Overweight Cats and Exercise

Cats can benefit greatly from owners encouraging them to move. Physical activity is essential for overall wellness and maintaining a healthy weight.

More than half of all cats living in the United States are considered overweight or obese. Inactivity may also contribute to problem behaviors evolving from boredom.

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How Can You Tell If Your Cat Is Overweight?

Look down at your cat. You should be able to see a waist when you look down at your kitty from the top, or when you run your hands from its ribs to its hips.

Run your hand along your cat’s abdomen from his or her ribs to his pelvis and it should be indented.

If you put your hands on the side of your cat’s chest, you should be able to feel his or her ribs without a thick layer of fat over them.

There are also charts at your veterinarian’s office that show how to evaluate where your cat falls.

Take your cat to your veterinarian to rule out a medical condition

It’s always better to take your cat to your veterinarian first to see if your kitty has a thyroid or medical condition contributing to the overweight condition.

Your veterinarian can also give you some recommendations as to what type of food your cat should eat to lose weight.

Overweight Cats Are At Risk For:

  • Shortened lifespans
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Liver disease

Cats Without Enough Varied Stimuli May:

  • Overeat
  • Oversleep
  • Over groom
  • Engage in troublesome activities that may be damaging to themselves, owners, and property

Cats who play as kittens may be more active as adult cats. Providing high-action toys that move quickly and unpredictably, such as ping pong balls, are excellent choices for engaging young cats in play.

Several non-toy items are also irresistible to small cats, such as plastic milk carton rings or small kid toys that can scoot or roll across the floor. Be careful leaving out string or yarn as they may accidentally be ingested and become linear foreign bodies, which is life-threatening.

Getting an older cat to move may be challenging, depending on the individual cat’s personality, temperament, and life experiences. Animal behaviorists encourage using a cat’s natural predatory instincts to arouse behavior. Most cats are driven by a desire to hunt, pounce, and feed.

How You Can Help Your Cat If It’s Overweight

Our cats come in all shapes and sizes with all their different funny and quirky personalities. Some cats love to eat and can gorge all day long while some cats are dainty eaters or don’t like to eat at all.

While we love our cats to eat wholeheartedly, it can sometimes lead to an overweight cat. Of course, overweight kitties and/or cats can lead to further health issues so it’s better to get your cat on a diet right away.

Find high-quality wet food and monitor the portions

Wet food is generally recommended for an overweight cat as they tend to be higher in protein and have more water. It’s important to keep your cat hydrated and make sure they drink plenty of water.

There are several high proteins, healthy wet cat foods on the market that is designed for chunky kitties. If you have to give your kitty dry food, monitor the portions and only leave a little out each day.

Cats don’t like change. Therefore, it is important to change your kitties’ food slowly and mix the new food into the old food and eventually transition the old food out.

If you change the food too quickly, your cat won’t eat it and you will be forced to go back to the old food and start over.

Your cat could be overweight due to his surroundings

Sometimes our cats are overweight because of his or her surroundings. Is your cat bored because there’s nothing to do in the house so he just sits around and eats?

If that’s the case, then changing his diet or the amount of food he eats won’t help his weight problem. So the issue then is making your home a happier place for your cat.

They need windows they can lookout. If there is something in your house that is scary to them, they won’t come out to exercise.

If your cat’s happier and more active, then he’ll probably lose weight.

Make sure your cat gets exercise

Overweight cats (or any cats) need to get exercise. Make sure to have toys like mice on sticks and balls and encourage your kitty to climb by placing climbing structures around your home.

Try to play with your cat and get him moving for at least ten minutes a day. If your cat is very old or very obese, you may have to build up to ten minutes.

Use healthy cat treats as an incentive to move around

Hide edible treats for your cat around the house and hide them at different levels so he or she has to climb to find them.

If your cat can’t find the treats, help him out the first few times you hide them. Also, only buy healthy cat treats and always check the treat labels and ingredients list.

If you gradually change your cat’s diet, provide plenty of exercises and an enriched environment, he or she should be able to lose weight over time.

Everyday Motions for Overweight Cats

Getting cats moving as part of their everyday routine may be as simple as increasing their vertical space. Consider introducing cat trees or shelves on which they can climb.

A cat tree in front of a sunny window or a well-placed outdoor bird feeder may be all the motivation kitty needs to climb right to the top.

Use the space you have to encourage movement. Feed the cat in different areas of the home.

This can be done by moving the dish from the counter to the floor and back again or placing food upstairs and then downstairs.

Some owners have found success feeding small amounts of food in different areas inside of a variety of toys designed to slowly release the food only when the toy is moved or pawed at by the cat.

Cat Exercise Play Time

Cats are most likely to respond to toys that are novel, so rotate any toys meant for independent play and bring interactive toys out only during playtime.

Catnip can also encourage some cats to get more active.

Independent Play Ideas

overweight white and black cat playing with toy rubber duck

  • Place a cat tree near a window facing a bird feeder.
  • Set up a secure fish tank.
  • Open the curtains and let kitty watch the bugs or fireflies through a window or sliding glass door.
  • Supply floor toys such as balls, paper bags, boxes, etc.

Playmates can increase a cat’s activity. Both human and animal (cat or dog) playmates can get kitty moving.

If you are introducing a new cat to the house, consider a kitten or consult resources on introducing adult cats to one another.

Fighting and problem behaviors are common results in this scenario. Not all dogs are cat-friendly and only some cats will tolerate a dog’s playful behavior.

Proceed with caution when introducing new animal friends.

Interactive Play Ideas

  • Fishing pole type toys are a favorite of most cats. Be sure to mimic bird and rodent-like motions to increase kitty’s interest.
  • Laser pointers are an easy way to get some cats to move. Make sure to jump it around, place to place, similar to the way a bug might move.
    • Note: Be careful using laser pointers around dogs as some may develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors in response to the laser pointer.

Some cats will tolerate a harness and leash, but few will walk gamely alongside a strolling person.

Most lie down and observe the great outdoors. This is great for mental health but doesn’t contribute overly much to an exercise plan.

If you do choose to introduce a harness and leash, try to do so at an early age. If training an older cat to accept a harness, proceed slowly, carefully, and inside.

Also, make sure to never leave the leash or harness on the cat unsupervised since it can quickly become a strangulation risk.

Additional Interventions for Obese or High-Energy Cats

Cats that are severely obese may benefit from the use of a treadmill. Underwater treadmills may be used to avoid overtaxing their joints.

Depending on the cat, this can be quite an undertaking, and expert supervision from a trained physical therapist or rehabilitation expert is recommended.

Some cats with a high drive to exercise may be entertained through the use of a cat exercise wheel. These novel contraptions provide repetitive movement in a limited space but are extremely expensive and some cats may choose to use them as an overpriced sunspot.

Know your cat and your budget before investing. Even a few minutes of playtime and activity is beneficial for overweight and obese cats.

For high-energy cats and kittens, try for some interactive play of at least 15 minutes duration, two to three times daily, and provide plenty of independent play options.

Ideally, playtime should occur every day and some owners benefit most from encouraging their cats to exercise before bedtime. Playtime should end when the cat is done or when the playmate tires.

Cats that are extremely heavy should be introduced to exercise gradually to avoid overexertion and possible damage to joints.

If your cat is severely obese, you may wish to consult with a veterinary nutritionist and or rehabilitation specialist who may be able to offer additional means to help safely remove the weight.

Obesity can greatly diminish a cat’s life span and quality of life. Inactivity can often result in behaviors that are troubling and potentially harmful even in cats of healthy weights.

Encouraging active movement during the day and at playtime may significantly improve your cat’s well-being and may also lead to further enjoyment of your pet.

The safest bet for your cat will be to consider buying insurance, to help cover any emergency medical issues or problems.

For more advice or help regarding cats, check out our Cat Blog!

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