During my first year of cat ownership, Charlie taught me that cat owners really should keep an eye on their cat’s weight. Learn what happened to Charlie when he gained a few too many pounds without me realising and find out how I helped turn him back into a fighting fit feline!
Before I adopted Charlie and Socks, I believed that all cats self-regulated their food, knowing just the right amount to eat without putting on weight. My dream super power. Only problem was… I couldn’t have been more wrong! The first time we put our new cats’ food bowls down, they both ate the entire contents like pigs. I was absolutely staggered. It was clear that neither of them knew the concept of grazing over a bowl of biscuits across the day (a bit like me!). They were both underweight and always complaining at me for food which made it particularly difficult to know how much to feed them. Having lived without enough food all their lives, I wasn’t about to convince them to eat slowly and stop when they felt full.
As the months passed, I fed them the recommended portion guidelines listed on their food packets. At 9 months in as cat parents, neighbours and family members were making subtle remarks that Charlie was looking “fuller faced”, “well fed” and “stocky”. Rather less subtly, my boyfriend mentioned that Socks had a “skirt” which swung in all directions when she ran. I finally took the hint and decided to see how much both the cats weighed. I knew the vet would be checking soon during their vaccination appointment. I was taken aback to discover that Charlie had put on a whole kilogram since he had moved in with us, weighing in at 7.5kg. This perhaps wasn’t so surprising to my neighbour, who told me she often sees him lying lazily for hours on end under the hedge in her front garden. I also reflected on the way he sits for hours on top of the garden fence, possibly due to exhaustion from climbing up it.
I resolved to get him from fat cat back to a fitty kitty, catkini body-ready for the vets in 3 month’s time (in the summer!). Since Socks was also looking like she had overindulged during the winter, both cats were put on a diet. Four months of persistent dieting and exercising then took place. At the time of writing this post Charlie is lighter by 0.8kg and Socks is lighter by 0.4kg. Take it from me, Charlie’s weight loss is INCREDIBLE, bordering on miraculous!! Thank goodness he can’t open cupboard doors. He could still do with losing a little more but we’ll let him off over Christmas! Here is my advice for helping any fat cat in your life do the same.
1) Ask your vet what is a healthy weight range for your cat
The vet was able to look at our cat’s body shapes and recommend that anything above 6.6kg meant that Charlie was overweight and that Socks should stay below 4kg. This gave us a target to aim for rather than guessing what looked healthy.
2) Weigh your cat every week
I am lucky that I have two placid cats so I was able to stand on the scales with them to work out what they weigh (once subtracting my weight). My vet also offered us to have free repeat appointments just to weigh the cats. I’m not sure whether this is standard practice or whether she had taken a liking to my boyfriend.
3) Don’t assume the food packets show the correct amount of food your cat requires
I was surprised to be caught out with the cats’ weight as I had followed the packet guidelines for a ‘moderate activity level’ cat. I now realise though that to describe Charlie’s activity level as moderate would be a severe stretch of the truth. It would be more appropriate to follow ‘lethargic cat’ guidelines but sadly these don’t appear on the packets.
4) Decrease the amount of food gradually
In week 1, I decreased their portions by 5%. At the end of the week, I weighed them. They had both put on 200g! Although I was tempted to cut their food down again at that point, I waited another week before I reduced it by another 5%. I kept following this pattern (5% reduction and weighing the cats) until their food was reduced by 35% and their weight stabilised near their target.
5) Find out if there are any external sources of food
When I mentioned to neighbours that Charlie was on a diet, one of them admitted that they had regularly seen him steal food from their back garden, including biscuits left out for the hedgehogs. They told me they would be more vigilant in bringing uneaten food indoors. I noticed a big difference in Charlie once they did this as he became even hungrier in the house and the wails because even more pathetic. My boyfriend and I became more of a target at dinner time too. Charlie is well practiced at begging routines (e.g. one paw on the knee plus lovey dovey expression).
6) Replace treats with normal cat biscuits and remember food does not = love!!
Charlie loves his normal cat biscuits as much as his treats. I realised he was consuming unnecessary calories if I gave him treats and stopped buying them. I also had to be cruel to be kind and remember the phrase ‘cupboard love’. I only have to breathe in the direction of the cupboard where the cat food is stored and Charlie is after me like a rocket, even if he has just been fed. I am rarely ever alone in the kitchen.
7) Make sure your cat is getting plenty of exercise
I was lucky that Charlie liked his harness and we could go on walks together. One time he took me to an aviary in someone’s back garden. Thank goodness it was dark otherwise they might have thought something sinister was going on. “Honestly, my cat brought me here”. I also tried to play with him twice a day. I have learned from the cat behavioural expert, Jackson Galaxy, that it is good to play with your cat until you get them panting. Charlie loves nothing more than a good lounge around on the floor so this was harder than it sounded. However, I did find the SmartyKat Electronic toy was a useful toy that gets him in a playing mood. It is battery operated and spins a mouse type toy under some fabric. It also has lights that help stimulate the cat’s hunting instinct. 5 minutes of this on and Charlie turns into an overgrown kitten that charges around the house after anything, like a raging bull. Beware, even feet are not safe when this happens!!
So there you have it! Charlie is now much leaner and will hopefully live a longer and healthier life because of it. If you enjoyed reading this post, why not take a look at my tip section to read about other areas where the Charlie’s life lessons may help your cat.
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