Top tips for weight management in cats - Veterinary Practice
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Top tips for weight management in cats

Jayne Laycock reports on her ‘pick of the month’ CPD webinar presented by Dr Alex German, Royal Canin senior lecturer in small animal medicine at the Small Animal Teaching Hospital in Liverpool

MANAGING weight in any species
can be difficult especially following
the indulgent festive period.
However, the independent spirit of
our feline friends and their ability to
catch their own food makes this
species particularly challenging
when it comes to implementing a
successful weight loss programme.

The Webinar Vet organised for Dr
Alex German from Liverpool
University to
lead a webinar covering the
topic of
in cats which
took place in
the dieting
month of the year, January.

Alex explained that one of the
most important factors in getting a cat
to lose weight successfully is ensuring
the owners are fully committed to
implementing a weight loss

Firstly, owners have to be
convinced there is a problem and he
stated that many vets can feel awkward
about discussing a cat’s weight issue if
the owner is clearly obese. Many vets
are concerned that they will offend the
owner by discussing the subject.

Alex reassured the audience that in
his experience, he has yet to offend an
overweight or obese owner by
discussing their cat’s weight. It appears
that most owners see their cat’s health
as very separate from their own and
will not link the two together. His
advice is to be bold and discuss the
problem. After all, most of us wouldn’t
think twice about discussing alopecia in
a pet if the owner was bald.

Alex also advises that worrying
owners by telling them how sick their
pet will get if they remain overweight is
unlikely to be successful. This has been
shown in smokers who are fully aware
of the health risks but as they are not
immediately sick, tend to go into denial
and continue to smoke.

A more effective approach would
be to focus on the positive and discuss
how much more active and how much
happier their cat would be if it lost
weight. It may also be really useful to
use other owners who have managed to
successfully reduce their cat’s weight to
act as advocates.

Ideal v. target weight

When deciding on an end weight for a
cat, some may aim for an ideal weight
whereas others may aim for a target
weight. Alex said these two end points
were very different and had to be explained.

An ideal weight is the weight a cat should be when carrying its optimum
fat mass, and can be calculated by using
the cat’s current weight and its
condition score according to the 9
point system. Each point over and
above condition score 5 correlates to
being 10% overweight.

For example, if a 5kg cat has a
condition score of 9, this cat will be 40% overweight, and its ideal weight
should be 3kg.

Another more accurate way of
ascertaining a cat’s ideal weight is
basing it on an ideal historical weight
for that individual animal. For example,
the weight of the cat at 12-18 months
old with a good condition score (of
around 4-5) will be that individual cat’s
ideal weight.

In most cases Alex advises aiming
for an ideal weight when an overweight
cat is still young and has many more
years to live.

The target weight in a cat is not
necessarily its ideal weight but is usually
a weight which would be considered
appropriate to improve that cat’s
quality of life; e.g. a target weight could
be used in older cats where weight loss
to a certain level could help to manage
a condition such as osteoarthritis or
type 2 diabetes.

Getting cats to lose weight

Humans and cats have some
similarities when it comes to losing
weight. Alex explained that in both cats
and humans, although exercise can
significantly contribute to weight loss,
it is far more efficient to reduce
calorific intake.

It would take an hour’s worth of
walking to burn the 260 calories
consumed after ingesting a Mars bar.
This seems a considerable amount of
effort for just a moment of
satisfaction. This is also the case for
cats: if an owner decides to give a cat a
“little treat” such as a tin of tuna, this
would be the equivalent of us eating
seven tins of tuna. Ultimately, the best
way of getting a cat to lose weight is by
calorie restriction.

Alex also stated that weight loss
and weight gain is purely down to the
calories consumed and nothing to do
with the type of food eaten. This was demonstrated by an
overweight professor
who decided to put
himself on a
confectionary only diet
but restricted the
calories to a level that
would cause weight loss.

The professor lost
weight in exactly the
same way as someone
going on a “healthier”
diet. Despite this, Alex
strongly recommends
putting cats on specific
weight-loss diets as
consuming the right
types of food can
reduce appetite and increase the
likelihood of successful weight loss.

Once the target or ideal weight has
been calculated for that individual cat,
Alex explained that these diets have to
be weighed accurately. He recommends
always weighing specific amounts of
food for an individual cat on the
practice scales and then getting the
owner to re-weigh the food at home on
his or her own scales so a consistent
and appropriate amount is always fed.

He stressed that we should never
rely on measuring cups as they are
often inaccurate, having a variability of
up to 20% between the size of

Another hurdle often faced by
owners when trying to implement a
weight loss diet in cats is the presence
of a slim cat and an overweight cat in
the same household. Alex advised that
a simple cardboard box could help to
solve this problem.

The slim cat’s food can be placed in
the box with a hole cut into it which is
only big enough for the slim cat to get
through. The overweight cat has no
access to the slim cat’s food and can
only access its food outside of the box,
allowing the slim cat to feed ad lib. A
more extreme version of this would be
to use microchip cat flaps in each cat’s
individual room, allowing access only
to its own food.

There are two “types” of feeders in
the cat world, which is remarkably
similar to humans, he said. There are
the ad-libers who tend to over eat, and the
regulators who self-
regulate and manage
their food intake at
appropriate levels.

The type of feeder
an individual cat is can
sometimes be predicted
as the ad-libers tend to
gain weight rapidly in
their youth making
them much more likely to be obese as adults. It
is important to try and
recognise these
susceptible cats when
they are in for their
health checks so their
weight can be managed


Calorie restriction is the
most efficient way of
causing weight loss in
cats but Alex was keen
to stress that exercise
can also be useful as it
encourages owner
involvement. The more
the owners are involved, the more likely they will be
on-board with implementing a
successful weight loss programme.

Alex said that cats can be
encouraged to exercise by providing
them with a three-dimensional activity
centre, but better still to get owners to
play with their cats by exploiting their
natural behaviour. He advised making
short unpredictable movements with a
small toy which imitates prey when
being hunted.

It is also important to allow a cat to
catch this toy intermittently, preventing
frustration. Laser pens can also be
useful in encouraging play in cats but
as there is never an opportunity to
catch a laser, they are not ideal.

Making cats work for their food
can also be helpful and Alex advised
putting kibbles in empty plastic drink
cups or toilet rolls which are stuck
together, helping to slow food intake
whilst offering exercise.


We all know that successfully
implementing a weight loss programme
in cats can be difficult and this webinar
provided practical and realistic advice.

Dr German has also provided
further webinars discussing the broader
issues surrounding obesity, including its
causes and consequences, with current
thinking centring around fat acting as a
single inflammatory organ.

This is fascinating stuff, if not a little scary, and it really is well worth
taking the time to listen
and learn more about
the subject.

Listening to these
webinars will not only
help you manage weight
loss in cats, but will also
help to boost all of
those (including myself)
whose new year’s
resolution was to eat
healthily and exercise

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