A lazy fat cat on the couch.
Photography ©Lulamej | Thinkstock.

Have a Fat Cat? Here’s Why — and How to Help Him Lose the Weight


Feline obesity is on the rise and can lead to serious consequences because an unhealthy weight can predispose a fat cat to various grave medical conditions and, ultimately, even a shorter life span. First, let’s take a quick cat food quiz to gauge your relationship with your cat and her food bowl. What is the No. 1 reason your cat is fat?

  1. Overfeeding your cat
  2. Free feeding your cat
  3. Giving your cat human food
  4. Giving your cat too many treats

And, which of the above have you been guilty of doing?

(It’s OK, we won’t divulge …) According to veterinarian Dr. Drew Weigner of the all-feline practice The Cat Doctor in Atlanta, Georgia, overfeeding is the main reason cats are fat. But free feeding, feeding human food and too many treats also contribute to weight gain. And many of us cat parents are guilty of all of the above!

Cats are fat because we’re feeding them too much

A hungry cat looking up.
A hungry cat looking up. Photography ©Nelson Art | Alamy Stock Photo.

As cat parents, we have to be accountable. But there is no question that we share the blame with cats themselves because felines are great manipulators and know how to induce a guilt trip with their insistent head butting and meowing, holding us hostage over the food bowl and when it comes to dispensing treats.

Nathan A. Elam, Ph.D., a consulting nutritionist for Nutrition Service Associates and Inline Nutrition, who also advises Merrick Pet Care with regard to their feline formulas, explains that cats are instinctively programmed to get all they can when they can because the next opportunity may not be certain.

“Most cats, in fact, probably all cats, will consume more calories than necessary if you give them the opportunity,” Elam says. “Cats require a quality carnivore diet. The nutrient density of a high-quality cat food will provide adequate nutrition in small quantities. But, from a cat parent perspective, as caregivers, the adequate amount to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle does not appear to be enough.

“Controlled, measured feeding is the best management to avoid causing obesity. And when it comes to feeding guidelines on the label, all foods should provide good quantity guidance for desired weight outcomes based on the caloric density of the recipe,” he adds. Low-cal eats

However, Weigner points out that while all foods offer feeding guidelines, they are for the “average” cat. “I don’t consider any of my cats to be average! And the same goes for other cat parents out there,” he confesses. “The bottom line is, if your cat is overweight, she’s getting too many calories.

“So it’s a good idea to have a discussion with your veterinarian. And, because nowadays there are so many food choices, it’s a good idea to take the food your cat is currently eating with you [to the veterinarian] so that its daily suggested quantities can be tweaked to meet your cat’s needs.

“It’s not like cat parents aren’t aware that their cats are overweight. Often they try and address the issue by feeding a lower calorie diet.” Weigner recommends a prescription diet when helping your cat lose weight. “Veterinary prescription diets are the ‘real deal’ and are significantly lower in calories, so I use them frequently with great success.”

Weigner says to feed exactly the same volume of food of the prescription diet on the same schedule. “This is important,” he stresses, “as many clients feed more because it’s lower in calories, or they use dry prescription diets and canned regular food because they feel sorry for their cat, neither of which is effective.”

Weigner also highlights the importance of gradually switching to a new diet so the cat can slowly adapt to the food change. Finally, if a cat won’t eat one prescription diet, there are others, with different flavor options.

You have a fat cat because you feed him too many treats

The second reason cats are overweight is because they are getting too many treats.

“Treats are just that — a treat — a way to encourage desired behaviors when training, or most often to physically demonstrate love and affection,” Elam explains. “Unfortunately, treats are a source of calories that are seldom counted against daily nutritional requirements. Treats for pets can be a healthy addition to nutrient intake if they are regulated like a human mid-morning/afternoon snack and the calories are considered part of the daily caloric requirements. As a healthy addition to the diet, treats should account for 10 percent or less of the total caloric intake.”

Continue to feeding a grown cat like a kitten will make your cat fat

Kittens need a special enriched diet as they grow. However, feeding kitten food after a young cat’s growing stage can, in fact, set him up for obesity. Typically, most cats are fully grown around 6 months of age, but certain large breeds can continue growing up to one year.

“Feeding kitten food after that will definitely contribute to obesity,” Weigner says. “The best way to tell is to ask your veterinarian when your cat will become an adult. It’s often when all their adult teeth are in.” Multi-cats, multi-meals

Feeding multiple cats can be a challenge if they have different eating patterns. One may sit down and polish off a meal, and another may like to graze all day. Dominance issues also come into play in terms of who has control over the food bowls, with an aggressive eater polishing off food put down for housemates.

Encouraging cats to all become fixed-meal eaters will solve the problem as long as they are still fed under supervision and you manage the daily amounts.

Use tech to help your fat cat lose weight

A group or a bunch of cats eating out of food bowls.
Mealtime can be tricky in a multi-cat household, especially if they all have different eating habits. Photography ©kozorog | Thinkstock.

The latest high-tech food bowls can be programmed to feed cats controlled amounts. They are the answer in multi-cat households. There are even bowls that can be programmed to feed several different cats in the household their daily allowance. (This just means that they have to take turns at the food bowl.) Others operate on a cat’s individual microchip. This means that the bowl will only open for a designated cat’s microchip.

High-tech food bowls are expensive, but they are definitely worth the investment. By feeding fixed amounts a day, it doesn’t matter whether the cat is a grazer or likes to polish off the meal in one go. And in the long term, it will cut down on vet bills to treat serious medical issues such as diabetes that can develop from overeating.

If your cat is a little heavier than your vet would like, try some of these simple tips. Also, next time your cat looks at you with those pleading eyes, instead of a treat, grab a cat toy and play with him. A longer life for your cat is the best treat ever.

Letting your cat eat from the table isn’t good, either

A curious cat peering out over a table.
Feeding your cat table food can also make for a fat cat. Photography ©Arisara_Tongdonnoi | Thinkstock.

Allowing your cat to dine with you during mealtime encourages undesirable behaviors (especially when you have company over for dinner). And, unless you consume a strictly meat-based protein diet, the variety and inconsistency in fats, fibers and proteins in a typical human diet can lead to digestive irregularity and undesirable stool quality.

Cantaloupes for cats? This fruit can help a fat cat lose weight

Fun fact: Cantaloupes can help a fat cat lose weight. Photography ©Arisara_Tongdonnoi | Thinkstock.

Here’s the oddest weight control tip you’ll ever hear — from Dr. Drew Weigner. Inexplicably, many cats love cantaloupe, which has almost no calories and is quite safe to eat. It’s not like cats eat cantaloupe in the wild, but it’s a great alternative as a treat for an overweight cat.

Tell us: Do you have a fat cat?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Lulamej | Thinkstock.

Ziggy and Tory “work” as feline muses for Sandy Robins, an award-winning multimedia pet lifestyle expert, author and pet industry personality. They like to disrupt the workflow by playing fetch with wand toys and directing food operations in the kitchen. Learn more about Sandy at sandyrobinsonline.com.

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

Read more about cat food on Catster.com:

15 thoughts on “Have a Fat Cat? Here’s Why — and How to Help Him Lose the Weight”

  1. My cat eats only Purnima food l hope the spelling is right and we give her one bowl everyday now she is very fat. We do not know what to do. She cry’s all day for food pls help

  2. I have a Tonkinese who is 6 years old. We feed him indoor Iiams 1/2 cup twice a day. He cries for food but then barely eats it. Once there is food in his bowl he quits meowing. He weighs 15lbs so he is a chubby boy. We don’t feed treats or human food at all. What do I do with that?

    1. Hi there Jen,

      Thanks for reaching out! Here are some articles that provide more information on the right amount to feed a cat:

      How Much Should I Feed My Cat?

      What to Feed Cats — A Primer on the Essential Nutrients Your Cat Needs

      Here is an article that provides more information on what to do with an overweight cat:

      A New Diet To Help Your Overweight Cat Get Healthy

      Lastly, this article gives more insight as to why cats meow and what it means:

      Why Does My Cat Keep Meowing?

  3. Quit feeding them kibble. It’s bad for cats anyway. All my kitties slimmed down on their own when I switched to frozen and dehydrated raw foods (added water or sprinkled as toppings on their food), 1/2 and 1/2 with grain-free canned foods. I add water to their foods, too. They need lots of water. I have food out for them 24/7 (give them new batch every 4-6 hours. They can eat when they want, and are slim, with the shiniest, silkiest fur ever now.

  4. I have three cats: one male and two females. The male and one of the females are of average weight and the other female is very chubby. They eat at the same time and eat the same things so I’m wondering if cats, like people, are genetically programmed to carry more weight. My husband and I are vegetarians and eat the same things most of the time – he’s slender and I’m heavy. Go figure!

    1. Caitlyn,
      I dieted my Ziggy down from 16 lbs to 13lb on the Merrick Purrfect Bistro Healthy weight dry food and the Purrfect Bistro wet. I feed a combo diet. Call customer service and let them help you with the correct quantitites which is very important. And its a slow process.
      One lb on a cat is equivalent to about 7 lbs for a human …

  5. We have two cats. We leave a bowl with dry food open for daily grazing as that IS what both cats do. Both cats are about the same age, 6. One was a neighbor’s rescue from a road when only about 4-5 weeks old, the other a shelter rescue at close to 12 weeks. Both acquired within a few weeks of each other. The first, has a short-legged, cobby body style, a b&w tuxie, and she is our heavyweight. As a kitten she was much more active and loved to play fetch with a stuffed mousie. As she’s aged, and added weight, she has clearly slowed and tends to walk now as if she may be arthritic. She also tends to dental issues. The second, is my athlete, very lean-bodied, longer legs, body, and tail. I also refer to her as my parkour kitty as when she’s in one of those all-over-the-house moods, she’ll jump from the floor to the top most available step on the outside of the railing or she’ll ‘run’ along the carpeted edge, outside of the railing for the full length. We probably throw out more canned food than they eat – both are extremely picky and will walk away preferring to come back to it later if at all. Neither will touch human food in any way, shape or form – not even raw meats. The only human indulgence they like is the water drained from canned tuna. They get very few treats. Both are strictly indoor cats. Sometimes, I think it doesn’t matter what we feed them, or how often, they have their own body style/metabolism(?). Outdoors in our neighborhood, I’ve seen another b&w tuxie… with the same chunky body style. Also, the first tends on occasion to suck on quilt – I’ve always figured it was because she was removed from her mama at such a young age (the neighbor had also bottlefed her for awhile). The other likes to lick plastic bags – our vet said it might have to do with that in the mfr of the bags, beef tallow is used (seems odd to me, but, what do I know).

  6. I agree. My fat(ish) cat, Stinky Tubbalardo, just begs for food every single time I walk into the kitchen! I’m a Jewish-mother type who just loves to feed anything that’s hungry. So sad! To make matters worse, my other cat’s too skinny and he WILL NOT eat very much at a time. So I’m always having to feed him small amounts. Of course Stinky comes running, excited that another meal’s being “served.” I’ve read about the monkeys and other animals who instantly know they’re being treated “differently” and withdraw from the feeder in disgust. I so don’t want this to happen! There’s no way I can separate them as the house is small… It’s a problem.

  7. Samantha Bell DiGenova

    Please keep in mind that cats overeat because they are bored and/ or stressed. Simply reducing food does not alleviate either of these 2 issues. Make sure your cat’s life is enriched and they are eating healthy protein and playing with a wand toy to exercise! :)

  8. Absolutely agree. A feline does not eat grains, veg, cantaloupe(!!)…! Mine came from a farm where he was given Cat Chow-garbage and came nearly dead. Now, a raw duck eater, gained six pounds, happy, healthy. Reduce calories. Period. Treats? Freeze-dried minnow or freeze-dried duck or rabbit livers. No CORN!

  9. Prescription diet food ingredients are horrible. They are full of corn, corn starch, oat fiber, Wheat, various meat and fish by-products, and by-product meals….how can these possibly be healthy for a carnivore…

    1. I totally agree, prescription diets for weight loss do not contain healthy ingredients for cats. I am not a vet but have had cats all my life and feeding a balanced diet without fillers and including chunks of raw organic meat along with grain free cat food to ensure taurine vitamins etc are included is far better. Just reduce the amount you are feeding (check amount to reduce with vet.) to ensure your cat doesn’t go into liver failure. This is the healthiest way to feed an overweight cat and maintain their health and longevity. Hope this helps. ????????????

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