Pudgy Senior Cats: How to Get Them in Shape

Most veterinarians agree that the best food for an otherwise healthy cat is a balanced diet that the individual finicky feline will actually eat. “Some cats have strong preferences between canned and dry, so the owner and cat both have to think it’s a good idea to change a diet,” says Dr. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, Ph.D. Diplomate ACVN, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University.

And keep in mind, adds Dr. Cruz, that the recommendations on the package are usually for non-neutered, active cats — today’s mostly indoor cats won’t need as much. Plus, you'll need to adjust feeding, based on changes in weight, in consultation with your veterinarian.

Some veterinarians recommend that allowing a bit of extra curve to a senior cat’s physique may be forgivable. “Weight loss is a stressful undertaking, and a difficult one. For an old animal with other problems, weight loss could exacerbate those problems,” says Dr. Buffington. “We don’t push obesity therapy in aged animals. We do push increased activity.”

What Can I Do to Keep My Older Kitty Active?

For many cat owners, the prospect of getting an older feline to move more can sound more daunting than putting her on a diet.

Once past the kitten stage, cats often settle into a more sedate lifestyle, compared to their canine counterparts. But this doesn’t mean that your senior kitty can’t benefit from less napping in sunbeams.

Dr. Cruz emphasizes the importance of trying to get cats to “move their little paws,” while acknowledging the inherent difficulties. “Often, they’ll look at you like, ‘Are you serious?’ " she says. “Or they’ll chase a toy once, and go, ‘That’s enough, thank you so much.’ ”

Dr. Buffington offers some tips. “We recommend that clients know their cats' play preferences, which correspond to their prey preferences,” he says. By dangling strings (birds), rolling kibble, using laser pointers (bugs) and offering small rodent toys (mice), you can determine which of the three types your cat likes. Some people give up too soon, notes Dr. Buffington, and a cat who has a distinct preference for playing with bug substitutes, for instance, may not respond to the dozen catnip mice you toss her way.

Both Dr. Cruz and Dr. Buffington suggest using a chubby tabby’s love of food to keep them active, like placing her meals in small containers throughout your home. “The novelty is stimulating,” says Dr. Buffington.

Food puzzles are also available for purchase. Or you can make your own, using household items like muffin tins and egg cartons. Even wrapping some kibble in a paper towel, so she can tear into it, helps to boost a cat’s brain and brawn.

Walking an older cat on a harness is also possible, but it typically requires an extended training period for most kitties. “When you first put a harness on a cat, if they move at all, they look like land crabs,” quips Dr. Cruz.


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