Preventing Obesity in Cats: A Feeding Strategy

Most veterinarians report that a higher percentage of their cat patients are overweight or obese than their dog patients. Studies tend to confirm this observation. Successful weight loss programs in cats are typically more difficult than for dogs, especially in multiple cat households.

Inter-cat dynamics and differences in eating and meal preferences complicate a one-size-fits-all weight loss solution. Prevention of obesity is important for both cats and dogs, but is paramount with cats. Following is a feeding strategy to maintain optimum weight in our feline friends.

Feed the TOTAL household calorie count. This strategy requires that the daily calorie requirement of each cat is calculated and a total for the entire household is determined. For the average 9-10 pound (ideal weight) cat, that is about 250-300 calories per day. For larger framed cats the requirements are different. Your vet can help. For those with science calculators the formula is:

[100 x (Ideal body weight in lbs./2.2)0.67] = Daily Calorie Requirement

Once the total household calorie requirement is determined, the calorie density of the food is the next math step. Cat food makers are not required to disclose the calorie content of their food on the label. If it is not available, you may have to consult the company website. Once that information is found the total amount of food is calculated to meet the calorie needs of the total household. Are you frustrated yet?

Example: All dry, kibble, free feeding a 3 average-cat household. The food contains 375 calories per cup. The household needs 750-900 calories per day. Let’s split the difference and assume 825 calories per day. The total amount of food for the household is:

825 calories divided by 375 calories per cup = 2.2 or about 2 and 1/3 cups of food per day

The rule of thumb is to have 1-2 more feeding stations than the number of cats, widely separated throughout the house or apartment. Ideally the stations should be placed in out of the way areas that require effort to access. By dividing our 2.33 cups of food we need five feeding stations with just under ½ cup of food. No other food is offered and the body condition score of each cat is monitored to ensure that all cats are competing successfully for adequate calories.

If a combination of canned and dry food is preferred, the wet calories are subtracted from the household total and the amount of dry food is re-calculated for the feeding stations. Those preferring scheduled feeding of canned only, or canned plus dry, need to calculate the needs of each cat per meal. Recent research suggests that multiple scheduled or random multiple meals increase a cat's activity level and leads to more calorie expenditure and overweight prevention.

The same researchers also documented higher activity levels when cats were offered dry kibble with the addition of water. However, the longer moistened food is left available for free feeding, the less likely it is to be consumed. Damn finicky cats.  

Some cat owners will also find that extremely dominant or submissive cats make this strategy very difficult to ensure all cats are getting their nutritional needs. Separate, isolated feeding alternatives for the dominant or submissive eater are necessary in these types of environments.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Tom Thai / Flickr

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