How to Help a Cat Lose Weight | Effective Weight Loss Plan
The following weight loss plan was created to help any cat effectively and safely lose weight, whether they are indoor-only, young, older, male, female, neutered, or there are multiple cats in your household.
In this article, you will discover:
- The 5-step plan on how to help a cat lose weight
- Inspirational pictures of cats before and after weight loss
- A trouble-shooting guide (because weight loss can be challenging)
- How to prevent gaining weight back after effective weight loss
5-Step Weight Loss Plan for Cats
The weight loss plan can be highly effective in helping your cat achieve weight loss when the following five essential steps are followed:
- Commitment and motivation
- Determining your cat's target weight
- Changing the diet, which involves deciding what to feed, how much to feed, and how to provide the food
- Increasing activity and exercise
- Monitoring their progress and making adjustments to the plan as necessary
Step 1. Commitment and Motivation
Before embarking on this rewarding weight loss journey with your cat, you must have the time and motivation to be 100% committed. Not only will you be the one doing most of the work but, similar to humans, if your cat loses some weight and then puts it back on again, it will be harder to lose it the second time. This doesn't mean it's not possible, and relapses are an inevitable part of everyone's weight loss journey, but it's important to try to get it right the first time and be willing to continue if there are any setbacks.
To help you stay motivated, remember why you are doing this: to create a positive change in your cat's life. You want to help them feel better and improve their health. Weight loss journeys take, on average, 9-12 months to complete, even up to 2 years in severely overweight cats. However, even small amounts of weight loss will help your cat feel dramatically better, even if they don't reach their ideal weight.
To maintain your motivation in the coming months, focus on the little wins, make sure the whole household is involved, and work closely with your veterinary team.
Step 2. Determining Your Cat's Ideal Weight
If your cat is overweight or obese, knowing their ideal weight is helpful as it provides a goal for weight loss and helps determine how much food to feed. It can be challenging to know how much an overweight cat should weigh based on their current weight and guessing how much of that extra weight is due to fat. The average domestic cat weighs around 4.5 kg, but an ideal body weight can vary from 2.5-7 kg depending on the breed and individual.
Therefore, there are two techniques to help determine how much your cat should weigh; either check their medical records or use their body condition score to determine what percentage they are above their ideal weight. Always check with your veterinarian what they think their ideal weight should be.
1. Check Your Cat's Medical Records
Most cats will reach their adult weight at around 12 months of age. As long as they weren't already overweight, ask your veterinarian how much they weighed when they were one year old. If there is no record of their weight at that age, find out how much they weighed the last time it was noted on a physical exam in their history that their weight was ideal.
2. Use Your Cat's Body Condition Score
A visual and hands-on assessment can be performed to assign a cat a body condition score out of 9, with 5/9 being an ideal weight, 6/9 and 7/9 being overweight, and 8/9 and 9/9 being obese. A cat's ideal weight can then be calculated as each increment above 5/9 is an additional 10% of body weight.
- A cat with a BCS of 6/9 is approximately 10% overweight (slightly overweight)
- A cat with a BCS of 7/9 is approximately 20% overweight (moderately overweight)
- A cat with a BCS of 8/9 is approximately 30% overweight (obese)
- A cat with a BCS of 9/9 is approximately 40% overweight (morbidly obese)
Check your cat's body condition score with your vet, or read How to Body Condition Score Your Cat for a step-by-step guide.
Use the calculator below to estimate your cat's ideal weight based on their body condition score and current weight.
Step 3. Reducing Caloric Intake
What's the Best Diet to Feed?
Slightly overweight cats: If your cat is slightly overweight (has a body condition score of 6/9), continue feeding them their regular food but reduce the amount by 10% and cut out treats and extra foods. If you don't already measure their food, keep a food diary for 1-2 weeks to establish precisely how much you feed them, then reduce the calories by 10%. Remember also to consider potentially hidden sources of calories, such as fish oil, supplements, dental treats, and foods used to administer medications.
To make weight loss easier, you can also transition them to a diet formulated for slightly overweight cats, such as Royal Canin (Light) Weight Care.
Significantly overweight cats. If your cat has a body condition score of 7/9 or above, they will likely need a prescription diet specifically formulated for safe and effective weight loss. Simply cutting back on their regular food will reduce the calories but can result in nutritional deficiencies. The best veterinary prescription weight loss diets are Royal Canin Satiety, Hill's Metabolic, Hill's r/d Weight Reduction, and Purina Overweight Management, and the benefits include:
- Low calories but nutrient-dense (minerals and vitamins) to achieve weight loss without causing nutrient deficiencies
- Contain adequate amounts of protein to protect against muscle loss
- Contain sufficient fiber to promote a feeling of fullness
- Support a healthy metabolism and a cat's natural ability to burn fat
Your veterinarian will help recommend appropriate therapeutic diets. Whichever one you choose, it's important your cat likes it because if an overweight cat suddenly stops eating, they are at risk of fatty liver syndrome (hepatic lipidosis).
Owners often ask whether feeding wet or dry cat food is better, but successful weight loss can be achieved with either. However, some owners prefer wet food since the calories are diluted with water, so they feel like they are feeding more, and their cats feel fuller, although it is just extra water they are getting.
How Much Food Should I Feed?
If your cat has a body condition score of 6/9, as discussed above, you can reduce their regular food by 10% and cut out treats and extras. Alternatively, you can transition them to a diet for slightly overweight cats, such as Royal Canin (Light) Weight Care, and follow the feeding guidelines as a starting point.
If your cat has a body condition score of 7/9 or above, they should be fed a veterinary prescription weight loss diet. Royal Canin Satiety, Hill's Metabolic, and Hill's r/d Weight Loss have feeding guidelines that advise the amount to feed based on their ideal weight, which you estimated under Step 2. Unlike the other prescription weight loss diets, the feeding guidelines for Purina Overweight Management are based on current weight.
If you want to calculate the amount of calories to feed yourself, including the different methods used, see Bella's Case Study.
It's important to remember guidelines and calculations only estimate the amount to feed and should be used as a starting point. Your cat's weight must be closely monitored and the amount of food they receive adjusted as necessary. Always check with your veterinarian how much food you should be feeding. Restricting their intake too severely can result in health problems or unwanted behaviors, and not restricting it enough can be disheartening if you don't see results.
Can I Feed Treats?
It's possible to give treats during a weight loss plan, but consider the following:
- Give low-calorie treats, such as Hill's Metabolic Treats
- Use vegetables as treats, such as carrots and courgettes
- Save 5g of their daily food allowance to use as treats between meals
- Instead of treats, reward your cat with playtime, cuddles, catnip, taking them on a walk, or grooming them if they enjoy these activities
Calories from treats must be taken into consideration and you will have to feed less of their main diet. Additionally, the calories from treats should not comprise more than 10% of the daily recommended caloric intake to avoid an unbalanced diet and nutritional deficiencies.
Use the calculator below to estimate the number of treats you can give your cat each day and the reduced amount of their main diet to feed once the calories from the treats have been taken into consideration.
How to Provide the New Diet
Reduce the amount of food and transition to the new diet slowly. If the amount of food your cat is now getting has dropped substantially, you may prefer a gradual reduction over two weeks, so your cat is less likely to notice. It's also important to transition to the new diet over 7 days to not upset their tummy and cause vomiting or diarrhea. If it's stressful to simultaneously change the diet and reduce the amount, first focus on transitioning to the new diet over a week, then reduce the amount over the next two weeks.
Use precise digital food scales. Measuring cups are inaccurate and can lead to accidentally overfeeding your cat, resulting in weight loss failure and frustration. One study found owners might accidentally feed up to 80% extra food when using a cup. Therefore, it's vital to weigh your cat's food using accurate scales, such as the Amazon Basics Kitchen Digital Scales.
Weigh their total food allowance for the day and set it aside in a container, with everyone in the household knowing that is their total amount of food for the day. If multiple people normally feed your cat, assign one person to do all the feeding, so they are not accidentally fed twice.
Feed small, frequent meals. Owners often ask how many times a day they should feed their cats. It's recommended to split their allocation into at least two meals. If you only provide them with one meal, they may be hungry for a large portion of the day, which can increase begging and food-seeking behaviors.
Some cats prefer to eat multiple times throughout the day, and if you are at work, you can use an automatic feeder, such as the Cat Mate Automatic Pet Feeder, to provide small, frequent meals.
Make feeding time more challenging. Puzzle feeders can be used to provide their food, which helps slow down their eating and increases their feeling of fullness. Alternatively, you can split their food between several small bowls and place them in different areas of the house, changing their locations daily. Making your cat work for their food will increase their activity levels and provide mental stimulation.
Step 4. Increasing Activity and Exercise
An effective way to help your cat lose weight is to increase their activity. Motivating an overweight cat to exercise might seem daunting at first. Therefore, to begin with, aim for 2-minute play sessions twice a day, even if your cat just lays on their side while batting a toy. Over time, gradually build up to 5-minute sessions three times a day.
Play sessions don't have to be long, as cats naturally have short bursts of energy. Since cats tend to be more active at dawn or dusk, these may be good times to instigate play. Fishing-rod type toys, such as Da Bird or Purrsuit (UK), are often the best for stimulating hunting excitement and encouraging cats to jump, pounce, and chase. Still, it's good to have a selection of toys to rotate during playtime to prevent boredom.
Other ways to increase movement include:
- Tying a shoelace around your ankle or belt and having them follow you around the house while you do chores (never leave them alone with a shoelace unsupervised in case they swallow it).
- If your cat is very food motivated, throw their dry food, one kibble at a time, down the hallway or up the stairs.
- Provide your cat with outdoor access, whether you teach them to walk on a leash and harness or provide an outdoor enclosure.
- Ensure they have plenty of indoor environmental enrichment, such as cat shelves and trees to climb.
- Teach them tricks using clicker training, but use low-calorie treats (reduce the amount of their main food accordingly) or some of their daily dry food allowance.
Step 5. Monitoring Body Weight and Adjusting the Plan
Once your cat has started their new diet, it's essential to check their weight every two weeks. It's a good idea to get some digital scales to use at home, such as the Beurer Digital Pet Scales, which are accurate, comfortable, and affordable. Record your cat's weight fortnightly and body condition score monthly on an Excel spreadsheet to monitor their progress. You can create a graph to visualize if their weight is trending upwards, downwards, or staying the same.
The target for safe and realistic weight loss is 0.5-2% of body weight per week, with the typical amount being 0.8% per week. Use the calculator below to determine your cat's percentage of weight loss per week.
- Enter your cat's weight (kg) at the start of the period for which you want to calculate
- Enter how much weight they lost during that period (g)
- Enter how long that period of time was (weeks)
Since the amount of food to feed was only estimated, adjustments every 2-4 weeks will likely need to be made based on the rate of weight loss. Each individual cat will vary in activity levels, energy use, and metabolism, so it's almost impossible to determine the right amount of food to start feeding correctly the first time.
- If your cat lost less than 0.5% of their body weight per week, decrease the amount of food by 10%
- If your cat lost more than 2% of their weight per week, increase the amount of food by 5%
- If your cat lost between 0.5-2% of their body weight per week, continue feeding the same amount
It is normal if the rate of weight loss gradually slows down over time, so persevere and you will eventually reach your goal. The usual amount of time to reach an ideal weight is 9-12 months, although it can take up to two years. It is fine if your cat is losing weight slowly as long as it steadily reduces. If there is sudden or unexpected weight loss, always consult your veterinarian.
Take pride and celebrate any amount of loss achieved during your weight checks. Even small amounts of weight loss will help your cat feel better and improve their quality of life.
Weight Loss Journeys of Cats - Inspiring Before and After Pictures
Consider taking pictures before, during, and after weight loss to remind yourself how far you have come. Since changes happen very gradually, you may not realize how different your cat looks. These pictures can also inspire other owners of overweight cats.
My cat won't eat the veterinary prescription weight loss diet.
Transition to the new diet very slowly, even if it's only a couple of extra kibbles each day and takes 1-2 months. Many cats don't like change, but having them on a veterinary prescription diet low in calories and dense in nutrients is vital to their success, so it's worth taking the time. There are also several weight loss diets available, so it is often possible to find one they like.
I can't stop giving treats since that's how I show my love.
If you must give treats, ensure they don't comprise more than 10% of the total daily caloric intake. It's best to provide low-calorie, healthy treats like carrots, courgettes, or Purina DentaLife Dental Treats. You can also save 5g of their weight loss diet to give as treats during the day.
My cat won't stop begging and food-seeking.
Feed the same amount of food but increase the meal frequency to 5x per day using an automatic feeder, such as the Cat Mate Automatic Pet Feeder. Alternatively, feed them when you wake up, before you go to work, when you arrive home, after dinner, and before bed. You can also feed your cat a smaller portion of the daily allowance in the morning and the bigger portion in the evening when you are home, since this is the time they will likely put pressure on you.
If they are begging, instead of rewarding them with food, have a play session, provide some catnip, groom them, spend time cuddling them, or take them on a walk. Make sure they have plenty of environmental enrichment to keep them occupied, such as cat trees, cat shelves, and an outdoor enclosure. Puzzle feeders can also slow down their eating and increase their feeling of fullness. If begging occurs while cooking, keep them out of the kitchen during these times to avoid the temptation to feed them.
It's also important to be aware that if a cat takes steroid medication, their appetite will likely increase. Hence, you need to be even more careful about controlling their calories and not giving in to begging.
I have multiple cats and I can't control what they eat.
If it's not possible to feed your cats in separate rooms and remove any food that has not been consumed, microchip-activated bowls, such as the SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder, provide the perfect solution. A lid over the bowl will only open for the cat registered with that bowl and closes again when they walk away. They ensure cats can't steal each other's food and that the right cat consumes the weight loss diet.
Another option is placing the food for the slimmer cat in a location the overweight cat can't reach, such as somewhere high-up or inside a large box with a hole that's too small for the large cat to fit through but wide enough for the slimmer cat. You can also place a latch or a microchip-activated cat flap, such as the SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap, on a cupboard or room door that only the slimmer cat can access and keep their food there.
The veterinary prescription weight loss diet doesn't help, so I'm switching to a commercial diet.
Keeping your cat on a veterinary prescription diet is important since they are low in calories to facilitate weight loss and nutrient-dense to avoid deficiencies. They also contain adequate amounts of protein to preserve muscle mass and fiber to keep them feeling full. Changing to their original diet or a 'light' diet from the pet store can sabotage the weight loss program. Diets for weight control help prevent weight gain but do not help with significant and safe weight loss.
Have you stopped weighing the food and started estimating the amount to give? Using digital kitchen scales to measure the exact amount of food is crucial, as estimating or using measuring cups can be highly inaccurate. Is the amount of food given reduced by 10% if weight loss isn't occurring? Are they only eating the calculated amount of weight loss diet, or are treats and additional foods being given?
We have cut back their calories but are not seeing weight loss.
- Could your cat be stealing the dog's or neighbor's cat's food?
- Do you have children in the home that drop food on the floor?
- Could they be raiding the bins, either inside or outside?
- Do they lick plates and saucepans in the kitchen?
- Has someone in the household started feeding them extra titbits, or does a visitor come around who feeds them?
- Do you use treats for training, give them supplements such as fish oil, hide medications in food, provide cat milk or soup, or give them dental chews you have not accounted for?
- If you frequently travel and a sitter or neighbor looks after your cat, are they overfeeding them? Did you measure out all their daily portions prior to going away?
- Perhaps someone else in the neighborhood is feeding them, and if you suspect this to be the case, attach a 'Do Not Feed Me' tag to their collar.
We saw weight loss but now it has stopped.
It's normal for the rate of weight loss to slow down throughout the weight loss program, so it's vital to keep persisting. Discuss with your vet if you need to reduce the number of daily calories again.
Also, consider if there have been any changes in their activity levels. For example, perhaps you have stopped your daily play sessions, or the climate is either too hot or too cold, and they are spending less time outdoors. Is it possible to encourage more playtime again?
If you are weighing your cat at home, you should also calibrate your digital pet scales to ensure they are accurate.
I don't have enough support.
Lack of support may be one of the biggest reasons for weight loss failure. It's helpful to regularly meet with your veterinary team, ideally with a cat-friendly practice passionate about obesity care. You can also join or create an online support group for other cat owners to share tips and tools for weight loss.
Post-Weight Loss Maintenance
Obesity is considered an incurable disease because after weight loss, a cat's energy requirements will be permanently decreased, and they are prone to regaining weight. For example, a cat that was once obese and now weighs 5kg will have a lower calorie requirement compared to a 5kg cat that was never overweight. Therefore, it's important to understand feeding and exercise habits must be permanently modified.
Once your cat reaches their ideal body weight and ideal body condition score, it is recommended to continue feeding the veterinary prescription weight loss diet but provide the amount for 'maintenance' found under the feeding guidelines to stop further weight loss. Please note, while Royal Canin Satiety, Hill's Metabolic, and Purina Overweight Management can be fed lifelong and have guidelines for how much to provide to maintain their weight, Hill's r/d Weight Reduction is intended for intermittent feeding (no more than six months).
It's important to continue to weigh your cat every two weeks to ensure their weight remains on track. If their weight continues to drop, increase the amount by 5%. If your cat starts gaining weight again, decrease their food by 5%. Monitoring their weight lifelong is essential to help you quickly detect and act upon weight changes.
Keeping your cat on the veterinary prescription weight loss diet is the best choice to keep them slim. However, if you don't want to continue with a prescription diet, another option is transitioning your cat to an over-the-counter low-calorie weight control diet, such as Royal Canin Weight Care. Whichever low-calorie diet you choose, it's essential to check the number of calories it contains, as this can vary widely between products. Always consult your veterinarian for advice on which diet and how much to feed to help maintain your cat's weight.