Best Diet Food For Overweight Cats

Do you think your cat is overweight and it should lose some weight? Did you know that there is a Guinness World Record for the fattest cat? A cat in Australia, called Himmy weighted 46.8 pounds in 1986. Another cat, called Meow reached 39.7 lb. You can also find an unofficial top list of fat cats in this youtube video. Latest data from the ASPOP – Association for Pet Obesity Prevention 2017 survey shows about 60% cats being overweight in the US. This confirms previous studies like the one from 2003 that estimated about 48% of domestic cat to be overweight. This is clearly a problem affecting health of millions of domestic cats.

While they are descendants of great hunters, our domesticated cats can easily become obese once they settle in a lifestyle that involves little movement and a lot of readily available food. If you believe your cat is obese, it is up to you to make sure they get on the right track to health. Obesity carries many health risks for the cats, same as with humans.

If you want to see how only few steps taken to manage weight and activity can add up to it living up to two years longer on average, read on.

Quick look – Top Cat Food Selection for Overweight Cats

TypeBrandProtein*Fat*Calories per
packaging
WetWeruva B.F.F. – Best Feline Friend
Grain-Free Wet Cat Food Cans
70%12%128 kcal
5.5 oz can
DryInstinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free56%17%491 kcal
per cup

*on dry matter basis, comparable to AAFCO guidelines

We are aware that it is hard for humans to build habits to lose weight themselves, but this does not absolve us of responsibility for our pets. In this article, we will try to present best action plan to diagnose and tackle your cat’s obesity. We will also introduce some tips that might help making the experience easier for you and your (fat) cat. 

How do cats get fat?

fat cat needs weightloss

With cats, weight management issues come up in the same way as they appear in humans. It all boils down to food intake and activity. If you are eating more calories than you are spending, they get stored as fat. It’s the same with cats. 

Our cats spend most of their day sleeping. They usually have free feed food ready so they can eat when they feel like it. Many cats actually have their favourite nap spot right next to the bowl. Also, they don’t get much activity from being indoor all the time. Indoor cats have little opportunities to exercise their hunter instincts and spend those calories.

Overweight cats can also own their increased body mass index to a range of other factors like spaying or neutering which have been shown to reduce cats’ behaviour and lower the metabolic rate. Some estimates see these cats needing more food and gaining weight much faster. 

Some medical problems of cats can also exert influence on the metabolic rate and the ability to absorb nutrients, examples are hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, insulinoma and others.

How to check if my cat is overweight?

There are also environmental factors that influence your cats feeding schedule and thereby weight. If they live in a multi-cat household, competition to get to the food might cause overfeeding and obesity.

The easiest way to check if your cat is overweight is by simply looking at it and touching it to determine how much fat is there on some crucial spots. See the World Small Animal Veterinary Association graphic(WSAVA, click for full size) below to get an idea how to perform the check.

overweight cats - check body condition

Here are a few pointers on how to check if your cat needs to go on diet:

So in essence if your cat’s bones and ribs are sticking out, with ribs visible and severe abdominal tuck -> your cat is probably underweight

  1. Lightly run your fingers across your cat’s side. You should feel the ribs and even count them. 
  2. If you take a look at your cat from above, does it look so that it has indentations near the middle. ASPOP calls this a “hour glass” shape. If your cat looks like a blimp, it probably packs more weight than it should. 

If your cat has a blimp shape, her abdominal tack looks like a beer belly or even more and you cannot even feel the ribs from the excess fat on the sides, your cat is overweight and should go on a diet. 

Cat food brand Purina has a video on how to do this. Please note that publishing this video is not endorsement of Purina’s products from our site.

When you have evaluated your cat, assign it one of the scores from the picture above

  • 1,2 or 3, the cat is malnourished
  • 4, 5, your cat has ideal body weight
  • 6, 7, 8 or 9, your cat is overweight

Remember the score of your cat, you will need it later!

What are the potential health issues of overweight cats?

Health is the true reason why it matters that pet owners recognize overweight cats. Increased body mass can have numerous negative consequences on your cat’s health. It can also be indicative of some disorders. Issues most commonly associated with obesity in cats according to the ASPOP are

  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Joint pain
  • Intra-abdominal cancers
  • Kidney issues
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Heart disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • High blood pressure

From this, it is evident that cat owners need to be careful about their cat’s diet and make sure not only to supply them with the best cat food, but also with appropriate amounts that are in line with the cat’s lifestyle and environment. The weight just might be one of the most important factors that correlates with your cat’s life expectancy, health and life quality.

What kind of cat food is best for weight management?

TypeBrandProtein*Fat*Calories per
packaging
WetWeruva B.F.F. – Best Feline Friend
Grain-Free Wet Cat Food Cans
70%12%128 kcal
5.5 oz can
DryInstinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free56%17%491 kcal
per cup

*on dry matter basis, comparable to AAFCO guidelines

Before we dive into the amount food your cat should eat if you want it to lose weight (Spoiler alert: less) and how to calculate calorie requirements, we want to touch on the type of food which will support weight loss the best. 

A Short Guide on How to Asses Cat Foods for Weight Loss

If you haven’t been carefully checking the ingredient list and guaranteed nutrient analysis on the cat food, it’s time to start doing this. 

Quick pointers for weight management cat food:

  • make sure its high protein 35% and more dry matter share (see here how to calculate)
  • get weight loss food that is grain free, or (very) low carb. Your cat does not need carbs, it’s a carnivore
  • moisture rich food is less calorie dense and might help with fat loss
  • moderate amount of fats, at least 9% on dry matter basis
  • avoid high-fiber weight loss cat food for the same reason as why you are avoiding carbs
  • check ingredients and try to use cat foods that have quality meats as first five ingredients

Being carnivores, cats do not need carbs. Carbohydrates can induce spikes in insulin, which if they persist for a long time, can make cat hyperglycemic which is a path to diabetes. 

While some cat diet studies with fiber content have seen some beneficial effects on weight loss and digestion tract, they also produce significant losses in lean muscle mass after some time. Goal with weight loss in cats is to lose fat layers, not muscle.

It’s just logical that the food with more moisture will lead to satiety more easily. Water has 0 calories and it can take up to 80% in weight. Naturally, if your cat prefers dry kibble, you will find it hard to force it to eat canned foods for weight loss (and you shouldn’t try!), however, there are strategies to deal with this as we will show below. 

Best Dry Cat Food for Weight Management

Following the advice above, we have taken a look to find some dry foods that can be more appropriate to feed to your cat while on a weight loss programme. As noted they have to be grain free and with low carb content. See our recommendations below:

BrandProtein*Fat*Calories
Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free
Dry Cat Food
56%17%491 kcal
per cup
Nude Food I and Love and You
Poultry A Plenty Dry Cat food
49%20%386 kcal
per cup
Nulo Freestyle Chicken & Cod Recipe
Dry Cat Food
44%22%486 kcal
per cup

*on dry matter basis, comparable to AAFCO guidelines

Best Wet Cat Food for Overweight Cats

As we already highlighted, the fact that wet food includes a lot of moisture is definitely beneficial when trying to reduce overall caloric intake for your cat. This basically means the portion of food will nicely fill your cat’s bowl without increasing the number of calories digested. 

See our recommendations for the best canned weight loss cat food products based on ingredients and guaranteed analysis is below

BrandProtein*Fat*Calories per packaging
Weruva B.F.F. – Best Feline Friend
Grain-Free Wet Cat Food Cans
70%12%128 kcal
5.5 oz can
AvoDerm Natural Chicken Formula
All Life Stages Canned
45%31%197 kcal
5.5 oz can
Purina Beyond Quail and Carrot Pate
Recipe Grain Free Canned
45%22%92 kcal
3 oz can

*on dry matter basis, comparable to AAFCO guidelines

Step by Step Plan for Successful Cat Diet and Weight Loss Plan That Takes Few Minutes a Day

So finally, we got to the hard part. Don’t worry, getting your cat on a diet will require some effort, but it is worth it. We have tried to set up the steps so they are clear and easy to follow. 

Beginning will require most effort, while later all you need to make sure you follow the rules and you will see sustainable results soon. 

5 steps for an ideal weight loss plan for your cat

  1. Finding out your cat’s current and ideal weight and how much calories it needs to maintain current weight
  2. Deciding on the food and the portion size – reduce daily calories below maintenance level
  3. Making sure the cat gets enough physical activity every day
  4. Tracking progress and adjusting food intake as necessary
  5. When you reach the ideal weight, adjust calories to the maintenance level

With minor modifications, these principles work for humans as well, so if you believe you need to shed some fat, join your cat! 

Let’s take a more thorough look into each of these steps.

1.     Finding out your cat’s current and ideal weight and how much calories it needs to maintain current weight

Before you start cutting calories from your cat’s daily intake you need to know how much. 

If you go overboard and you cat starts losing weight rapidly, you could feel accomplished, but the truth is you might be doing damage to the cat’s health.

If you asses the amount of food incorrectly, you might still feed the cat too much, so you won’t hit the weight loss targets

In this step:

  • establish how much your cat weights
  • how many calories it needs to maintain the weight
  • learn what is your cats ideal weight. 

Write it down.

Visiting the Vet

The best way to start the process is to take your cat to the vet for a check-up. Veterinarian can weigh the cat and produce an assessment of the ideal weight and the cat’s health condition to rule out hyperthyroidism or other metabolic conditions.

The vet can also recommend how much food/calories the cat should be eating to lose weight sustainably. 

How to Calculate the Appropriate Calorie Intake for Cats

If you want to reduce the calorie intake for your cat to the level that will result in weight loss, the daily intake has to be less than the maintenance level. Maintenance level is the amount that cat eats every day without gaining or losing weight.Your best bet might be the vet, but you can try to assess it yourself as well.

You can use the pet nutritional calculator on the website of the Pet Nutrition Alliance

  1. Enter the weight of your cat.
  2. Answer if it has been neutered or spayed.
  3. Using the instructions from WSAVA assign a number to your cat. Above 5 means cat is overweight.

Calculator will show the amount your cat should start eating to lose weight – the “estimated daily initial calories”

INFORMATION ON THE METHOD: The calculator estimates the resting energy requirement of your cat and reduces it by 20% – more on the American Animal Hospital Association

We cannot stress enough, this is just a guidance, if your cat starts rapidly losing weight, make sure to increase its daily calorie intake! Losing weight too fast, more than 3% body weight per week can create health problems.

2.     Deciding on the food and the portion size – reduce daily calories below maintenance level

General guideline is to reduce the daily caloric intake for your overweight cat by 20 – 25%.

Do not try to cut calories for an underweight cat (1-3 on the WSAVA assessment chart)

If you used the calculator, you already have an idea how much your cat should eat to lose weight. 

If you do not trust the calculator, you can try your own measurement. Calculate how much the cat eats daily now and start to slowly reduce that amount until you see the results. 

Next step is to start feeding the cat less than before according to the guideline. We recommend not cutting the daily amount immediately. Reduce it slowly over a period of a week or two weeks until you reach the 20% caloric reduction. Then continue feeding your cat with that amount fo food for a couple of weeks to see if it results in fat loss.

Preparing the portions of cat food to achieve weight loss

This is the point where you stop free feeding yourcat. You stop just leaving some amount of food and let it eat when and how much it wants. 

You need to feed it not more than the daily recommended calories for weight lossand this includes treats and scraps under the table while having a family meal. 

This is important rule to respect, since scraps and treats can contain a lot of calories. 

You want to split the daily calories into 4 daily meals. You can also split it differently. Best is to see through that your cat gets several meals daily but it also depends on your schedule. 

Example: if a cat’s recommended daily calorie intake is 158 kcal, and we want to split it in 4 meals, we get about 40 kcal per each meal. 

Now is the moment we need to take a look how much calories does a cup of the selected food have. 

One of the foods we recommend is the Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain-Free. It is dry kibble with 52% protein on dry basis, coming from real chicken meat. Only 2,2% fiber and about 19% fat. 

The number of calories per cup is 491 kcal.

If the cat needs to eat 158 kcal daily, it means that we should feed it about 1/3 of a cup.

It seems little, but remember what we said about the dry food – its very calorie dense. 

We need to feed our imaginary cat about 1/12 of a cup per meal, 4 meals a day to ensure total of 158 kcal. Best use a kitchen scale to properly measure the weight of the portion.

The same calculation works if you use wet food

Another favourite diet cat food is Weruva BFF – Grain Free Wet Cat Food which has about 128 calories per 5.5 oz can. 

This means that we feed our example cat ¼ of can for each meal + we can add some treats or another meal to reach the goal of 158 kcal for the day. 

Note: you need to do your own calculation, this was just an example to show how to calculate the portions!

3.     Making sure your indoor cat gets enough of physical activity every day

Let’s face it, our indoor overweight cats will spend most of the day on their favourite spot sleeping. We have to make sure they get some activity each day since it’s an integral part of getting your cat to the ideal weight. 

This will take you only a few minutes per day. Since cats are not like dogs when it comes to play, you need to find ways to entice them, like

  • use type of toys which they prefer – which type of prey do they enjoy hunting, maybe it’s a mouse that “runs” around the house, it might be a snake or some other type of moving toy
  • use catnip to add smell to the toy so the cat finds it more appealing
  • change the cat’s environment, like installing platforms to which it has to jump and climb to get. They love being on a high ground observing the surrounding
  • spread and change feeding bowls around the house so the cat needs to find it. 

We recommend truly spending time and playing with your cat since it is not only beneficial to the cat, it also has been proven to reduce stress in humans. Try getting at least 5-10 minutes really intense play every day. That’s all that is needed, and it was confirmed in scientific study – cats that play with their owners are on average healthier.

4.     Tracking the progress and adjusting the caloric intake

In the first step, you have weighted your cat. After 2-4 weeks, you can choose the interval, you need to weight your cat again to see if any progress is made. 

  • If your cat has lost 1-2% bodyweight per week, or 4-8% in 4 weeks you can keep the current portion size. 
  • If your cat has lost more than 3-4% or more bodyweight per week, consider increasing total caloric intake since it’s not healthy for it to lose body weight too fast.

In both cases the calculators estimate deviate from what your cat really needs so you need to increase or decrease portion sizes and the estimate of ideal weight accordingly. If it was the vet’s estimate, consult your veterinarian.

5.     When the cat reaches the ideal weight, adjust calories to the maintenance level

Our outdoor cat Matcha believes he has ideal weight to model in the garden setting, we agree

Stop with current feeding regiment and implement maintenance calorie intake after the cat has reached ideal weight. You should have received your info from the vet or from the calculator.

That is how you get your overweight cat to lose weight. Patience will be required since you might not get the caloric intake right the first time. 

Another important thing is to be strict and make sure to keep with the schedule. Your cat will produce sounds that will make them sound like they are dying of hunger. Don’t fall for it, they have evolved to vocally manipulate humans into doing what they want by using similar frequencies like crying babies.

How to weigh a cat?

This one can be a bit tricky sometimes since cats have mind of their own and it’s hard to make them stay in the place you want them to have. 

Also, many baby and pet scales tend to be expensive. 

One of the best suggestions we have found was to use a luggage scale. Sometimes it would work if the cat was in the mood, but sometimes it was hell to weight it since it just wanted to go its own way. 

One solution that wasn’t bad was to use the carrier. First weigh the carrier and then put the cat in it. Place it on a scale and wait for it to calm down if it’s not used to it. 

What if my cat does not like the weight loss food?

We all know that cats can be picky when it comes to food. In our case, the issue was moving from dry to wet food. One formula that seems to work was to introduce new food slowly by mixing it with the one the cat prefers.