Did you know that up to 60% of American cats are overweight? This is amazing because many cats only get the food and exercise their owner’s provide. How can 60% of pet owners get feeding cats wrong?
Many of us really overestimate how much a cat needs to eat in a day. The average adult cat only needs between 230 and 250 calories. This is a small can of Fancy Feast plus ¼ cup of some grain-free dry cat foods fed in multiple small meals a day. Compare this to filling a bowl with an unlimited supply of dry cat food and letting your cat eat as much as he wants. If he eats a cup of high-calorie dry cat food per day, that alone can be 600 calories - over twice what he should eat!
Calorie content varies widely from one food to another. Your Earlysville Animal Hospital veterinarian can help you figure out how much your cat needs to eat per day.
Cat lovers don’t always understand normal feline feeding behavior. We are social eaters and love meeting friends for coffee and dinner. Family dinners are great. The more the merrier.
Our pet cats, on the other hand, are solitary hunters. They want to eat privately in a quiet spot. We often feed them in a busy part of the house like the kitchen. We also feed multiple cats from one bowl or line up many bowls for many cats. Cats find this highly stressful and may overeat or not eat at all. Stress also leads to disease in cats, so we can be making our cats sick.
Cats are hunting machines. They don’t hunt because they are hungry, but because hunting is such a normal and necessary part of life. They spend a lot of time and energy hunting and are only successful one in 15 attempts. Compare that to a cat that has no opportunity to hunt and has an endless supply of food always available. Less exercise and more calories leads to a fat feline.
On top of that, when we put out food for our cat and he comes and nibbles then walks away, many of us think, “poor kitty, doesn’t like what I fixed for him” when he is exhibiting normal cat behavior. Cats want to eat tiny bits multiple times a day. Eating large meals twice daily can be stressful for them and lead to disease.
What can we do to help our fat felines lose weight, and keep our average-sized cats at a healthy size?
- Have appropriate amounts of food available all the time. Our veterinarians can help you figure out how much food your cat should eat in a day.
- Let cats hunt. If they can’t hunt, simulate hunting behavior with rigorous play with toys prior to eating.
- There are some strategies to help simulate hunting for food that also make your cat eat slower.
- Feed dry cat food in a food toy, like the Eggersizer®. Fill with the appropriate amount of food and your cat can bat it around to let pieces fall out.
- Feed tiny bits of canned food in multiple small cups lined up in a box so your cat needs to reach in with his paw to pull out a little at a time.
If we feed cats appropriately and provide them with opportunities to exercise, most overweight cats will lose weight and most normal cats will stay trim.
Bring your tubby cat in for a monthly weigh-in to make sure the diet and exercise plan are working well.