Excess weight contributes to many serious health problems and shortens life, in cats as in people. Except in very rare cases, overweight is the result of overeating. Several factors determine the amount of food your kitten or cat needs:
- Activity level. If your kitty runs and leaps and plays by the hour, he'll need more food than if he's a couch potato.
- Quality of food. The nutritional value and calories in cat foods and homemade diets vary. The more nutritionally dense the food, the less your kitty needs to eat.
- Individual variation. Every cat is an individual with his own looks, personality, and nutritional needs. Two kittens from the same litter can have different nutritional needs even if their activity levels are similar.
Dietary supplements might seem to be a good way to insure your cat's proper nutrition, but excess minerals in the diet can cause serious problems, and overdoses of some vitamins, especially A and D, are toxic. You really can give your kitty too much of a good thing. Ask your vet before supplementing your kitty's diet.
In an ideal world, your cat will stay at a proper weight throughout his life. Realistically, he might pack on some extra fat as time goes by. If your cat starts to get fat (or too thin), adjust his food portions. If you feed a commercial cat food, be aware that the recommended daily serving on the bag or can is a starting point only, and adjust the amount you feed to your cat's needs. If you're not sure his weight is appropriate, ask your vet.
If your cat is fat, he needs to consume fewer calories. If you free feed, put your cat on a schedule so you can control his portions. If you already feed him on a schedule, reduce the amount you feed gradually over a week or so. Another way to reduce your cat's caloric intake is to switch to a lower-calorie food
Does your cat suck up food faster than an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner? To help slow him down, put his kibble in a toy designed to release a few bits at a time as he bats it around. Or toss small amounts of kibble on the floor for him to pick up. You can also place a few clean rocks, 1 to 2 inches in diameter, in his bowl so he has to pick the food from among them. Be sure the rocks are too big for him to swallow!
Feeding on Schedule
Many people free feed their cats, leaving food down all the time and letting their cats eat as they please. Of course, free feeding works only with dry food—canned foods spoil too quickly to be left out for long, and semi-moist foods tend to become gummy and form unappetizing globs. For many cats—and their owners—free feeding works well. For others, scheduled feedings are better.
One good reason to feed your cat measured amounts of food on a schedule is to prevent or deal with obesity. Don't assume that a cat won't overeat—Garfield is by no means the only fat cat around! If your cat begins to put on excess weight, he's eating too much. If you've been free feeding, switch to twice-daily meals, giving him half ration at each feeding. Keep in mind, too, that because the recommended servings on cat food packages are rough estimates and are more than many individual cats need to maintain weight and health, you need to adjust the amount your cat gets every day according to his weight. And remember, small changes in the amount of food can make a difference—a ½-pound weight gain or loss is significant in a 10-pound animal.
If you have more than one cat, scheduled feedings will work best if the cats are on different diets and you need to control who gets what. Even if your cats all eat the same foods, scheduled meals allow you not only to control each cat's portions but also to observe very quickly if one of them stops eating, which can be the first sign of a serious health problem. If you free feed multiple cats, it might be some time before you notice that one has stopped eating normally.
Making the switch from free feeding to scheduled meals isn't difficult, although it will cause some grumping the first few days, as most cats are not amused by change. But whether they think so or not, you're in charge. At bedtime the night before the first day of the new regimen, pick up all food and don't put any out in the morning. At dinnertime, put out the food for about half an hour. If you have more than one cat, supervise the first few meals. If one is a fast eater and wants to “help” with another's food, feed them in different rooms or remove the quick eater when he's finished.
A cat who has been used to munching throughout the day will likely be hungry by dinnertime and eat most of her food, but she might also walk away, thinking the absence of food during the day was a booboo on your part. Even if she hasn't eaten her whole dinner, remove it after 30 minutes and wait until morning to offer more food. In a day or two, everyone will adjust and scheduled meals will be a normal part of daily life.