My cats have clashing eating disorders
December 8, 2010 11:03 AM   Subscribe

How do I help one cat lose weight while allowing the other cat to eat enough?

Ok, I know this has come up on Mefi before, and I've read various suggestions, but I'm still at a loss as to what to do.

I have two cats, one who is a healthy weight and who likes to eat very small amounts at a time, many times throughout the day. And I have a 1 year old cat who will eat anything and everything he can whenever it's available. Needless to say, he's now really overweight. He weighs almost 15 lbs! (He's a big cat, but still)

The way we've been feeding them is that they get wet food in the morning. The picky eater (Oliver) gets high-priced wet food because it's all he'll eat. He eats about half of it and then leaves it. The fat cat (Weasel) gets cheaper wet food, but I switched it about two months ago to something with higher protein and lower carbs.

Prior to a couple months ago, they had access to "indoor weight control" kibble throughout the day. I tried to adjust this so that they didn't get any kibble until evening. And I changed the brand of their food to a higher quality food with higher protein level and lower carbs.

So what happens now is that Weasel eats all of his wet food and then whatever Oliver left of his. Meanwhile Oliver gets hungry and starts begging me for food. When I give in, I try to give him just a little amount of dry food so that he'll eat that and not leave any for Weasel. But I know Weasel is still getting some. In the evenings I've been putting dry food in their communal bowl and it's gone by morning. And Weasel has gained another couple of pounds, even with all my efforts.

I've tried picking up Oliver's wet food after he's done with it and then giving it to him in the afternoon, but he won't eat it unless it's fresh from the can, the little spoiled brat.

Oliver won't eat "people food" and that includes plain chicken or fish. Weasel, naturally, will eat anything.

Ok, so I know I need to limit the amount of food Weasel has access to. But how do I do that and still make sure Oliver is getting enough food that he will actually eat? If he doesn't get the right kind of food, he will starve himself. When we were on vacation for two weeks, he wasn't happy with how he was fed and he had lost a lot of weight when we returned.

I've seen people who have built contraptions that only allow skinny cats to get at the food, but the problem with that is that Oliver is a very large cat, even though he's not fat, so I think any opening big enough for him to get into would also let the Weasel in.

As for food, we're on a budget due to my disability and can't afford to really pay more for cat food than we already are.

posted by threeturtles to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
We had a similar situation with our previous cats. Some advice:

- Keep Weasel away when you feed Oliver, in a separate room with a closed door.
- Don't leave dry food out for grazing.
- Give Oliver less food. If he finishes it, give him a little more right away. Don't feed him on demand.

It will be painful initially, but your cats will adjust. You and Oliver will quickly settle on a proper portion of food.
posted by mkultra at 11:16 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Put Oliver's food up on a shelf that Weasel can't jump to.
posted by LordSludge at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

We have a similar situation - Daksha is 11lbs, food anxious, and has a medical condition that means he can't eat just anything. Daeva is fat. Previously 17lbs fat. We tried something similar to what you are doing with the wet food. The only thing that worked was to sequester Daksha, who needed the wet food from Daeva.

All this did was make brats of them. Seriously.

We stopped feeding the wet food altogether (other than as a treat). We found a food that they liked (and that Daksha can eat) - Dick van Patten's Natural Balance Reduced Calorie Formula. We bought a feeder that dispenses food 3x/day. I give them an additional 1/2 cup of food a day (otherwise the feeder dispenses ~1/4 cup per feeding). THIS IS PLENTY OF FOOD. It takes a while for them to get used to it, but they are happy now, they don't beg, and Daeva's lost 4 lbs, can bathe herself properly, and is more active. Daksha has not starved to death.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2010

I did food patrol with one overeater/gorger and one undereater/snacker for years with dry food. It didn't work well and the overeater continued to gain weight. I tried picking up bowls after a set time, but then the undereater was always hungry, as she is more of a grazer, eating small nibbles at a time. I tried putting the undereater's bowl on the counter, even 4' off the ground. The overeater, though a terrible, unconfidant jumper, still found the courage to make a large leap for that precious, precious food.

The change we made that finally caused Meg to lose some weight was a change to a high-quality, meat-only wet food (wellness). Removing the carbs has made all the diffference. In the past three years, she's dropped ~3 pounds, from almost 21 to 17 and change. The grazer's weight is rock stable as well. Both of their coats have never been more glossy either.

My advice to you is get rid of the carbs in your cats' diets. They don't need them at all. We still do portion control. Each gets a quarter of a 5 oz can twice a day. They get dental crunchies as treats, as well as treat treats. They have access to dry food, but it seems to mostly go uneaten now.
posted by bonehead at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

LordSludge: "Put Oliver's food up on a shelf that Weasel can't jump to"

That's what I did, except sub shelf for bathroom counter. Taffy just wouldn't jump up on things so we didn't have to worry about her eating Vienna's food.
posted by theichibun at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mr. Fatty Fat Cat was 23 lbs when we finally got his diet under control with the right vet's help (he'd been to another 5, previously.) He was svelte at 15lbs and average cat length/height. How much do you think your cat should weigh for his length/height if you consider him a "big cat" already? Just wondering.


Good Vet gave Mr. Fatty Fat Cat a prescription for Science Diet r/d. We took Fatty in to be weighed once per month. He lost weight and was down to 15lbs within 5 months.

We fed all the cats 2x per day with a scoop measure. Mr. Fatty Fat was fed his Science Diet r/d in a different room, and we didn't let him out until the other cats were finished eating. Obviously, we couldn't leave their unwanted food around for Mr. Fatty to eat, so if they abandoned food mid-meal, it went into the bin.

And that was the routine even after he lost weight. Fatty ate in one room behind a closed door and the other cats ate normal food in a separate area. I think by then the Vet had switched Fatty to a Science Diet maintenance formula once he lost the weight, but we still measured his food and he never went back to regular store-bought brands. We had struggled with Fatty's weight for may years, so by the time it got to locking everyone in separate rooms -- eh. We were simply happy to have everyone healthy, the extra effort involved was manageable.
posted by jbenben at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2010


Forgot to add that there is probably a Science Diet formula packed with extra nutrition and calories for your cat who eats less. Talk to a good vet about all of this. If you don't love the vet you have now, find a new one. We tried 5 before we found the right one, but it was VERY worth the effort.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 12:02 PM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: How much do you think your cat should weigh for his length/height if you consider him a "big cat" already?

Well Oliver is a healthy cat at around 13-14 lbs, but Weasel is obviously overweight at 15. His belly hangs way down and he's starting to have trouble grooming himself. And he keeps getting wider. So, basically I'm not going by weight so much as "Jeez, cat, you're freaking FAT."

But even given that, Weasel is the more active cat and can jump anywhere in the house. He's the one always on counters, while Oliver keeps to the floor. He's still got a kitten mindset. He actually does get a pretty good amount of exercise which is why I'm surprised he's still putting on weight. (He had a check-up and blood work done in June and everything was normal.)
posted by threeturtles at 12:07 PM on December 8, 2010

This is a weirdish idea and might not fit with your budget, but one option might be to get one of those cat doors that work on a magnet or an electronic signal on the cat's collar, and install it in one of your interior doors into a bedroom or closet or something.

Feed picky cat in bedroom/closet, put the magnet/electronic thingy on his collar and feel free to leave the extra sitting around for him to graze on.

Feed fat cat his diet food wherever you feed him now, in the limited quantities you consider appropriate.

Since only picky cat can get into that particular closet with the thingy on his collar, fat cat shouldn't be able to get his food.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:11 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just as a thought: you say Oliver only eats part of his high-priced food, and refuses to eat more if it's not fresh out of the can. Why not just let Weasel have whatever's left after Oliver is done, and let that be his wet food meal? You won't be buying other food for Weasel and you won't be wasting Oliver's leftovers. Weasel will get high-quality wet food (since you've bought it anyway) and won't be gorging on his food plus Oliver's food. It's at least a way to reduce some of what you're spending.

You could split it beforehand if you know how much Oliver consistently eats, or you could separate them and give Weasel a spoonful so he doesn't feel put-upon, let Oliver eat, and then hand the rest to Weasel.

Can you separate them and give them a second wet food meal when Oliver gets hungry later, and skip the kibble entirely?
posted by galadriel at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2010

15 lbs isn't really that big for a big male cat, FWIW. My cat Sammy Katz is at a healthy weight around there.

However, after we started keeping him in, his weight began to climb up to almost 18 lbs. Chunky times! The solution was to put him on an all wet, grain-free diet (usually something fairly high quality/more expensive than supermarket brands, though right now he's primarily eating a "natural" grain-free Giant supermarket brand wet. However, once in a blue moon we're not able to get to the right grocery store, and give him fish flavored pate style Fancy Feast instead. While it has meat byproducts, it's grain free and okay for a back-up). And he's promptly slimmed down to an appropriate weight.

There are no benefits to even the higher protein dry food, for either of your cats. I know it's hard to justify the increase in price, but it seems like switching them both to wet--in which case, you'd give piggy piggy his food first, then serve the skinny guy when the big guy is distracted--would be a pretty easy solution.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:23 PM on December 8, 2010

Oh, and I've kept the dry food around to use kind of like dog biscuits and a way to get pudgy cat to play. I throw them around the room and he runs around and chases them. Good way to get him to exercise.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:27 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my cats eats in the closet. People always think this is weird when they come over. But it works wonderfully. He's a slow eater, and if we don't keep him separated, the other fatties will steal his food.

So we feed him in the closet and close the door behind him. I hung a long, heavy bell from the doorknob. When he's finished eating he inevitably scratches at the door, thereby ringing the bell. We hear the bell and let him out. Problem solved!
posted by Surinam Toad at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I'm thinking about trying to split Oliver's wet food to feed both of them and see how that works.

The cat door with sensor on collar idea is kinda crazy, but it's the kind of crazy I might have to resort to if nothing else works.

I'm also considering the automatic timed feeder idea if we keep them on dry food. At least it pre-limits the amount of food, but I'm afraid Oliver might not get enough then. Oliver lets Weasel boss him around, which is part of our problem.

Cost and availability are problems on the food front. We live in a rural area, so I either have to buy premium food in large quantity (which is what I've been doing with the dry food) or use something I can buy at the local grocery store. I was hoping that switching to higher quality food would mean they went through less, but I'm not finding that so much the case. Anyway, more recs on food are welcomed.
posted by threeturtles at 1:00 PM on December 8, 2010

We feed primarily dry, and what worked for us was getting two of this feeder. The cats have to reach in and paw out the kibble one or two pieces at a time. The fatter cat couldn't gorge herself and got bored with pawing the food out before eating as much as she used to and slowly lost about a pound and a half (originally 12 pounds), and the other one has food available whenever he wants. We got two, because the cats hate sharing one bowl/feeder.

We tried those feeding balls but the older, fatter cat can't quite make the connection that she can move the ball and produce food. She'll nose around it, and if kibble is already out of it or if she accidentally hits it enough to make it drop a piece she'll eat it, but she won't deliberately move it. The younger cat picked it up within a few minutes, and will happily bat the ball then hoover up all the kibble it drops in its path.
posted by telophase at 1:08 PM on December 8, 2010

On the cost and availability fron, I found these pages really, really useful for managing the cats' diets. The first sucess we had with cutting Meg's weight was not on the fancy-schmany food but with the low-carb varieties of Fancy Feast, which I've been able to find everywhere, often a quite reasonable prices.

It's not as good for the cats as the Wellness, their coats were more ragged and they sniffed at it more, but this was the change that finaly precipitated the weight loss. After years of trying with dry food, even with the hellishly expensive r/d, changing to low-carb wet was the only thing that worked.
posted by bonehead at 1:21 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being in a rural area, have you checked out what's available at your feed store? If they don't have something of which you approve, they may be willing to order it for you (I special order my dogs' canned food through the feed store). Do check out what's available there, even if you don't recognize the brands, because there are some very good pet foods available rather inexpensively.
posted by galadriel at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2010

This made me think of this feeder cage - maybe something like that would be possible.
posted by lemniskate at 4:11 PM on December 8, 2010

We have the *exact same cats* (except different, of course). Cat #1 is obese and vacuums up everything. Cat #2 is at a healthy weight and enjoys grazing throughout the day. What to do? Here's our solution (implemented a month ago, already seeing positive impacts)

Obese kitty has gradually been titrated down to eating 1/4 cup of food, twice a day. To make sure we are exact, we use an automatic kitty feeder. I'm very pleased with our Petmate Le Bistro automatic feeder. We set the feeder to go off at a time that we are home and have taught cat #2 that he doesn't ever get to eat from it (it only took a week or so of consistently moving him away from the machine, he now leaves it alone). This is good for two reasons: 1: Cat #1 always gets the same amount of food (no overfeeding) and he loves the consistency of always getting fed at precise intervals.

But how to give Cat #2 access throughout the day to food? Here's our ingenious solution. We purchased a Cat Mate magnetic cat flap and installed it on a plastic storage container/Rubbermaid tub (something like this, about 20" by 14" by 14", to eyeball it).

We hooked the magnet on cat #2's collar and trained cat #2 to not fear the magnetic door by tying the door open for several days and leaving his food in the tub, then closing the door but assisting him in opening the magnet. It took him about a week to figure out how to bonk his forehead against the door to open it himself. We can refill it easily by opening the lid of the container, but it resists unauthorized incursions by cat #1.

Presto! We now have two cats on healthy feeding schedules. Total cost was $25 for the cat feeder (craigslist), $35 for the magnetic door, and $7 for the storage bin (and installing the door was a cinch, it took maybe 15 minutes with a pair of scissors and a screwdriver).

Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 5:15 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a large plastic storage container and cut a small hole in it so small cats can get in. Punch some small holes in far end and tie down a food dish there.
posted by meepmeow at 5:30 PM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: As I said earlier, the thinner cat is actually larger in build than the fat cat, so I can't make a hole large enough for him to get in that would also keep the Weasel out.

I've talked with my husband about various suggestions and I think we're going to try easing them over to an all-wet diet. I may get that neat scooping bowl telophase linked to for little bits of dry food during the transition or as a treat. If that doesn't work out for some reason, I'm going to consider the automatic feeder and/or cat flap solution.
posted by threeturtles at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2010

I feed my skinny cat on top of the fridge, and the chubbuns on the floor. I've never seen Chubbs climb onto the fridge- she prefers to keep her bean-shaped bulk near solid ground, while Skinnybones leaps like a monkey and then delicately eats one half bite of his food. Would that work with your guys?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:31 PM on December 8, 2010

The magnet collar/catflap didn't work long with my sister's cats. Mr Rotundity learned to tailgate Mr Slim right through the catdoor to the food bowl!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:25 PM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: *ahem* Pictures of cats here.
posted by threeturtles at 8:30 AM on December 9, 2010

The magnet collar/catflap didn't work long with my sister's cats. Mr Rotundity learned to tailgate Mr Slim right through the catdoor

It still works if you have a small space. Our skinny cat walks into the rubbermaid tub, and there isn't room for another cat to go in.
posted by arnicae at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2010

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