Weight management, in Cats, and its health considerations.

By Dr Hannah

Cat, Toys

It’s fair to say that in many ways cats can be a little more challenging to manage than dogs, in other ways they
can be much easier. ‘Weight management’ would certainly fall into the ‘more challenging’ category for our
feline friends.

Cats are autonomous animals, so normally would be responsible for their own activity levels – they follow their own prerogative,  and this can make weight management a little more tricky. In another sense – we feed them, so we do have some control. Though, some felines can be very demanding when it comes to food – ‘food obsessed’ as we joke, keeping owners up at night, or waking us up in the wee hours of the morning.

We measure cats’ weight in ‘KG’ conventionally. But, helpfully we also use a measure of Body Condition Score (BCS), We measure this out of 9 – the ideal BCS being 4-5.

As felines creep up in BCS, with higher levels of body fat and obesity, this predisposes cats to a few other health ailments. Namely Diabetes Mellitus, Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD – cystitis) and Orthopaedic/Musculoskeletal Issues, amongst others.

Cats develop diabetes in a similar way to the development of type 2 diabetes in humans – that is effectively, an insulin resistance. Their ongoing high blood sugar results in the body not being able to regulate and respond to this in the way it usually would, this then causes an array of symptoms (increased drinking and urinating, weight loss, predisposition to infections), as well as secondary risks in the cat. This may then need to be treated with lifelong insulin injections + diet control.

In terms of Cystitis/FLUTD, amongst several other factors – high BCS and obesity can predispose to cystitis. And, in male cats this increases the risk of urinary obstruction (secondary to Cystitis/FLUTD), which can be a real emergency and difficult condition to manage.

Additionally, especially as our feline friends age, any additional weight that they are carrying over their healthy BCS, places additional load on sore joints or healing injuries. This can be thought of in the example of having a sore hip, but also carrying a heavy backpack (the additional weight). We can easily relate to how this would make a difference.

So, though they are independent critters – it is important, and we do have a responsibility as their owners to help keep our cats at a healthy weight.

This management starts from an early age. Just like us each cat is an individual and they will vary greatly in -their natural activity levels, their playfulness, their appetite and their metabolism.

Plus, any other confounding factors may mean we adjust our management : environment (flat living vs large outdoor access), other cats to play with (and feed!), and injuries or disease states which mean this management is more challenging.

My best advice is to first try and gain an understanding of a healthy body weight for your adult (1yr+) cat, either by monitoring weight in KG, or by getting an understanding of their body condition score.

You can ask your vet or vet nurse to help you with this when you are next in, just ask for a routine weight check and try and gain an understanding of the ‘ideal’ weight for your pet.

I would then be using this to estimate the amount of food he/she needs through the day (feed for ideal weight of your pet).

The feeding guide should tell you about this quantity on the back of the bag. Or, if not found here, can sometimes be found online. It can also provide the amount of wet / dry food to feed if you prefer to feed with a combination of both.

If your cat begs/asks for more – there are creative ways to satisfy this.

We can use automatic feeders to feed early in the morning, or – very small amounts regularly, to prevent having ad lib food out through the day. We can also use ‘interactive feeding’, which works well for cats as it involves some cognitive stimulation for them to get their food.

E.g. of interactive feeding could be feeding using a feeding ball (within a large cardboard box so you don’t have kibble all over the floor!), or using something like an empty egg carton, for them to use their paws to fish the food out. I find that this slower, puzzle-based way of feeding helps the food last for longer and is very good for weight loss/ avoiding begging behaviour. Say the recommended amount of food / day is 60g – this could be divided into several parts to feed in different ways.

I always would recommend a good quality complete adult diet, dry foods are a little easier to measure, so can be easier for weight loss management.

Hills and Royal Canin also make effective prescription weight loss diets (Hills ‘Metabolic Diet’, or ‘Satiety’ Royal Canin), which may be useful, particularly if your feline is BCS 7 or over.

In terms of activity, it is also really good to find ways to get your cat moving! Especially if they are a little more sedentary.

The games and puzzles above can be a good way to do this, and there’s many more which don’t involve food! I also really like feather toys and anything dangly to get your cat moving and playing! (but, be careful they don’t eat anything that they are left alone with– string can be a risk for this!). Try and spend a short amount of time doing this with your cat each day – about 10-20 minutes depending on their age and ability. This is a great quality of life and bonding tool, whether your cat is trying to loose weight or not!

Cat Toys

It’s worth checking your cats’ weight regularly (every 2 weeks is ideal, unless your vet has suggested otherwise), and to get used to feeling for their body condition score. This means in time you will be more tuned into their ideal weight.

And of course if there’s anything you’re worried or you have any niggling questions, you can always reach out to one of our vets here at The Net Vet. Our UK-registered vets can help formulate a weight management plan designed specifically for your cat and have them feeling purrr-fect in no time!