Let's start with the obvious: an overweight cat can be adorable. But that leads us to another obvious statement: excess weight on little kitty bodies can be unhealthy. When it comes to getting your feline in shape, diet is incredibly important; however, exercise is equally essential in the quest for a healthy cat. Just like with people, though, the best type of exercise is the type your fuzzy little friend will actually want to do. So today, we'll be discussing how you can use play to help your kitty shed the extra pounds.
Visit Your Vet
So, when it comes to helping an overweight cat, the first thing you need to do is take him for a vet visit. Of course, you will want to see if there are any underlying reasons for kitty's weight gain – especially if it was sudden. Aside from obvious weight-enhancing reasons – like too much food, the wrong types of food, or a sedentary lifestyle – other causes can include hyperadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism, and in some extreme cases, insulinoma. Don't panic, though! Although medical conditions can certainly cause weight gain, the root of the problem is usually directly related to diet or lifestyle, and the examination is generally just a precautionary measure.
Once your vet has ruled out any health-related possibilities, you will also want to have your cat checked for anything that could hinder exercise. Overweight cats are prone to several issues that can make playtime difficult, such as joint problems and arthritic changes, heart concerns and high blood pressure, as well as restricted breathing and other respiratory issues. These health problems can make exercise in any form tricky, but not impossible. If your cat is suffering from any of these complaints, be sure to discuss all of your options with your vet prior to starting any new exercise regimen.
Discover Your Cat's Personal Play Style
After you have the all-clear from your vet – and maybe gotten some sage pieces of advice – now you can start making an action plan. The first thing to do is find out your cat's play style, if you don't already know. Think back to your kitty's early days: was he a voracious hunter? Did he like to get into wrestling matches? Were his best playtimes spent by your side? What were his favorite toys? Sounds? Textures? Take all of these things into account when plotting your new exercise program.
But what if your kitten was never much of a player? Or maybe he didn't get to spend that part of his life with you. If either of those things is true, then now is the time to start experimenting. Consider all of the things you know your cat just flat out doesn't like, and exclude them from your trial. Next, pick up a few inexpensive toy types that he hasn't tried; test out a variety of materials, sounds, and styles – for example, crinkly balls or mats, feathery teaser toys, cardboard balls, etc. Also, make a list of games that you can experiment with. It may take a little while, but with persistence, you will eventually find something that intrigues your fuzzy little friend.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that an overweight cat – even if he has the thumbs up from his vet – may find it difficult to play, no matter what his particular style is. Just be patient and take things slow. If you take your time, you will absolutely be able to get him up and exercising.
Set a Schedule
As with any other exercise plan, consistency is key. Another thing to bear in mind is that cats require routine in order to feel secure. Initially, your new play schedule may upset his current customs; however, once he knows that this has become a daily part of his life, it's important for you – his loving human – to keep his new-found habit intact. And this is good for both of you. Why? Building a solid schedule will, of course, create a healthy new pattern for kitty, but it will also help to make your life easier – not to mention all the other benefits of a daily play schedule, such as increased bonding, more time spent enjoying your friend's company, and additional physical activity for you.
One point to keep in mind when you're setting your schedule, though, is not to be over ambitious with your goals – and we will talk about that more in a minute. As I said a little earlier, you are making a big change to your feline's routine, so be patient with him, and keep an eye out for any signs of stress. If he seems to be in any distress, tone down your initial efforts and work your way up.
Play – or any variety of physical activity – can be tough for an overweight cat, especially if he is dealing with any joint issues. As I said in the scheduling section, it's a good idea to start slowly. Don't arrange for big half hour blocks of playtime right off the bat. Initially, plan on a couple of minutes, work up to five or ten, then – as he slims down and gains more energy and mobility – allow your play sessions to progress at their own pace.
Next, it's important to keep in mind current physical limitations when deciding HOW to play. If your kitty is, indeed, working with painful joints or if he tends to get winded easily, then don't make him chase a teaser toy up and down the staircase. Instead, begin your playtime routine with something a little gentler. Say, for example, a stroll around the living room floor. Instead of asking him to jump up and down on perches, raise the toy just high enough for him to bat at. Little tweaks to your games can make a big impact, and being mindful of where your cat is now can make all the difference in how he plays in the future.
Make Mealtime a Game
When it comes to helping an overweight cat slim down, food can either help or hinder your efforts. Feeding your buddy the right things in the right amounts is crucial, of course, but you can also use food as a tool for increasing physical activity. One of the easiest ways to do that is by taking advantage of the many slow feeder options on the market. Some of these feeders have a game-like element – for instance, bowls that take the shape of puzzles, or mouse toys or balls that can be stuffed with small portions of dry kibble.
If you don't want to invest in special bowls or if you mostly feed your kitty wet food, you can still gamify dinner by using a muffin tin and placing sections of his meals in different slots. This will not only force him to puzzle out his meal, but also slow down his eating.
Finally, creating a mental link between playtime and mealtime can help out a lot, whether you feed your friend wet or dry food. To do this, place his play session just before his meal – make it a part of the schedule we talked about earlier. Not only will he come to connect his exercise routine with the reward of food, he will also satisfy the natural “hunting” progression of “kill” and “eat.” Which in the end, will mean a much more gratifying experience overall.
If you're working to slim down an overweight cat, then you know how tricky the whole thing can be. In the end, though, it is absolutely worth it. Not only will you wind up with a healthier, happier little pal, you'll also get to spend more time with him in the long run.
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