4 min.

How to keep your cat from living too large

Ask any vet and they’ll agree: Weight issues are common and well-documented in the cat world. A remarkably high percentage of domestic cats are overweight, which in turn can lead to a number of health problems—just as it does with humans. The quality of the food that you give your cat definitely plays a role in their weight, but our aim here is to examine the problem specifically from a behavioural standpoint.

Domestic cats vs wildcats

It’s pretty rare for a cat in the wild to happen upon a dish filled with mice at the foot of a tree, right? So why provide such ease and convenience when cats are inside? When you fill a dish and place it right under a cat’s nose, he’ll quickly gobble everything up without breaking a sweat, which isn’t the case at all in the wild. In fact, when cats are left to their own devices, they have to find their prey, plan an ambush and then leap into action to make the kill. And if that weren’t enough, they also have to expend a fair amount of energy tucking into their meal.

To compensate for this lack of activity in the lives of domestic cats, playtime is key: Make sure that you build in at least two five- to ten-minute sessions of active play as part of your daily routine.

Work for every bite

Having friends over for supper tonight? How much time and effort will you put into cooking them a nice meal? Don’t forget the time it takes to get groceries or the fact that, to pay for the ingredients, you need to work and earn a salary. That’s an incredible amount of effort and energy just to be able to eat a meal. So why should it be different for cats?

Instead of a regular bowl, you should always opt for an interactive feeder for your cat. Why? To encourage your cat to work for his food. Whether that means rolling a ball to access the kibble inside or using a paw to trigger a release within a tube, there are all kinds of interactive feeders out there that will align with your cat’s natural skills. You can even make it yourself!

Interactive feeders have the following advantages:

  • Your cat has to expend energy to eat as he would in nature. Because eating requires real effort, your cat will also stop when he’s had its fill.
  • Instead of spending three minutes eating out of a regular bowl, it will take your cat anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to eat out of an interactive feeder. That’s 10 to 20 minutes where your cat isn’t getting into mischief elsewhere in the house, like climbing the curtains or unrolling the toilet paper.
  • A lot of cats eat so fast that they end up throwing up their food. An interactive feeder resolves that problem, as it prevents cats from eating so quickly.

Be in tune with your cat’s natural proclivities

No cat is too old, too stupid or too clumsy to use an interactive feeder. In fact, a lot of cats even prefer such feeders to regular bowls. That said, when introducing an interactive feeder, it’s best to take your cat’s old bowl away. Your cat may initially protest by refusing to eat, but the hungrier he gets, the more open he’ll become to giving the new feeder a try. Remember that it’s important to go slowly. A lot of interactive feeders have several levels of difficulty and you need to respect your cat’s learning curve. A cat should never go more than 24 hours without eating. If that happens, instead of bringing out the old bowl, try to find a way to simplify the interactive feeder by filling it to the point of overflowing, making access to the food easier, or by trying a different kind of interactive feeder that may prove to be a better fit with your cat’s natural proclivities.

If your cat is exceptionally clever, and you see that the feeder isn’t providing enough of a challenge, know that there are lots of different models on the market of increasing complexity. All you have to do is test them out to see which one your cat likes best. You can also increase the level of difficulty by attaching balls or toys that make it harder for your cat to access the feeder or extract the food.