Our rescue cat, Tex, is seven years old and obese. Our vet told us that this can lead to a number of health problems as he gets older, and she suggested we put him on a diet to help him lose a few pounds.
We used to free feed him dry food, but over the last two months have slowly transitioned him to wet food twice a day (as suggested by the vet). Now that he’s only eating twice a day instead of all day, and is eating slightly less than he’s used to, though, he has started meowing constantly – practically all day long! – begging for food. Every time we sit down to eat something, he tries to jump on the table or into our laps to steal bites from our plates, as well. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve started eating lunch standing up just so I don’t have to keep shoving him out of the way!
I feel bad for him, because I know myself how hard dieting can be, but he’s driving us up the wall with the constant crying and begging. How can we help him feel better when he’s so hungry all the time?
Sincerely, Vexed Tex
Dear Delightful Tolkien Nerd,
First things first: good job on heeding the advice of your vet and helping your little buddy shed a little weight! Obesity in cats is unfortunately all too common, and it can lead to a variety of issues as cats grow older. Even being moderately overweight can reduce a cat’s life expectancy, and obesity in particular increases their risks of developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis and the chronic pain that comes with it, bladder or kidney stones, and more.
It definitely sounds like your vet has put you on the right track in terms of slowly switching from free feeding dry food to a fixed amount of wet food twice a day. But as you point out, dieting for kitties can be just as hard as dieting for humans – nobody likes feeling hungry.
So, what can you do?
One of the first things you could try is adding a lunch for Tex – that is, going from two meals a day to three. Feed him the same daily quantity you’re doing now, but spread it out into more frequent, smaller meals. Just tossing in a mid-day meal can make a big difference. If you work outside the home during the day, you can also split dinner into two meals, by feeding half the usual dinner when you first get home, and the other half right before you go to bed. My humans do this to keep my crazy brother, the Unholy Terror, from getting too hungry during the night.
In terms of helping stem the meowing, one of the most important things to do is NOT GIVE IN! We cats are no dummies – we know that meowing at you is one way we can get what we want. If you give in even once by handing over a snack after a prolonged session of begging, you’re toast!
If Tex jumps onto the table or into your lap while you’re eating, simply gently pick him up and put him back on the floor. Try to redirect him to a toy he can play with while you eat (Moody Pet’s “Fling-ama-String” toy is popular at my house for this purpose, because we can play with it by ourselves). Importantly, don’t punish him or yell – kitties do not respond well to anger; it just scares and upsets us! Be patient, gentle, distracting, and consistent. And don’t forget to reward him when he’s good, too! Ask your vet if you can add a couple of healthy treats a day into his diet to use to help reinforce good behavior.
Speaking of play, stepping up your playtime every day can also make a big difference. When he starts to pester you, get a toy out to distract him with. Adding in some lengthy, highly aerobic rounds of play a couple of times a day will not only help Tex burn some extra calories, but it will also burn off some of the energy he’s using to fuel those marathon crying sessions. It additionally helps with one of the most common drivers of the desire to eat: BOREDOM.
If Tex isn’t used to playing much, it might take a while to get him into the habit. Try a variety of toys until you find something he loves, and make the play as active as you can. Use feathers or mice on sticks you can use to get him to jump up and down off cat trees and furniture, or balls you can toss down the hallway for him to chase. Laser pointers are great for this too!
You can even set up an obstacle course in one of your rooms that you run him through several times in a row using a feather/stick toy to lead him along. Set up some chairs for him to jump on and off, put a couple of scratching posts in the middle of the room to lead him around, cut the bottoms off a few boxes or brown bags and make a series of tunnels he has to run through; be creative! Periodically get a new type of stick toy and rearrange the obstacle course to change it up.
Most of all, just be patient and consistent with whatever it is you try. Tex will eventually adjust to his new feeding schedule and the begging will ease up. Ramping up your play together will increase your bond AND make him healthier and calmer as well. It’s win-win! Best of luck to you and Tex and thank you for adopting a rescue kitty!