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Feeding Inactive Adult Cats


Care & Wellness, Nutrition, Pet Services

My cat is getting older and she’s not as active as she once was. I’m worried that she might get fat. How should feed her based on her lower activity levels?

feeding_inactive_adult_catsOver 50% of cats in North America are either overweight or obese, so paying attention to the balance between activity and calorie intake is important. Step one in preventing an aging cat from gaining weight and getting fat is to talk to your veterinarian for guidance about two things:

  • What nutrient formulation is most appropriate for this cat at this time in her life?
  • What portion should be fed at each meal? Another way to think about this is to calculate a total daily portion and divide it by however many meals are desired.

If your cat has any specific health issues like kidney disease, then she may need to eat a very precise therapeutic nutrient profile in order to remain healthy.

Should I choose foods marked “light” or “lower calorie” or “weight control”? Will one of these keep her lean?

Unfortunately, cat food marketing is filled with verbiage that sometimes over-promises weight management. Your veterinarian can help you sort through the hype as you choose a formula that best fits your cat’s needs. The dry matter analysis of cat food formulas provides data that allows for a head-to-head comparison. Dry matter data provides protein levels and fat content, as well as information like the sodium content. It is also important to find out the calorie density; how many calories per cup or per can.

Once I choose a food that she likes, how do I prevent her from gaining weight?

Once you have chosen a formula and have calculated a reasonable daily portion based on calorie density, the best way to stay on track and prevent unwanted weight gain is to combine portion control with regular, formal weigh-ins. Regular weigh-ins, ideally at the veterinarian’s office every 4–8 weeks provide accountability for portioning, and help prevent both unplanned weight gain as well as weight loss.

Are there any snacks I can give that will be OK and not interfere with my plan to keep my cat lean? She really likes snacks!

Be sure to check with your veterinarian about the most appropriate snacks for your cat. That said, it is reasonable to reach for snacks that are natural and less calorie-dense. For instance, water-based vegetables generally make a good choice;  green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower all are zero point value in the Weight Watchers® Point® system. Both fresh and frozen veggies will work. Some cats like frozen vegetables right out of the freezer because they are crunchy and cold. Another “sin free” snack for cats is air-popped popcorn with no butter or salt.

Be careful when choosing treats or snacks from the grocery or pet store shelves. It is worth tracking down the calorie content in order to better calculate how many can/should be offered in a day. This is another opportunity for your veterinarian to provide input and guidance based on the dry matter analysis of the treats you are considering.

Finally, some “food for thought”. 

Many inactive adult cats are inactive because they are dealing with a medical issue that prevents them from doing all the things they would otherwise do. For instance, some cats are inactive due to metabolic diseases like heart disease or diabetes mellitus. Other cats are less active due to the pain from osteoarthritis (OA).  Approximately 20% of all cats, and 80 – 90% of aging cats, suffer from painful OA. It is easy for cat owners to mistakenly presume that the signs of OA are simply signs that the cat is “getting old”.  It is easy to make this mistake for the following reasons:

  • Cats tend to be very stoic about their pain. They will mask their pain as they try to do everything they have always done. As their OA progresses, their activity will decrease over time.
  • Because OA is an insidious disease that progresses over time, the signs develop gradually. Losing the ability to be active, losing stamina, losing interest in family activities—all are potential signs of pain.

Every inactive adult cat should be evaluated for OA and other metabolic diseases that can contribute to decreased energy, decreased stamina, and decreased activity. If they are ill and get diagnosed and treated appropriately, they may not be inactive for long!

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