As I explained in my blog entry, Free-feeding vs. Portioned Meals for Cats, I used to live with a houseful of feline fatties. This was the outcome of decades of free feeding high-carb kibble diets to my cats. This cheap and lazy way of feeding cats resulted not only in fat felines, but also in the tragic loss of one of my cats to renal failure that was diagnosed way too late, and a diabetes scare in another.
And so, in 2007, I implemented a weight loss program here at Shadowood’s Feline Fat Farm. I had been resisting embarking on this endeavor for an irresponsibly long time because I simply couldn’t imagine how I would work out the logistics of a weight loss program for all of my kitty kids. But I couldn’t continue to stand by and watch them fall, one by one, to various weight and diet-related illnesses. It was way past time for me to bite the bullet and act.
My strategy was threefold. The first step was to remove the all-day kitty buffet and start feeding scheduled, portioned meals, instead. Simultaneous with this effort, I also upgraded the quality of their diet by swapping out their high-carb kibble for premium quality dry and canned foods as low in carbs as possible. Lastly, I started weighing each cat every two weeks on a digital baby scale and using the results to adjust food portions to maintain slow, steady weight loss.
I figured that since the cats were used to grazing on kibble all day, they’d make the adjustment with less complaining if I offered three meals a day: two kibble and one canned. I portioned and individually fed the kibble meals and then fed the canned meal in one, large, communal bowl at night before bedtime. Since the cats were committed kibbleheads with very little interest in canned food, I knew they wouldn’t overeat at that communal meal.
After the first week, the cats were eating canned food more readily, so I swapped one of the kibble meals for canned and fed one kibble and two canned meals daily. After the second week, I eliminated one of the canned meals and settled on feeding only two meals daily: kibble for breakfast and canned for dinner.
Knowing from experience that commercial cat food packaging typically recommends feeding 1/3-1/2 times as much food as any normal cat needs to eat, I started each cat’s daily kibble allowance at 1/3 less than the package directed (also calculating in the fact that kibble was making up only a portion of the daily diet). After the first biweekly weigh-in, almost all cats had gained weight. I reduced the kibble amount slightly, and by the second weigh-in, most cats had maintained close to steady weights. I reduced kibble amounts again, and at the third weigh-in, some of the cats had finally started to lose weight.
In order to achieve steady, slow weight loss in all of the overweight cats, I now had to start portioning the canned food meal, as well as the kibble. I had reduced the kibble breakfast for each cat to a mere 1/8 c., which was as little as I felt I could feed them in a full meal. Once I started portioning the canned meal (2-4 oz per cat daily), I had complete control over each cat’s caloric intake, and I could make effective portion adjustments, as necessary.
This is where the regular weigh-ins assumed a more exacting role. I maintained (and still do maintain) a chart of all of the cat’s weights so that I could easily track fluctuations over time. Any time a cat lost less than .2 (2/10) lb during a two week period, I decreased the daily canned food portion slightly. If more than .4 (4/10) lb was lost during a two week period, I increased the canned food meal slightly. It’s important to note here that it is critical for cats to lose weight slowly, because rapid weight loss can trigger a potentially lethal liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) in felines.
Using this strategy, I was able to restore all of my fat cats to lean, healthy weights over the course of about 18 months. Cats who had been lame carrying around all of that extra weight were now much more comfortably mobile. Cats who had been unable to groom their masses were now keeping themselves clean and shiny. Cats who had been completely sedentary were now chasing toys and each other around the house. Cats who weren’t even able to sit in a normal, upright position were now sitting pretty and perfect. Most importantly, there were no more fat-induced health issues in any of the felines. The Pride of Shadowood had, indeed, regained its pride.
If you have tried weight loss strategies with your cats that have or haven’t been successful, please leave a comment and let us know. We can all learn from each other!