape can be a great indicator of your cat’s health. You can often visually assess whether or not your cat needs to lose weight. An overweight cat will have a low-hanging stomach and appear oval-shaped from above, and you won’t be able to feel its ribs.
Formally, an obese cat weighs 30 percent more than their ideal weight and an overweight cat has 15 percent extra weight. Your veterinarian can advise you best on whether or not your cat needs to go on a weight loss diet.
Why Do Veterinarians Not Like Grain Free Cat Food?
Since cats are obligate carnivores, which means their diet should be primarily meat, why do veterinarians not like grain free cat food? Most pet owners don’t think of grain as an important part of their cat’s diet, so it would seem like grain free cat food is just fine.
Veterinarians advise cat owners to avoid feeding their pet this kind of food because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is currently investigating a connection between grain free diets and heart issues in cats and dogs. The investigation mainly focuses on canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), but there is some focus on cats as well. Many veterinarians want their patients to play it safe and avoid grain free cat food until the FDA has finished their investigation.
How to Put Your Cat on a Diet for Losing Weight
If your cat is above their normal weight range, it’s important to put that cat on a diet as soon as possible. Overweight and obese cats are at much higher risk for health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney issues.
If your cat needs to lose some pounds, here is how to put them on a weight loss diet:
- Start by talking to your veterinarian
- Know the risks of cat weight loss diets
- Take your time introducing a new food or feeding schedule
- Include exercise for best results
Never Put Your Cat on a Diet Without Talking to Your Veterinarian
If you think your cat is overweight or obese, the first step is making an appointment with your veterinarian. They can assess your cat’s dietary needs carefully and let you know how much weight your cat needs to lose. They can also identify if there are any underlying health issues that might be contributing to your cat’s weight gain.
Often, cats are simply overweight because their owner feeds them too much. It’s important to be honest with your veterinarian about your cat’s existing calorie intake so they can help you create an effective plan for feeding your cat.
Know the Risks of Weight Loss Diets and Feeding Changes for Cats
While helping your cat lose weight might seem relatively simple – just feed them fewer calories, right? – there are actually some significant risks you need to consider when restricting your cat’s calorie intake.
Many mammals can live several days without food. Intermittent fasting is even a popular weight loss strategy for many humans. But cats are built differently, and if they go as little as two days without consuming food, they can be at risk for a life-threatening condition: hepatic lipidosis. Hepatic lipidosis is fatty liver disease that can actually result in liver failure. Your veterinarian can provide testing to ensure your cat is safe from this condition while you put them on a diet.
Always Go Slowly When Making Changes to Your Cat’s Diet
Cats are finicky creatures, especially when it comes to the type of food they eat and their feeding schedule. In order for your cat to lose weight, you might need to make some changes beyond just giving them less food. You might need to feed them a different food or feed them at different times (sometimes two smaller meals can support weight loss more effectively than one large meal each day, which may encourage your cat to overeat). Changes like this need to be made slowly and incrementally so as not to disturb or shock your cat.
Transitioning to a weight loss diet should take about two to three weeks. If you have to switch cat foods, start by incorporating a little of the new food into your cat’s old food. They might be resistant at first, but once they adjust, you can add more and more of the new food until that’s your cat’s primary meal. If your cat refuses to eat when you offer a new food, contact your veterinarian.
The Best Types of Cat Exercise for Losing Weight
Cat weight loss isn’t just about the amount and type of food. While nutrition is a crucial component, you also need to ensure your cat is getting enough physical activity. Because cats should live their lives indoors, providing physical exercise opportunities requires some creativity from cat owners.
Playing with your cat daily is an important way to bond and also provides much-needed daily movement. This can be as simple as tossing a small, rattling ball for a few rounds of fetch or a game of chase-the-laser. You might also consider moving your cat’s food bowl to a different area of the house, requiring your cat to travel further from their favorite spaces in order to eat. Interactive cat toys can encourage your cat to keep moving and playing even when you’re busy. There are plenty of ways to encourage activity for even the laziest cat.
Other Tips for Keeping Your Cat at a Healthy Weight
Once you’ve gotten your cat into a healthy weight range, you’ll need to help them stay there. Here are some other tips to ensure your cat stays healthy:
- Don’t free feed
- Feed all of your cats independently
- Use careful measurements for portion sizes
- Be careful with treats
Free Feeding Is Not Good for Overweight Cats
Free feeding, or when you leave your cat’s dry food out all day for them to graze upon, is rarely a good idea for an overweight cat. While this is an easy, low-maintenance feeding method for cat owners, it simply won’t work for most cats who are prone to weight gain.
Keeping a regimented feeding schedule with multiple small meals daily rather than a gazing food bowl will help your cat control their calorie intake and lose weight.
Helpful hint: If you aren’t at home to spread out the feedings, consider an automatic feeder for cats.
Multi-cat Households Will Require More Work
If you have multiple cats in your home, you’ll need to pay close attention to each individual’s diet to ensure they stay at a healthy weight. Multi-cat households tend to be in favor of free-feeding because it simplifies the owner’s daily life and allows the cats to manage their own diet. While some cats can do this successfully and remain at a healthy weight, others will struggle and end up overweight or obese.
If you have one or more overweight cats in your multi-cat household, you’ll need to start feeding each of them individually so you can monitor portion sizes and consumption levels. Furthermore, your obese cat might need a different type of food than your cat on a normal diet. Keep in mind that a cat on a weight loss diet will feel hungry while it’s losing weight, and might be more likely to steal food from another one of your pets – watch out!
Be Specific About Your Cat’s Portion Sizes
A scoop of cat food can vary greatly. A heaping scoop might carry considerably more calories than a level scoop or a scant scoop. If you are using canned cat food, portion control will be easier, but if you’re using a dry food or a bulk wet food, you might consider measuring your cat’s portions with a kitchen scale.
Measuring by weight is more precise and ensures your cat is sticking to their specific diet. If you choose to go the scooper route, make sure everyone knows how to use the scoop properly so your cat isn’t getting fed significantly more by the cat sitter on the weekends.
Don’t Eliminate Treats – But Remember They Have Calories!
Treats are an important part of your kitty’s day because they generate fun, excitement, and a bonding moment with you. Just because you want your cat to lose weight doesn’t mean you have to eliminate this joyful part of their daily life. You simply need to include the treats when calculating your cat’s daily calorie intake.
Avoid high-calorie treats and opt instead for smaller snacks with a low calorie count. You might even consider making your own homemade cat treats so you know exactly what is in them and how many calories they are. Another tip to ensure the family is on the same page about treats: Each week, divide up your cat’s daily treat allotment into individual bags or containers and mark them with the date. This way, if that day’s treat box is empty, everyone knows your cat has had the daily treat allotment and your cat will stay within their daily calorie limit.
Overweight Cats Might Be Cute, But They Aren’t Healthy
Your cat’s diet is a huge part of their longevity and comfort. Follow our cat diet tips by avoiding grain free cat food, following veterinarian-recommended advice for cat weight loss diets, and keeping your cat active with plenty of toys and play. A chonky cat might be cute, but he’s probably uncomfortable, and certainly at risk for health issues. Prioritize your pet’s health!