Why Is it Difficult to Put a Cat on a Diet and Is There a Better Way?
Gaining weight is a big problem for cats and the most common reason is overeating. Putting cats on a diet can be difficult. Cats are made to eat small portions throughout the day rather than one or two large meals. In fact, cats should not be fed only once per day since it is unhealthy for them. Cats have much faster digestion than people or dogs. This is one reason people give cats free access to dry food. They can go get a few bites throughout the day even when we are gone to work. This is also why it is very hard to put a cat on a diet. I found a better way! Here is my solution for how to put a cat on a diet. A puzzle or slow feeder lets them eat when they want but slows them down considerably. Your can put your cat on a diet but not have to measure out every serving.
Why is Weight Control Important For Cats?
Many common and serious health problems result from cat obesity. Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions cats develop and being overweight is a key risk factor. It would be sad and difficult to have a cat who needs insulin injections every day. If we want to avoid this future for our pets we need to make sure they don’t become obese or get the weight off if that is already the case. Being overweight also puts more stress on a cat’s heart and increases it’s risk of high blood pressure.
Healthy weight also helps prevent: some urinary tract and digestive problems, cancers, extra wear and tear on joints ligaments and tendons, compromised lung, liver and kidney function including fatty liver disease (“hepatic lipidosis”) which can become fatal if untreated.
These are just some of the potential complications of obesity in cats so we need to attempt to control it.
Why is it Difficult to Put Cats on a Diet?
There are several reasons it has been difficult to put cats on a diet. First of all, cats are made to eat small meals many times throughout the day (think hunting mice). They don’t sit down to a huge meal once a day like their larger cousins the tigers and lions. Domestic cats will suffer poor health if they wait too long between meals. This means if you are trying to feed a cat a certain measured portion of food you need to be there to feed them or buy an automatic feeder to dole out measured amounts of food. This is one option.
A more affordable and easy option is to find a way to slow cats down so they can’t gorge on dry food that is left for them. That is where my solution comes in…a puzzle feeder! This has worked great for my cats but more about that later.
Another reason it is hard to diet cats is because they often get indigestion when they don’t eat. Just like people they get an acidic stomach and will throw up if they don’t have food available (or throw up after they finally do get food). Who wants to clean up kitty barf and make your pet feel sick and uncomfortable every day? Not me.
The last reason it is hard to put a cat on a diet is that they will drive you absolutely crazy asking for food constantly. The meowing will get old. Why not avoid all these problems and just get a puzzle feeder?
The Easy Way to Put a Cat on a Diet
So how do we save our cat’s health and put them on a diet without starving them while we are gone to work? The easy solution I found is to use a puzzle or “slow” feeder for dry food. I still feed my cats wet food when I am home since wet food is healthier for them but they have the option to have some dry during the day. Dry food is a key factor in cat weight gain in the first place. Dry food is like bread to humans. It is often full of carbs which cats don’t need and it makes them gain weight. If your cat needs some food on his sensitive stomach while you are away however, dry food is the way to go.
How Does a Puzzle Feeder Help a Cat Lose Weight?
Puzzle feeders work by preventing cats from chowing down on a ton of dry food in a short period of time. Some cats (just like dogs) eat so much dry food so fast that they may throw it back up. Otherwise they just gobble down way more than they should have at once. Like we already discussed, cats are built to eat small meals many times per day. A puzzle feeder helps them do that by slowing them down. That is why puzzle feeders are called “slow” feeders. They force the cat to solve a puzzle in order to get the food. In the case of the puzzle feeder I recommend, it is not difficult, just time consuming. The food is right there where they can see it and smell it, they just need to reach their paw in to scoop the food out. This sounds simple and it is, but some cats take a while to figure this out while others figure it out instantly.
This puzzle feeder is very large and is in fact sold as a dog feeder. I use this one since I have 4 cats and I want it to hold enough food I don’t have to fill it every day. If you only have one cat you could get one of the smaller options or a different design by the same brand.
This bowl is my choice since the design is not too complex and it doesn’t make a huge mess on the floor. When the food is filled up the cats can simply eat normally out of the bowl. If I don’t fill it up or after enough gets eaten, then they have to use their paws to pull a piece out at a time (depending on the size of your cat they may be able to eat out of it directly but they will have to go slowly even when the food is at the bottom). My polydactile kitty might have a harder time reaching her large paws in to scoop out food but she is tiny so her little muzzle fits anyway and she can work the pieces out without using her paws.
There are much more elaborate puzzle feeders to choose from if you wish such as this food tree model which I also tried:
If you want to read about my experience with this puzzle feeder food tree, you can check it out here: Cat Puzzle Feeders. There are pros and cons to different models.
Do You Need A Portion Control Auto-Feeder?
If you want to know exactly how much your cat eats you can get a timed auto-feeder. These will open up a compartment with food that you have placed there earlier. At a certain time (that you set) the compartment opens and the serving you put there will be available. If you only have one or two cats this would work but with 4 cats I don’t attempt this. If your cat is determine to chow down that may be required however. A smart and determined cat can still get too much food out of a puzzle feeder if you fill it up.
Here is a link to Amazon’s very large selection of timed feeders for cats and dogs. Auto-Feeders on Chewy. There are many great models to choose from! Some have remote controls, some just have one reservoir and measure the food to your specifications rather than having separate compartments. Some even have Wi-Fi so you can see your pet eating and get updates on how much they ate.
Is A Puzzle Feeder Effective for Cat Diets?
Yes! I was skeptical if it would be enough. I had been trying to get my cat’s weight down for years. With the puzzle feeder each of my large, male cats have lost at least a pound according to their records at the vet. One is an orange tabby and one is a Norwegian Forest Cat. They started at 15 and 16 pounds each. That would be equivalent to a 150 pound person losing 10 pounds. That is the only change we have made. They are eating the same food. We had already found a grain free, high quality food. The puzzle feeder was the key to help them lose weight.
Should Cats Have Dry Food?
Wet food is a better form of nutrition for cats. Wet food with it’s high water content and lower amount of carbs and fillers (in a high quality food) is closer to a cat’s natural diet. Eating dry food and not getting enough water is always bad for cats and can lead to serious health conditions such as urinary tract disease and kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease and kidney failure is one of the biggest silent killers of older cats. Therefore, it is vital to make sure your cat gets enough water. Giving wet food instead of or in addition to dry food is one way to help cats stay hydrated. I give my cats wet food as a vehicle to mix in supplements as well as dry food so they can munch throughout the day and night when we are not available to feed them wet food. Cats like fresh food so you cannot just pile up a bunch of wet food and have it last for long. It can spoil and dry out. If I ever find a good auto-feeder for wet food I will let you know!
Feed a High Quality Dry Food
If you feed your cats dry food, make sure it a high quality dry food. Real meat should be the first ingredient. It may be chicken, fish, beef or something else but make sure it is real animal protein from a whole source, not a “meat by-product meal” or other unknown substance. Corn meal, wheat gluten or other grains are also not needed by cats and can cause weight gain. Corn meal and wheat gluten are very common fillers in cat foods and should be avoided. A grain free cat food is usually a better source of nutrients. At a minimum, make sure corn meal, corn gluten meal or wheat gluten are not the first ingredient of your cat’s food. This applies to wet and dry foods. Purina cat foods (even the higher end varieties), Meow Mix and Friskies all have corn meal or something similar as the first ingredient. This means there is more corn meal than any other ingredient. There is more corn than meat. That will never be an appropriate diet for a healthy cat.
Getting Enough Water is Vital for Cats
As discussed above, dehydration is a big problem for cats and can lead to kidney disease and eventually kidney failure. Make sure your cat drinks water every single day. Some cats lap up a little here and there. Some tank up just a few times per day. When feeding dry food it is especially important to make sure your cats are drinking water.
Provide unlimited clean, fresh water for your cats to avoid health problems. It should be clean, in a clean bowl and it should NEVER run out. Here are my tips to make sure your cat drinks plenty of water.
Have You Put Your Cat on a Diet?
If you have any good cat dieting tips or experience I would love to hear it. Leave me a comment below or ask a question.
For more information on cat health and behavior problems and solutions, please look around this website. The Categories on the right side of the page will take you to the specific topics you select.
Please note: I am not a veterinarian. Nothing in this post constitutes medical advice. Always see a veterinarian before starting a new diet or attempting to diagnose any medical condition.
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