The image of a fat cat is a classic. Unfortunately, the health repercussions of this excess weight—cancer, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, reduced life expectancy—are no laughing matter. Worse yet, the number of fat cats out there indicates an obesity epidemic. A 2013 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found 57 percent of household cats in the US were overweight or obese.
“Obesity has the greatest collective negative impact on pet health and yet it is almost completely avoidable,” said Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinarian and founder of APOP.
Interestingly, many people don’t even realize their cats are overweight. In a phenomenon referred to as “the fat gap,” cat owners who agreed to have their cats assessed for the APOP study were first asked to classify their cats’ weight. A whopping 88 percent of the cat owners with cats classified as obese initially thought their cat was in the normal weight range. For the sake of our cats’ health, let’s make sure we’re not among them.
Take a clear-eyed look at your cats: could they stand to lose a little weight? If so, read on! We’ve outlined eight fun ways to get your fat cat moving, either by putting food to use or by playing smarter. Option A: Chances are, fat cats are food motivated, so make meal or snack time a workout. Option B: Cats are hunters by nature, so determine your cat’s playing style then get him moving by activating his instinctual need to hunt. Put a few of these tips into action and your chubby cat will lose the extra weight in no time!
Approach A: Put Food to Use
Proper motivation is key here. Fat cats clearly like food, so use it to get them moving!
1. The Meal Time Parade!
First things first—no more free feeding! Your fat cat’s food cannot stay out all day as she is clearly helping herself to more food than is good for her. Now, come dinner time, put your cat’s food in her bowl and walk around your home. If you have stairs all the better! Climb them, carrying your cat’s food. Chances are, she will follow your lead if she’s hungry and you’re carrying supper. Periodically put the bowl down for five seconds or so to let your cat have a taste and keep her with you. Random reward is incredibly motivating.
2. The Great Food Puzzle
There are many different types of interactive feeders and treat puzzles out there that can keep your cat engaged while making her work for her dinner. Interactive feeders/toys get both your cat’s brain and body working. Your cat has to manipulate them, rolling them around to get a treat or piece of dry food, encouraging movement. Nina Ottosson's interactive, treat dispensing cat toys are definite winners in the get-your-cat-moving-while-having-fun category. Check out her Cat Treat Maze and MixMax Puzzle for cats (pictured, nina-ottosson.com).
3. Treaty Chasey
Get a bag of delish cat treats that are super tiny and super low cal (this is key!). Throw a single treat down a hall for your cat to chase. Do this on repeat, always insisting your cat comes back to you before you throw another so that he has to do the whole run for each treat, and he will get quite the workout without even realizing it! Low-cal cat treat we love: In Clover's Slim cat treats. These tasty little treats are not just low-calorie, they contain active ingredients like prebiotics to maintain a healthy weight and svelte figure: give your kitty a leg up in the battle of the bulge. Also, be sure to slightly reduce your cat’s dinner portion size so that the treats consumed don’t result in an increase in daily caloric intake.
4. Hide and Go Eat
Secure your cat in another room while her dinner is being prepared then put her bowl in a different place each day before you release her so she has to chase around looking for it. Your cat has a great nose and will surely find her meal, but she will have to work out a little for it!
Approach B: Better Play
A healthy cat is an active cat! Stimulate your cat’s predatory instincts to get him moving.
1. The Magic Wand
There are so many awesome wand toys out there now that you should be able to find one that even the laziest cat will get moving for. Watch how your cat plays in order to pick the right wand toy for your cat. Some cats like to hunt on the ground, preferring toys that skitter along the ground (try Neko Flies' original Kittenator cat toy that lets you simulate the scampering of a furry mouse! $20, nekoflies.com), and some like to hunt in the skies and would rather a feathery flier toy to chase (try Nekochan's Neko Birbug, nekoflies.com, pictured). Personalize your cat’s play to make them want to get up and move.
2. The Bait & Switch
Rotate the selection of toys that your cat has out. On a weekly basis (or even more frequently) take away the toys you have been leaving out for your cat to play with while you are away and put out a different selection to keep his attention. Think new and interesting; the same old gets boring. Making compelling new toys available to your cat encourages active play.
3. The Laser Show
A laser pointer or LED pointer (the latter is safer for your cat’s eyes) can get almost any cat’s attention. And they’re pretty inexpensive and a great tool to help you learn how your cat likes to play, which has carry-over to successfully using other toys to encourage your cat to play. Notice if your cat likes to hunt the laser methodically or would rather chase it around, then focus on that kind of play. Also try tracing the laser up furniture and walls; if your cat follows it, keep going! (Bonus: it’s pretty fun to watch.) Just remember to throw your cat a toy to “kill” at the end of the play. All hunt with no pay off at the end will only end up frustrating your cat.
4. If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Give it to a Friend Not all toys will be a success; what works for a particular cat is a process of trial and error. Set up a deal with a cat-loving friend to trade toys that aren’t a hit in your respective homes. The key to motivating playtime is using what works for your cat!