Kitty weight loss success stories wanted!
April 9, 2007 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any cat weight loss success stories? One of my wonderful cats just weighed in at an elephantine 23lbs. How can I him to be the slim, trim, and sexy feline hiding within?

I have two four-year-old cats that I adopted as kittens (they are not litter mates). They've been fed the same and lived in the same household since they were six weeks old; one cat is trim and sprightly and the other one is . . . enormous. They're both pretty big cats as cats go, but only one is really fat. They are indoor-only cats who used to eat dry kibble (Science Diet regular, then Weight Loss) until I switched them to all canned food (PetGuard). One cat just keeps gaining weight no matter what. The vets I've been to haven't been very helpful. Some say to feed diet food, some say don't feed diet food under any circumstances, some say don't worry about it. I do worry about impending diabetes or arthritis or other health problems, though. So, cat people, any success stories I can emulate? [I've seen the previous questions on this topic, but listed ideas rather than proven methods . . .]
posted by agent99 to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I had a fat cat growing up - the solution? Put the food on top of the dryer so s/he has to jump up to get it.

The same strategy has keep all subsequent cats trim.
posted by k8t at 8:58 AM on April 9, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, yes, forgot to mention: the fat cat in question has no problem jumping anywhere--he loves to hang out on top of the kitchen cabinets, for instance. So putting food in hard-to-reach places won't have the slightest effect on him.
posted by agent99 at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2007

I'm curious about this as well. We have 5 cats, 4 of them are in shape and healthy (and would probably revolt if we took their ability to graze away), the fifth is becoming a (cute) butterball of a cat.
posted by drezdn at 9:04 AM on April 9, 2007

Laser pointer workout. Dedicate 10-15 minutes a day for playing with the cat with a laser pointer. Kitty runs back and forth getting lots of exercise and will lose weight.

The only trouble is it gets boring for humans much faster than cats and so kitty will stick with the workout plan, but you may not.
posted by birdherder at 9:09 AM on April 9, 2007

My vet mentioned that it is unhealthy for a cat to lose weight quickly, so you might want to consult a vet that is more helpful than the ones you've seen so far before doing anything drastic. I have a fatso too, and I'm trying to get him to exercise more (toys), and I carefully measure the food, instead of just eyeballing it like I used to. I can't say he's ready for a bikini yet, but this is a slow process and I probably won't know if it's working until his next check-up.
posted by Alpenglow at 9:09 AM on April 9, 2007

Our cat wasn't as overweight as the cat in question, but we had to put her on a diet to control her diabetes. She's been on Science Diet's W/D formula, a regulated amount (7/8 cup) and limited treats. She lost weight at a healthy rate until she was at her ideal weight. She's on the same food and limit and is maintaining that weight.
posted by chndrcks at 9:17 AM on April 9, 2007

Feed only dry cat food. Restrict food to twice daily, do not let cat graze all day. Consult vet before doing anything.
posted by cahlers at 9:17 AM on April 9, 2007

One of my cats was really chubby, though not 23 lbs. My vet recommended putting her on light cat food. She lost 2 or 3 pounds a year. The vet said that this was the right pace for weight loss - slow and steady. I can't comment on the debate about light cat food, but my cat has been on it for several years with no resulting health problems.

The other thing was that I became a stickler about measuring out her food. She hates its - there is always lots of meowing around the food bin when it isn't feeding time - but it has really helped. I've checked with the vet and she is definitely getting enough food despite the cries for more.

Finally, my other cat is thin. The chubby one tends to try to eat her food. I now feed the thin one in a separate room and close the door so that she can eat in peace. This also prevents the chubby cat from munching on extra food.
posted by sara558 at 9:19 AM on April 9, 2007

I got my cat to go from 25lbs to 18 lbs, using the iams indoor weight control formula. He seemed to have no ill effects.
posted by stormygrey at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2007

Cat foods have different calories depending on what you go with. Just like a person dieting, work out what a cat his weight would need to eat to be healthy. The pet food's website should help you with that, or sometimes they have it right on the bag.

Once you have that, you need to reduce it slightly to have him lose weight. Be careful to not reduce it drastically.

When my cats were put on diets (Moose was close to 20 pounds, and he should be a 12 pound cat per his vet), we went from feeding them 1 cup of food each per day, to 3/4 cup food per day (partially because when we learned about the amount of calories we were feeding them, we realized we were over-feeding).

Another thing that we discovered is that Moose would push his brother away from the food, so Moose was always heavier than him.

We were not able to find any solution other than to feed them completely separately so that we could control Moose's food intake.

Now that we've made those changes, and have them on healthier food, Moose's weight has stabilized at 13 pounds, just a pound heavier than the vet though he should be.

I suspect if we played with him a little more, we could get that last pound off. Exercise is also good when you are trying to get a cat into shape, just like a person.

Overweight kitties can lead to kitties with diabetes, and the upkeep on that is really terrible. It's completely worth it to get your cat into shape!
posted by ugf at 9:22 AM on April 9, 2007

Seconding laser pointer workout. Seconding boring for people, but.

And, for what it's worth, we're in the middle of moving, so have a futon frame standing up on its side in the living room. It turns out to be the greatest kitty jungle gym going, to the point where we're now thinking about things that can be set up in the new place to encourage that much climbing.

I'm also trying to put out the food on a 'by request' basis, rather than just leaving some out all the time. Cat grass now offers something to nibble at in the interim periods, and I haven't heard any complaints about that.
posted by kmennie at 9:23 AM on April 9, 2007

O, and we didn't use diet food for our cats, we just worked with the food they were going to eat for the rest of their lives, and made sure calories and portion control were in place.

We won't ever be able to have cats that we can leave food out all the time because Moose would eat it all.

It makes sense, they were rescued by the Humane Society due to malnutrition and neglect, so I'm not surprised Moose feels he needs to eat any change he gets, even years later.
posted by ugf at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2007

My friends had an overweight kitty, and the vet suggested a mixture of dry and wet food. They do 1/8th scoop dry food, 1/2 can wet food twice a day (non-diet food), which doesn't sound like much, but definitely allowed the fat cat to lose a few pounds and then maintain his weight. My cat was slightly overweight, so I switched her to the same diet, and also had success. My vet mentioned that dry food has too many carbs for cats.

Also, nthing the laser pointer.
posted by Zosia Blue at 9:35 AM on April 9, 2007

Measuring the (regular, no diet) food and giving the cat exercise has also worked for me.

My cat is totally bored by the laser pointer, though -- she's all about string on a stick. I've read that owners should strive for two play sessions of five minutes each every day (even if the cat's not overweight, actually).
posted by occhiblu at 9:38 AM on April 9, 2007

The Martha Stewart show had a great segment about this today.

I apologize because I cannot find a clip of it (only a preview available on her website.
posted by spec80 at 9:43 AM on April 9, 2007

The Catkins diet!

Actually that's pretty much right... recall that cats' natural diet is pretty much all protein.

I'm rather surprised that others have had so much success with portion control. Our cat got quite chunky a while back and we could not get it to lose weight until we switched to a higher-protein food. She slimmed down within 2-3 months, with no changes to exercise or anything.

So I guess it varies from one cat to the next, but... be open to switching to a different food.
posted by rkent at 9:49 AM on April 9, 2007

If you're feeding dry, try a high-quality "indoor" formulated cat food.
posted by kindall at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2007

We had the same situation: 2 free-feeding indoor cats, one trim, another whose weight kept going up. My vet read me the riot act last summer, and suggested the following plan.

No more free feeding. Estimate how much food each cat is currently eating (we said 1/2 cup of dry food each). Every morning, measure out a full portion for the trim cat, and a 1/10 less than a full portion for the fat cat. Place each portion into seperate, labelled tupperware containers. He suggested feeding them twice daily, but because our cats were so ingrained with free-feeding we break it up into 4 small meals per day. We just dump a little out into seperate bowls from each kitties portion. Fat cat has to be supervised so she doesn't steal trim cat's food. My vet suggested gradually reducing fat cat's portion by 1/10th over several weeks, but we haven't found that necessary. My fat cat has lost over 2 pounds now after 6 or 7 months, just be keeping her portions controlled. Downside to this plan is that your hungry kitties will wake you up early in the morning wanting to be fed.
posted by junkbox at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2007

I'll second the Catkins diet. (I see it referenced above in italics, but can't see it mentioned anywhere else ... am tres confused.)

A vet sent me this URL to help me help my tubby cat. He also said, "What we want is a diet which is less than 10-15% carbs on a dry matter basis, and virtually all of the 9-lives cans are good, ditto many Fancy Feast and Little Friskies." I personally went with 9 Lives. I fed the cats twice a day, and IIRC, gave them each about a half can at each serving? (I have 3 cats, all of which went on the diet.) She went from about 17 pounds to about 14 pounds in about a year.

(...Unfortunately, last September her health rapidly deteriorated and I had to euthanize her due to carcinomatosis (the cancer was throughout her entire body; on necropsy the vet said there was no other option) ... this was completely unrelated to diet. She was about 12, had been obses her whole life, had been sufferint from arthritis for a couple years, and it was her time. Anyway, I can't give any further statistics on her weight loss because of this.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2007

I've been using this automatic feeder - it seems to be helping my cat. Spreading the food out into mini-meals keeps her from gorging on it all at once.
posted by candyland at 11:03 AM on April 9, 2007

This seems the appropriate place to share a bit of info that I've been told by a woman who rescues cats for a living. I'm not even sure if it's true, and I'm curious to know if anyone else has heard this:

Cat food that contains animal by-products are not nearly as healthy as ones that contain healthier meat. All the pet food I've ever seen in grocery stores has meat by-products (equivalent, I think, to the quality of meat that goes into a hot dog). Low quality meat, if I correctly recall what I was told, is converted into fat, while higher quality meat is digested more easily. We get our food--a brand called Wellness--at a pet food store. They have several other types of cat food without by products.

The other upside to this diet is that Wellness has been specifically mentioned on the news as being a safe type of food for your pet during all these product recalls.

Again, I have no idea if the part about by-products being bad for your pet is actually true. All I have for evidence is our cat, now four years old, who is pretty much a smaller version of a lean, mean tiger.
posted by owenville at 11:21 AM on April 9, 2007

iguanapolitico: Weird. I was the first person to put up the "Catkins" joke and now it seems to be gone. Huh. Deleted mayhaps?

Anyway, the thing about laser pointers is that I think they're kind of cruel (I think). The cat can never actually win or touch the thing. Maybe I am anthropomorphizing, but I just think it's nicer to let them play with something they can actually touch.
posted by sneakin at 11:25 AM on April 9, 2007

...the thing about laser pointers is that I think they're kind of cruel...

I end laser pointer games with the dot pointing to a treat or toy I've surreptitiously dropped at some point during the mayhem. The cats always seem so thrilled to be able to sink their claws into something at last.
posted by jamaro at 11:31 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

jamaro, that I can co-sign. Good idea.
posted by sneakin at 11:34 AM on April 9, 2007

I'm not sure I quite buy the whole meat vs meat by-products thing. The only difference that I can see would be which has more protein vs more fat. Other than that, I don't really think the source matters too much; my (outdoor) cats think that squirrel entrails and chipmunk brains are haute cuisine. I've seen some people do some ridiculous anthropomorphization when it comes to cats, seemingly forgetting what their natural diet consists of. All I can say is don't apply your own food standards to them.

That doesn't mean that good food isn't important, though. Back to the topic at hand, we've had good luck slimming down our (indoor) cat when he got a little pudgy by switching him from Meow Mix to Friskies Indoor formula dry food. In addition to that, which is available all the time, he gets about a teaspoon of wet food (Friskies) twice a day, mixed with some dry stuff. We occasionally put him on Dental Diet dry food too, which he hates, when his teeth start turning very yellow. And of course fresh water available all the time.

When he was getting pudgy, he was getting fed more like 1/4 of a can, twice daily, plus the Meow Mix. (Judging from his reaction, I think the Meow Mix must be much higher calorie and/or just generally tastier; I can't tell whether the calorie reduction by switching to the 'Indoor' cat food is because it contains fewer calories, or just doesn't taste as good to him, but it seems to work. But there is a lot more whining in the kitchen...)

I'd never heard of the "Catkins" wet-food-only type diets, and all of our cats, indoor and outdoor, have always had dry food as their major staple, so that seems a little drastic. That sounds like a change to discuss with a vet first, if you find one who'll give you a straight answer.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:09 PM on April 9, 2007

By products are bad because they have looser quality control standards. There's nothing wrong with feeding organs, but by products can and do contain all kinds of ick.

You definitely need to start feeding a high quality, high (meat) protein, low or no carb diet. Innova EVO is a good choice. All low quality dry cat foods (especially the "light" ones) contain grains which cats do not need and which makes it more likely for them to gain weight. Portion control, VERY gradual weight loss and exercise.
posted by biscotti at 12:09 PM on April 9, 2007

This isn't a success story. Quite the opposite, but I tell everyone I know who has an overweight cat this story.

My lovely cat was overweight (but lively), and when I was finally making enough money to afford expensive food and vet bills, I got a new vet who told me to put him on diet food. I bought the food, and at first he would not eat it. I just figured he would eat it if he was hungry enough -- but what I did not know (and the new vet didn't warn me about) was that if a cat doesn't eat for even a couple of days, it will start to digest its own fatty acids. However, cats' livers cannot tolerate them, and they get Fatty Liver Disease (and here). It can be, and was in my poor kitty's case, fatal.

So be sure to make sure that if you change foods, your overweight cat eats sufficiently and doesn't go off his/her food for even a couple of days.
posted by girlpublisher at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2007

girlpublisher - that's sad. Sorry to hear about your cat.

Our boys have been on light food for a while now - several years. We always switch foods slowly, by mixing a bit of the new and the old together until they get used to it. They were both close to 18 lbs at the heaviest, but should not have been over 15 or so. (They're big kitties, but they shouldn't be that big!) At this point they're both about 16 lbs, which isn't bad, and they are both definitely much more active.

We've tried several foods in succession - Purina Indoor, Iams Weight Control, Science Diet Light, finally have them on Blue Buffalo light formula now. Finally a food that seems to be more balanced for cat nutrition - and no wheat. It only costs about 15 cents more per pound than the Science Diet at Petco, and the kitties seem quite happy on that food. We give them each 1/2 cup per day (1/8 cup at 6 AM and 6 PM, 1/4 cup at 9 PM). They get a "treat" of soft food (3 oz or so) on Friday nights instead of the 9 PM 1/4 cup of dry kibble.

They are healthier, but they are also obnoxious little shits who think they are starving. The 6 AM feeding is their idea, not mine. They have no respect for weekends, and occasionally start generally acting like bastards at 4-5 AM (my wife's cat especially). We keep the cat carrier handy as a "kitty prison" for those days when we just can't deal with them. We do not give in to the demands, as giving in today at 5:45 means tomorrow they'll wake us up at 5:30, and it's downhill from there.

The cats do not know why they are being "punished" with less food. However, it is good for them. We aren't even as evil as my cousin, the vet student - her cats get 1/4 cup a day each. Period. At any rate taking a hard line on portion control is the only real solution. Definitely suggest speaking with a good vet about what brands and amounts would be best for the kitties, and for sure watch that they are still eating.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:06 PM on April 9, 2007

Best answer: Feed only dry cat food.

Of all the bad advice in this thread, this is, possibly, the worst. There are a number of reasons it's bad, but primarily it illustrates the common thread among all the bad advice given: a focus on form rather than substance.

It's kind of shocking that folks seem to know so little about cat nutrition in light of the recent nationwide food recall.

Cats are obligate carnivores. Their diet should consist of 95% meat and 5% vegetable matter. The vegetable matter should NOT include grain of any type. A cat in the wild would only ingest the minute amount of grain that might be contained in the digestive system of its prey.

The vast majority of commercial cat foods contain grain or grain derivatives because they are a cheap source of protein and/or bulk. These foods also contain things cats don't need like corn syrup, caramel and other additives that are designed to make the food more appealing to the humans opening the can and to add flavor to the mishmash of animal byproducts, meal and grain from which the food is made. Dry foods are the worst offenders and generally contain way too much grain - a kibble diet from one of the mass pet-food producers will almost certainly lead your cat down the road to diabetes among other illnesses.

All of that said, there are some very good brands of cat food that adhere to the 95/5 ratio, but they are a bit harder to find, and more expensive.

Feeding a cat, whether for a special purpose such as weight loss, or just for general health, is about more than portion control. You actually need to look at the label instead of abdicating responsibility to Proctor and Gamble and their marketing department.

Sorry if this all comes out a bit stridently, but the recent recall has been a heartbreaking situation for thousands of people who loved their animals but were ignorant of their nutritional needs.

There are a lot of good links and great information at the following sites:
posted by ereshkigal45 at 3:14 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for all the great ideas and for sharing your experiences. (And, girlpublisher, thanks for sharing your awfully sad story; it just goes to show how little we know about cat nutrition even when we do consult our vets . . . . So sorry.)

I have to agree with the condemnation of dry food; the cat in question became obese on diet dry food, fed in carefully controlled portions twice a day, as instructed by the vet (portions perhaps less carefully controlled because of the two-cat problem, but still). It seems like a low- or no-carb diet would be best, but finding an appropriate commercial food that fits the bill isn't as easy as it should be.

I'd even be willing to feed a raw diet (there is some info on this on the net, and it IS a bit complicated with the supplements, etc., but apparently feasible). If anyone has any experience with that, please do share. Thanks again!
posted by agent99 at 3:23 PM on April 9, 2007

There are some excellent commercial raw food diets available, and interest in raw diets is pretty high right now because of the recall. Nature's Variety makes an excellent line of frozen raw food that comes in a good variety of flavors. The site has a store locator. It's a bit pricey though. The link I gave above for has a lot of info on preparing your own raw diet, and the vet who runs that site did a cost analysis that shows it *can* be done pretty reasonably.

You mentioned that the vets haven't been very helpful. Has the fat cat had full blood panels? Have they ruled out medical causes for the obesity like thyroid problems? You might want to consider trying a different vet. Just like with medical schools, nutrition is underemphasized in vetrinary schools. It might take some searching to find a vet who has a more holistic approach, but they are out there.

Good luck slimming your kitty down.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 5:24 PM on April 9, 2007

This is a good thread, I hope I can find some help for one of my kitties. I have two: 1 cat who sleeps all day and is a lazy furball and he's fit and trim. Then I got another one who plays all day, chases after balls, only really sleeps at night, and he weighs in at 19 lbs.

I've had them on Science Diet Hairball Control light for 2 years now, and only the trim lazy one has lost weight! I'm not carefully limiting their intake, so we'll see how it goes at the next weigh-in.

Also, on the laser-pointer debate: my cats finally came to the conclusion that they will "never" catch it. So they sort of just watch it now and give me an eye that tells me they would rather jab me with their claws.
posted by punkrockrat at 5:49 PM on April 9, 2007

I thought I had a success story but after consideration, you'll have to decide for yourself.

Our cat was a rescue cat with food issues. We were ignorant freefeed owners. Kitty got to 18 pounds.

We went to portion control and made him run up and down the stairs at least 10 times before every evening meal (fed twice a day.) It's not as hard as it sounds - to confuse him, we fed him both upstairs and downstairs, and then he'd follow the foodbowl as it moved. Running up and down stairs 10 times isn't bad for the humans either.

Kitty got down to 12 pounds which the vet said was still too much but his little bony butt was showing. We levelled out there. (It took less than a year to lose a third of his body weight, the vet never warned us about any kinds of dangers.)

He's gotten back up to 15 pounds - we think this is because when we're out of town, neither the hired cat sitter nor the neighbors who adore him understand that the whining really isn't starving, and so they both feed him way too much food.

Well, so Mr. Fat Cat is back on running the stairs and portion control, and he's taken to eating fabric. All our pajamas, towels, sheets, and blankets have *large,* greater-than-palm-sized holes. He's ruined countless socks and underwear (ew). Since he already knows how to rip carpet fibers off the floor, it's a serious fear that he'll start eating carpet. We're very worried about intestinal blockage. The vet's advice is, basically, lock him in a bathroom with no bathmat or curtains, 24-7. We find this unacceptable - we didn't get a cat to have a hosebeast crying behind a closed door.

We're waiting for an autofeeder to come in the mail. We've removed his favorite targets but hungry cats are smart and learn to open doors. Outwitting the cat takes more time than cleaning the house, now.

We're *almost* at the point that we'd rather have a fat but well-behaved non-destructive cat. And it's probably time for a new vet.

Yes, cats can lose weight. Yes, diabetes is bad. Good luck.
posted by arabelladragon at 4:42 AM on April 10, 2007

My six year old male kitty was overweight and lethargic despite being an outdoor cat and getting lots of exercise. I used to free feed him Iams and Purina One. I switched to free feeding Felidae Cat and Kitten formula with Lamb and he both lost weight and had increased energy. I use the regular formula not the weight loss formula. It is difficult to find Felidae in stores so I order it online at Now I feed him a combination of wet and dry Felidae and Wysong Vitality kibble, and Newman's own canned food which I get at my local WholeFoods store. I no longer free feed, but since my kitty is a grazer and eats very little food at each sitting I feed him his food divided in five seperate meals. I read an article on cat nutrition that stated that cats in the wild are naturally grazers and digest their food more easily if they eat small amounts at a time. The article stated that cats will often kill their prey and slowly eat it over several days. My formerly fat kitty hasn't seemed to gain anymore weight since I started to vary his diet again. If anything he looks more muscular and solid.
posted by alleycatd at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2007

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