Overweight cat laying on chair.

Too much food and too little exercise is doing to our cats exactly what it’s doing to us — making them fat. And with felines, just as with as humans, obesity all too often leads to diabetes, joint diseases, heart problems, increased risk of cancer, and other serious health and behavioral issues.

Weight loss is important, but a crash diet for a cat can be deadly. If overweight cats lose weight too quickly, they can develop a serious liver disorder that can be challenging to treat and is occasionally fatal. It’s called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease.

Hepatic lipidosis isn’t just a problem with dieting cats, either. It’s also a problem with sick cats who cannot or will not eat. And it can rear its fatty head when people switch cat foods and think, "If the cat gets hungry enough, she’ll eat." A cat can and will starve herself into this potentially fatal condition.

To be safe, cats should lose weight gradually, no more than 1 percent of their body weight per week. The goal is to drop the excess over a period of five or six months.

The best approach to weight loss in cats is a combination of moderate calorie restriction — ask your veterinarian for dietary guidance — and increased exercise. Try throwing a mouse-shaped toy or playing with a fishing pole-type toy — anything to get your cat up and moving. Be on the lookout, though, for heavy breathing, fatigue, or other evidence that kitty needs a break.