How To Keep Your Cat Fit And Healthy

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Fat cats aren’t just Wall Street bankers. They are living right in your home, and they are a one of the biggest problems veterinarians see, so to speak.

Obesity is a growing problem in cats. There aren’t any hard statistics on the numbers of flabby felines, but it’s estimated that 10 percent to 30 percent of the cats seen by veterinarians are overweight. There’s a good chance their life span will be shortened because they are more prone to arthritis, diabetes mellitus and fatty liver syndrome.

If your cat has put on a few pounds, well, you can probably empathize. You can also help him lose weight the old-fashioned way: diet and exercise. Getting him moving is especially important. You might not be able to take your cat jogging (although you can teach him to walk on a treadmill), but there are plenty of creative ways to add exercise to your cat’s life. Bonus: he’ll be less bored and less inclined to shred your sofa because he doesn’t have anything else to do.

Cats And Exercise

Cats have short attention spans, so putting them on an exercise program doesn’t take a lot of time. Keep sessions short. Two to five minutes a few times a day is plenty. And remember that cats are nocturnal. They’ll be more interested in playing once the sun goes down. Most important, introduce exercise gently and gradually. Obese cats can injure their joints if you try to get them to do too much too quickly. Hold off on the jumping and stair running until your cat has lost some weight.

So how can you end your cat’s life in the fat lane? Cats are predators, so key in on their ability and desire to stalk and chase. Look for toys and treats that will encourage him to chase or bat at objects. Think electronic mice, balls that light up when they move, laser pointers and catnip-filled toys that make a crinkling sound when pounced on. If your tastes are simpler, toss a Ping Pong ball in the bathtub to simulate a feline hockey rink.

Aim the laser down the hall, up and down the stairs, onto the furniture or up the wall for a little vertical action. Beyond the basic red dot, some laser pointers can produce different images, including butterflies, mice and stars. Be careful not to shine it in your cat’s eyes.

Wand- and fishing pole-type toys are favorites, too. Some fishing-pole toys mimic the real thing, with a fly reel that has a catnip-stuffed mouse attached at the end. Cast it down the hall, reel it in, and watch your cat go wild chasing it.

Cats are climbers. Put up a floor-to-ceiling cat tree that gives your cat a view of the outdoors, or install window box bird feeders that encourage the cat to jump onto the windowsill.

If your cat yawns at toys, appeal to his self-interest: food and its whereabouts.

Feeding Your Overweight Cat

Instead of leaving food down in one area, put small amounts throughout the house. Choose areas where the cat will have to do a little work to get to it: on a windowsill, on the top ledge of the cat tree, upstairs, downstairs, on a bathroom sink. The possibilities are endless. Lay a trail for your cat to follow and change it around every once in a while so the cat doesn’t get bored. You can also place his kibble inside one of the various food puzzles made for cats. He’ll have to push it around to get it to release his meal.

How will you know if your cat is back in good shape? Cats are athletes and their body condition should show it. The ideal cat is lean and muscular with an obvious waistline.