Another fat cat question
September 7, 2013 9:28 AM   Subscribe

This is Pico, a wonderful cat with an incredible mustache. Pico is quite large and really needs to slim down. Help us help our 17 lb cat live happy and healthy and as forever as possible. Gratuituous cat pictures inside.

Pico is named after Pico Boulevard, and not the SI prefix pico-, which would be a little sad and frustrating if that was the case.

We adopted Pico and her sister Wilshire as kittens six years ago. While they look approximately the same size, Pico has about seven pounds on Wilshire, whose fuzziness is deceiving. They are strictly indoor cats in a rather large apartment – we live on a major street and I would freak the fuck out if one of my cats was willingly outdoors because I am a Super Nervous Cat Mom.

For the last few years, we have gone wet-food-only for Pico (as per the advice given in this famous question) and stuck to our vets' dietary advice, which for the past year has consisted of Hill's m/d with the occasional meal of t/d delivered through the fat-cat food-dispensing ball. We spent a long time feeding Pico the recommended amount for a 14 lb target weight, dropping it to 12 lb upon the advice of our vet after seeing no progress. We take her in for weigh-in vet checks every few months, and after a month or so on the 12 lb schedule, she had actually gained a pound and was back up to 17. As my partner works from home, he is able to police their respective food consumption – she isn't eating anything other than what we have been feeding her.

On the activity front: Pico appears happy to be perfectly sedentary. (She is a fantastic cuddler.) Wilshire, on the other hand, loves to spend her days running around, playing catball, chasing herself or one of her many toys. Pico's favourite toy is her box. She cares not for feathers, balls, feather-balls, laser pointers, catnip potatoes, the fuzzy squid, or anything else. She gets her exercise running between the kitchen and the studio when she hears/smells the can of food open. What else can we do? At a recent visit to the vet we learned that she has a bit of arthritis as a result of her weight.

Well, several weeks ago we brought home Fairfax. He and Pico love each other very much. Very much! We were hoping that having a teeny kitten with tons of energy around the house would get her moving! Unfortunately, Fairfax and Wilshire are having a great time chasing each other everywhere, but Pico continues to sit in her box and sleep and snuggle.

What can we do for our beloved cat to help her get into better shape? She is the best damn cat and we just want her to be as happy and healthy as possible, but nothing really seems to be working. Please help!

One last family photo.
posted by avocet to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you had Picos thyroid checked?
And Very Cute Cat Pictures! Thanks
posted by SyraCarol at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2013

We had the exact same problem. Bergamot races around and plays with all his toys while Maggie sits in her box watching him.

We went through many different kinds of food including the Hills Satiety kibble. In the end what works for us is half wet food and half kibble. We got Orijen high protein kibble. The high protein stuff makes Maggie feel full. She was always bugging for food and the meowing for hours before feeding was annoying. So the feeding schedule is a half can (the small cans) each of wet food (mixed with a half can of water- but that's another issue) in the morning and the cats get a tablespoon of kibble twice a day. We give Bergamot a heaping tablespoon and Maggie and even tablespoon. It doesn't seem like much but they are happy on it and Maggie went from 17 lbs to 13 lbs. It took a long long time for Maggie to drop the weight. It was several months before we saw her weight change at all but when it finally started to drop it was steady and she's been holding at 13 lbs for about 6 months now. Since the weight loss she's slightly more energetic and has spurts of playing.
posted by sadtomato at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is there any reason why you can't just feed Pico less? I also have a black and white fatty called Macrophage and he gets the amount I know will maintain his weight rather than the amount suggested on the packet. In my experience of six different cats eating this brand of food the manufacturers portions on Hills food is always too high. So Mac is eating less than the manufacturer says he should be but he's healthy and the right size and clearly not hungry or lacking. He gets the Hills "light" (i.e. weight loss) biscuits while his sister gets the same smallish amount of Hills normal biscuits, both with the occasional half portion of tooth biscuits (i.e. non-prescription t/d) mixed in sometimes. Mac has been on the light diet for about two years now and is glowing with health as well as being the correct size for his frame rather than the giant spreading cat he was working on before that.

Getting more exercise is also always a good thing and I'm sure you'll get ideas about that too. But some cats are just cuddlers so that might not work. And if your cat is still gaining weight then there's too much food.
posted by shelleycat at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2013

Sounds like you've tried all the toys, but you don't specifically mention wand toys (with a feathery prey on the end.) so that might be worth a shot. Or fresh catnip? We grow it, some of ours go nuts for it.

If those two suggestions don't work, get a harness and take her on "walks". We do this with all our cats. First you get her used to wearing the harness by putting it on indoors without a leash until she's used to the feeling.

Then add the leash and head out to your front stoop. She may be terrified, so you can always keep the door open so she can run back into the house/lurk on the threshold sniffing the fascinating outside smells. (Other cats will of course need to be quarantined while this happens.) with time and repeated exposure, she will start to explore.

Take her around your house/apartment building - we don't let ours go off the property because I don't want to run into a dog on a leash that the owner can't control and have my poor cat attacked and unable to escape. We do have a little front garden and back patio, and they all enjoy exploring those areas - hopefully you have something similar that's near your house. You do need a harness and not just a collar on a leash because you need to be able to restrain her from climbing onto roofs/telephone poles or panic-darting into traffic without strangling her.

Even our most timid cat (I'm talking hide under the bed when a soft-spoken friend comes to visit) has grown to love (and beg for) harnessed trips outdoors. The neighbors are always amazed (he puts up with that?) but for the cats, the chance to explore and smell new things outweighs the harness. Seems like it would be a good, painless way to get her some exercise and hopefully she'll be so interested outdoors that she won't notice she's going up and down stairs or walking around and, you know, exerting herself. Just be ready for the others to get jealous and want to go out too, and then before you know it you've got 3 cats constantly clamouring to go out.

Good luck! It's tough for cats to lose weight.

One final thought - I've found the food/weight guidelines on the cat food cans to be a little generous, but we do keep our cats quite trim, and it sounds like you've discussed it with your vet and are definitely feeding an appropriately-sized portion.
posted by data hound at 9:56 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, also I use dry only because I can not deal with stinky wet cat food and this seems to be working for the cats so meh. If the food you have is working for you then that's fine, just cut down the amount. Also, I've noticed that we do better with the slightly larger amount we can give him of light food than a smaller portion of normal food because he doesn't get hungry before the next feed this way. So there is a balance to how you cut it down. Either way, the amount the packet says we should be feeding is like a third again or more than we actually do.
posted by shelleycat at 9:56 AM on September 7, 2013

Hey, that's my thread up there! :) My cat, Mr. Mister is so not interested in any exercise at all. Even feathers on a wand and string only interest him for minutes at a time. Even then, he'll only lie on his back and swat at them. He hardly ever goes through the motions of actually getting up and chasing anything. It's like he doesn't even see the laser pointer and he will occasionally chase a crumpled up paper. I still *try* and play with him all of the time, but he seems content to just lie around, so who am I to interfere with his contentedness?

The feeder ball worked to get him down from 24 pounds to 18 pounds, and that's where he'll stay according to the vet. Now, instead of chasing it around like he used to, he lies on the ground and pats it around like this (sorry for the bad video).

I guess what I'm saying is, if your cat seems content, and you've tried everything, then let him be a content fat cat. So long as his quality of life isn't suffering... Some cats are just big, like My Mister isn't gonna get any smaller than 18 pounds. It's just not gonna happen.
posted by patheral at 10:23 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Patheral - I had a "patter" too! The late lamented Aleister Monster would sit there and pat/wiggle his treat ball until the kibbles fell out. No running and batting the ball around for him!

I'm following this thread with interest, as I have a Ragdoll mix named Daenerys who should have been named Fat Walda instead. My vet said to put her on a "Catkins" diet of high-protein, grain-free wet food only. I've recently discovered Stella & Chewy's brand freeze-dried cat food that is mixed with water to reconstitute. My cats have all really loved the "Tummy Ticklin' Turkey" flavor. The nice thing about this food (besides that it's grain-free) is that you can mix up only what you need - no leftover cans. My cats do NOT like refrigerator-temperature food.

I am going to see if Dany Cat will take to a harness. She's a very calm and outgoing cat who LOVES attention so she just might like to go on walks.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:53 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

All you need to know!
posted by crw at 12:11 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: On my phone so I can't respond to everything right now, but the harness idea is out as Pico just gets into "the turkey position" every time. If you have attempted and failed to get a cat to walk on a harness, you will know what I am referring to. Many thanks for the answers so far!
posted by avocet at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2013



I vote for putting the harness on, picking her up and depositing her outside on the grass and letting her assume the 'turkey pose' for 15 minutes every day. Sit on the lawn chair and read a book. I guarantee she'll break before you will. If she's as mellow as you say, she will start sniffing around around day three, and you can either follow her around or just let her hang out till she gets the idea of exploring more. If she's more high strung than you think she is, she'll start doing the spaze-out zoom around and hit the end of the leash, in which case cut it short for the day, but take her out the next, till she settles. Just make sure your harness fits well.

Since Pico loves a box, is it possible to get her a couple climbing posts with a built in box attached to the top? Providing a vertical environment to explore might pique her interest enough to want to climb and supervise from above.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:14 PM on September 7, 2013

If it helps, our lazy cat Nefer, who didn't want to do any exercise, started getting more active after losing a pound. (she's got a small frame) We figure that she was just too big to move comfortably. If you can get Pico to eat less for now, then she might get a bit more active as she slims.
posted by telophase at 3:56 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Put her food on a higher level than the floor—place it on cat stairs or shelves, so she has to get at least a little active to get fed.

2. Get her a feeder ball.
posted by limeonaire at 4:58 PM on September 7, 2013

Unfortunately, I haven't a lot of advice to offer, but those are some mighty adorable kittehs! And I know a thing, or two, about kittehs.

If you are at all interested in getting a cat to tolerate a harness, I recommend this NY Times article, which was very helpful to me.
posted by Talullah at 5:07 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Adding to Rosie M Banks' suggestion above, Stella and Chewy's freeze dried is a good compromise if your cat or you don't like wet food. Despite the instructions, I and other people do feed it dry (crumbled up to cat eating size) like kibble so that there is something I can leave out for my sick cat all of the time as kibble is what makes him sick.

My other cat who can eat kibble (and will not eat wet food) gets Orijen, and has stopped gaining the weight he put on with Nature's Variety Instinct. I've been thinking about trying him on Young Again Zero Carb dry food, but $50 for 8 pounds combined with it only being available to order straight from the company makes that more difficult. I don't have any current pictures of him, but kibble cat is 12 years old and weighs about 23 pounds and is disgustingly healthy.

And your kitties are amazingly cute!
posted by monopas at 5:09 PM on September 7, 2013

Response by poster: We were advised by the vet to stop keeping her food higher up after she injured her paw as the result of a hard landing. She eats on the floor while the other two climb to eat. We did make her a set of "stairs" to climb up to her box on the desk, but she ignores them and jumps straight up and down.

We are leery to cut her diet back any more on the canned m/d because she's already obviously super hungry already while eating the recommended amount for a much smaller cat. We are going to check out Orijen and Stella & Chewy – I've messaged the latter to see if they sell in Toronto.

And we are going to see if she'll take to the harness again! We don't have any grass (she'd be chilling on our large deck or we'd be taking her for sidewalk-walks). Again, I am mega paranoid and don't want her attempting to sneak through the gaps in the fence sans harness. That NYT article is both informative and adorable. Maybe she would dig a walking jacket on top of her tuxedo jacket.
posted by avocet at 5:25 PM on September 7, 2013

I know you mentioned you've tried a lot of toys, but we had a cat once that we 'walked' around the house using a shoelace. He didn't chase it, and there was no point in trying to pick up the pace, but he would amble after it for 5 or so minutes at a time.

Also, not to hijack your thread, but could you post an update on the Stella & Chewy?

another Toronto cat person
posted by scrute at 5:53 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

This post should go in the wiki demonstrating how to ask a question about cats. I LOVE ALL THE PICTURES!
posted by funkiwan at 7:55 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I struggle with the same problem. Tobias is 22lbs, and needs to lose a ton of weight. Laurie, not so much. If I restrict food, she doesn't get enough. I finally ponied up the money for a Meow Space food box for each of them. Its going to hurt my wallet but in the long run I figure it will be a good investment. He won't eat her special medical diet and he'll also get a smaller amount of food, and she won't get bullied out of eating altogether. I may add in an automatic feeder to minimize the begging.

I've heard from the research I've been doing online that I can expect Toby to be more active as he loses weight. Right now it is just too much hard work. He walks like an old person right now.

Also, make sure you talk to your vet about a safe rate for your cat to lose weight. Losing too much too fast can stress the body.

To increase Toby's activity, I feed part of his food "foraging" style. I throw it on the living room floor and or let him play fetch by throwing it and making him run for it. Its pretty much his favorite game. He also has a food ball, which he has to bat around to get the food out. I figure it slows down his food consumption. Luckily, he has a longer attention span for playing than I do, but sometimes its all about finding the right toy. Try things like crumpled up pieces of paper, string, ice cubes or hair ties. Just supervise play with strings. That can end up badly. Try adding catnip to the fun for a bit more energy.
posted by gilsonal at 11:36 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Home from the pet store with some Stella & Chewy and Orijen. sadtomato, we're going to try your approach. Will report back!

And thank you very much for the cat compliments! My twitter account is linked to my profile and the media page displays many, many more photos. Tuxedo cats = best cats.
posted by avocet at 11:10 AM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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