Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weight Loss For Kitty

Last week, we talked about Maude, our slightly plump older cat.  While Maude knows she’s perfect just the way she is, we as owners know our overweight cats would lead longer, healthier lives if they could take off a few pounds.  As with any creature (dog, cat, human J), the best way to take off pounds is to reduce calories and increase exercise.  Now that the weather is finally improving, we have the desire to be outside and move around a little.  Maude can see the outside just fine from her comfortable window seat, thank you very much.  She thinks watching you weed your garden is as close as she needs to get to exercise. 

How do we encourage Maude to take off a few pounds?  First of all, take it slow.  Don’t deprive a cat of food or try to reduce intake too quickly.  Starting a diet program should always be discussed with your veterinarian.  It’s not healthy for a cat to lose too much weight too quickly.  If you’re switching to a lower calorie food (or any new diet), gradually wean your cat(s) onto it over a 5 to 7 day period.  “He’ll eat when he’s hungry” does not work in cats.  If your cat turns his nose up at food for more than a day or two, he can develop serious health problems.  If your cat doesn't want to eat the mix with the new food, back off to a mix with more of the old food.  If the new diet is absolutely unacceptable, see if another diet might work better.

There are a few tricks of the diet trade to help manage kitty's food intake.  First, feed kitty for the weight you want her to be, not the weight she is now.  Second, make sure you have a measuring cup to accurately measure food.  When you actually measure the makeshift serving cup you use, you may find that it holds a lot more food than you thought.  You can also use a kitchen scale for even more accurate measurements.   Also, consider feeding your cat a few times a day rather than letting her forage all day.  This way, you can keep track of what she's eating.  This may also help you notice more quickly if she ever starts to lose her appetite-one of the few signs cats give us when they're ill or injured.

Now for the fun bits:  If you want get a little creative, you can kill two birds with one stone.  Consider fashioning 'foraging toys' for your plump cat (and maybe a few for your overactive kitty).  Foraging toys are simply toys that help our cats work a little more for their dinner.  This provides mental stimulation, excitement, and that much-needed exercise.  A foraging toy can be made out of something as simple as an old egg carton.  Sprinkle some dry food inside the container and then poke a few paw-sized holes in the top.  Your cat will do the rest.  For more ideas, read this article on feline foraging. 

Finally, here’s a simple answer for a frustrating challenge.  What if I have more than one cat?  How can I let my thin cat(s) have food without my overweight cat acting as a self-appointed cleanup crew?  First, you can have several different feeding stations (which will also cut down on intimidation around the food bowls for cats like Violet).  You may also consider feeding your thinner cats on a counter the overweight cat can't reach.  What about the motivated fat cat who can spring amazingly well?  Try a box with a hole cut in the side through which only your thinner cat can fit!

Kelley Wagner, C.V.T.

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