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Is Your Cat Overweight? Here’s How to Tell (Plus: Tips to Get Her Moving)


Like humans, cats can be couch potatoes. And even though they have a high metabolism, they can still pack on the pounds. According to Banfield’s Hospital’s 2017 State of Pet Health, half a million cats who visited their centers across the U.S. were overweight or obese, which means that a pet is 20 percent heavier than their ideal body weight. While a 2017 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) survey established that an immense 60 percent of cats are clinically overweight or obese. Felines gain weight for the same reasons we do: by eating too much and exercising too little.

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Health Risks for Overweight Felines

Excess weight can be dangerous, putting cats at risk for type 2 diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart problems, kidney disease, skin issues, respiratory problems and different types of cancer. Extra weight also complicates pre-existing conditions. For example, overweight cats who are suffering from arthritis can have problems with pain management unless they also lose weight to relieve pressure on the joints.

Part of the problem is that pet parents don’t realize that their cats are overweight or even, obese until they get on the scale at the veterinarian’s office. A 2016 APOP study found a significant “fat pet gap,” in which a whopping 90 percent of owners of overweight pets incorrectly identified them as at a normal weight. Since we see our pets every day, we may not notice changes in weight (especially if the cat is long-haired).

What Your Cat Should Look Like

As a general rule, when looking at your pet from above, you should see a distinct tuck at your cat’s waist. And from the side, you should be able to easily feel — but not see — its ribs. For a quick guide to see what your cat should look like, click here.

First Thing’s First: Visit Your Veterinarian

Exercise will help your cat lose weight, improve overall health, banish boredom, improve your bond and best of all, it’s super fun! Daily activity will also help keep your cat’s muscles flexible and strong, and keep the mind engaged.

But before you get started, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian first. If your cat is overweight, it can cause more harm than good, especially if she has arthritis or is recovering from surgery. Your veterinarian can do a wellness check, address any underlying conditions that may cause your cat to gain weight (like hypothyroidism), and work with you to set up a personalized, or “cat-alized,” exercise and diet plan.

Activities That’ll Get Your Cat Off the Couch 

Cats can be quite self-sufficient and independent, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to play with you. They just need the tools and motivation to make it a daily habit. Hiding kitty’s food, creating climbing and scratching surfaces and high perches along with interactive toys, outside enclosures and even training your cat to take a walk on a leash will help your cat get moving.

Aim for two to three five-minute intense play periods each day. Kittens and younger cats will readily engage in play or find their own, while older and more overweight felines may need a bit more encouragement and shorter play times, so start slow. Here are some fun activities to try with your feline:

Make Them “Hunt” Food: Cats are domesticated but they still are natural predators. To tap into this drive, and get your feline moving separate her daily portion of food into three to five meals and hide the bowls around the house or in food puzzle toys like these.

Go High: Cats not only love to climb, they enjoy the view. Indoor cat trees placed near a window are ideal for this purpose. Look for one that goes from the floor to the ceiling, is stable and has places for your cat to perch, stretch, jump and scratch different types of surfaces. Click here for a fun option. Another idea? Set up shelves on the wall as “steps” so your cat can jump from the floor to the ceiling. Go a step further and attach shelves around the room up high so your cat can jump and perch. Multi-level cat towers like this one can also be a good option. Place small treats in different parts of your tree or tower to encourage your pet to explore. Encouraging these natural behaviors helps to condition the body and stimulates the mind, making for a happier feline.

Provide Scratching Stations: Whether it’s on a tree, a tower or on the ground, cats need a place to scratch each day to exercise their muscles and naturally trim their nails.

Exercise your Cat Outdoors: Enclosures in all shapes and sizes allow your cat to explore nature without the danger of encountering predators, traffic or other hazards. “Catios,” or cat patios like these, allow cats to roam in a safe space while enjoying fresh air and sunshine but don’t place in direct sun. Some pet parents even take their cat for a walk. Younger cats are easier to train but older cats may take to it too, you’ll just need to be patient and consistent. Click here for tips on how to do it.

Give Cats a Choice of Toys for Independent Play: Cats are pretty darn self-sufficient so if you provide a variety of things to play with, they’re happy to amuse themselves. You don’t have to break the bank to provide them either. Everyday objects like ping pong balls can be fun for cats and you can also find inexpensive toys online like fake furry mice (click here) that they’ll have a blast batting around.

Add Catnip: This herb contains nepetalactone which affects the pleasure centers in the brain resulting in feline bliss. Although not all cats like it, and some may become aggressive, rubbing catnip on your kitty’s favorite toy can make play even more enjoyable. And no, your cat isn’t high, catnip is harmless and non-addictive. Click here to purchase some.

Give your Cat a Hideaway Box: In the wild, cats head for elevated places like trees or hide in dens or caves. In the modern world, studies show that cats who have a box to hide in, feel less stressed. Add crumpled up tissue paper to bat around, and even a toy or two to make the space a playhouse.

Create an Agility Course: If you have high energy cat you can set up your own course with obstacles like bars to jump over or tunnels to run through to exercise your cat’s body and mind. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Play Together: Laser pointers (like this one) are a great way to get your cat moving for a few minutes (just make sure you never shine the beam in your cat’s eyes). Follow up with an actual toy so your cat won’t get frustrated, like a flexible wand-style toy with a feather — Da Bird is a popular choice, but use it only with your supervision. Click here to check it out. Interactive play like this is terrific exercise because it taps into your cat’s natural hunting instincts, encouraging running, leaping and jumping and engaging in the prey sequence, staring, stalking, chasing, pouncing and grabbing, and performing a kill bite.

Adopt a Feline Friend: Taking care of two cats, is just about as easy of caring for one, so consider adopting two so your felines will always have a playmate. Cats who get along well will create their own play with wrestling and chasing games. You can introduce a second cat if you already have one, but first talk to your veterinarian about how to do it the right way.


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