According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), as of 2018, 60% of pet cats in the US are considered overweight or obese. While obesity can occur at any life stage, the condition is especially prevalent in middle-aged cats.
Excess weight is linked to several health conditions, some of which are serious and can shorten your cat’s lifespan.
If your cat is overweight and you want to put your kitty on a diet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as the first step.
Weight loss for cats is different than it is for humans, so you’ll need to follow your vet’s instructions on helping your cat lose weight safely with the right diet and exercise.
Your veterinarian will determine a target weight for your cat and recommend a daily calorie intake to make sure your cat doesn’t lose weight too quickly.
Does Your Cat Need a Maintenance Diet or Weight Loss Food?
As the first step, your veterinarian will help choose an appropriate diet to support your cat’s weight loss.
The first thing a veterinarian looks for is a diet that meets American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrition standards. This step ensures that the diet meets the required nutritional needs of your cat.
If your cat is mildly overweight or is simply eating too much of her regular food, then the solution may be as simple as offering smaller meals.
In some cases, however, it’s preferable to switch from a maintenance diet to one that is formulated specifically for feline weight loss.
These specialized diets provide fewer calories while still including all necessary nutrients, to ensure that your kitty receives a balanced diet with appropriate amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Best Types of Cat Foods for Weight Loss
Here are some of the qualities veterinarians look for in reputable cat weight loss or weight management diets.
High in Protein
Cats are carnivores that need high amounts of dietary protein. Compared to carbohydrates and fat, protein converts to energy more efficiently.
Since weight management diets tend to be less calorie-dense than maintenance diets, it’s important to make sure the diet still provides adequate protein in order to prevent loss of muscle mass as your pet loses body fat.
Studies have also shown that protein helps cats feel satiated long after a meal, which is a plus during calorie restriction.
For these reasons, a weight management diet should have at least 35-45% protein content.
High Fiber and Moisture Content
Weight management diets also tend to be higher in fiber and water content.
Both of these ingredients help prevent a cat from becoming hungry after a meal.
Therefore, your veterinarian may recommend wet food for weight management, rather than dry food.
Several studies have examined the role of the amino acid carnitine in feline weight loss. This amino acid is naturally present in muscle, and is believed to turn fat into energy that can be metabolized by the body efficiently.
Therefore, supplementing a cat’s diet with L-Carnitine can have beneficial effects for a cat’s metabolism.
Low in Carbohydrates and Fats
While having a certain amount of carbohydrates and fats is important in feline diets, the demand for these two ingredients is relatively low for overweight cats.
So you’ll often see that, compared to maintenance diets, weight loss diets are lower in fat and/or carbohydrates.
Can Cats Have Treats If They’re on a Diet?
Most veterinary nutritionists recommend that treats make up 10% or less of daily calories. If you need to reach for a treat, choose natural, high-protein options like bits of plain, cooked chicken or fish.
Keep in mind that if your cat appears to be begging for food, she actually just may want attention from you. Treats can easily be replaced with other rewards that your cat will enjoy just as much, such as catnip, a toy or a rub under the chin.
By: Dr. Natalie Stilwell, DVM
Featured Image: iStock.com/Velmahr