From Fat to Fabulous: One Cat’s Weight Loss Journey


“Is anyone able to take in a cat? She’s old, she’s fat, and she won’t make it two seconds in a shelter.” The call came out over a freelance writer’s message board, a coworker’s plea for help regarding her in-laws’ cat, Cali. They could no longer care for her and she had some health problems. Being the sucker that I am, I couldn’t bear the idea of an elderly cat living out her last few days in a shelter, which would put her down in an instant. I offered to take her in and find her a good home, but had no idea what I was getting into.

A week later, when she was dropped off at my house after a two-hour journey, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cali, who was renamed Butterball on the spot, was 24 pounds of pure misery. The stench that emanated from the carrier was unreal. Inside that carrier lurked a large, growling mass of fur and teeth. Butterball was so large that she was unable to clean herself properly. Feces were matted around her anus and she was covered in urine from the long journey.

I’m almost ashamed to admit I could barely stand to look at her. She was pitiful, and the state she was in made me nauseated. But she needed my help, and that alone made me want to cry. I got a grip on myself and gave her a thorough exam.

According to her health records, she was nearly eight years old, missing most of her teeth, and lethargic, but otherwise in good health. Her records indicated that she’d gotten monthly grooming appointments to help mitigate her inability to groom herself, and she was up-to-date on her shots and spayed. But these facts, written out in clinical terms, did little to quell the upset I felt looking at the very real problem I had on my hands. It would be a long road to health for Butterball, and it was my job to help her.

The first step was a thorough grooming, and that’s when Butterball surprised me again: She sat perfectly still through a bath, during which I combed out the matted fur on her backside and made a few strategic cuts to keep the fur back there short enough to keep from knotting up while I worked with her.

The next problem was getting her to open up to us. Like most cats coming into an unfamiliar environment, Butterball was none too happy to be shoved into an environment with other cats and dogs. I set her up in my office, a safe room that was temporarily off limits to the other critters. For the first week, she was allowed to roam that room in peace. But she didn’t roam — Butterball waddled to her food dish, waddled to her litter box, and that was it.

She had so little energy she often just plopped down in her litter box for a nap when she was done, exhausted from the effort of it all. She was not interested in toys — no jingle balls, no catnip mice, not even a laser pointer. The misery behind her beautiful amber eyes was apparent. This cat was tired of life. But I wasn’t ready to give up on her, not yet.

After taking her to the clinic for a full exam and workup, I formulated a plan to help Butterball lose some of the weight. Part of it was diet control — she had been eating far too many calories for her needs. Cutting back to an appropriate caloric intake was one half of the equation — getting her moving was the other. And since she couldn’t be persuaded with toys, I had to get tough.

The first few days of Butterball’s exercise plan involved tough love. I would squirt her with a water bottle to get her up and running, and then chase her from one end of the house to the other. Being overweight myself, it benefited us both. Soon, my dog Sprocket got into the chase with us. Being part Collie, he was more than happy to let his herding instincts out to play and would corral Butterball from one location to another until I called a halt to the shenanigans.

Between her carefully managed diet and the exercise that was becoming easier and more natural for her every day, Butterball’s weight began to drop. As with humans, it’s never a good idea to lose too much weight at once; it took nearly a year for Butterball to drop half of her body weight. The light began to return to her eyes and she began to play again — her favorite toy being a catnip kick pillow that I’d made her from some scrap yarn, stuffing, and a whole mound of catnip.

With the excess weight gone and her eagerness to play returned, it was time to find her a new home. A professor at Ohio University took a liking to her and fell in love. I was more than happy to approve her adoption application, and the day I sent Butterball to her new home was one of the more bittersweet moments in my rescue career.

I still keep in touch with Butterball and her adopter, checking in every now and then to make sure there are no problems and that everyone is still happy. She’s taken over her owner’s heart and home and has, so far, managed to keep the weight off.

Plenty of cats have a couple pounds to lose, and some cats are actually obese (as was the case with Butterball). If you’re searching for a solution to your cat’s weight problem, speak to your vet about proper nutrition (especially how many calories you should be feeding your cat per day!) and get some blood tests done tests to rule out metabolic and health problems that may be contributing to obesity.

Next, get your cat moving. Chasing feathers, running down balls, or just following you around as you dash from one room to the next can contribute to a healthy routine and help your cat shed some pounds. You can even hide low-calorie treats around the house, encouraging your cat to “hunt” for them.

More than anything, know that your cat is not alone in his weight-loss struggle. If you have a weight-loss tip that’s worked for your cats, leave a comment below. We’d love to hear it!

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