The best cat food for weight loss helps them gradually shed ounces whilst still providing all the nutrients they need and keeping them feeling full.
Obesity is a growing problem among pet cats, but a diet rich in high quality protein and low on between meal snacks will help them lose weight safely.
The Best Food For Cat Weight Loss
Like humans, our feline companions need a balanced diet to keep them in peak condition.
And, just like humans, cats can easily become overweight. Especially when we give them scraps of food from our plates, like a little piece of turkey at Thanksgiving, or some meat from dinner.
But what constitutes a healthy diet for cats?
And what is the best cat food for weight loss in overweight pets?
In this article, you’ll learn what cats need in order to live long and healthy lives.
We’ll consider how a cat’s age and build affects their dietary requirements, and explore healthy cat food for weight loss.
What Do Cats Eat?
If you’ve ever seen your cat stalk a feather toy or pounce on a piece of string, it won’t surprise you to learn that cats are natural hunters!
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they rely on nutrients found only in animal products.
In the wild, cats catch and consume prey.
Such prey provides cats with a lot of protein, some fat, and very little carbohydrate. Prey also provides cats with other vital nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and fatty acids.
Generally, domesticated cats still require similar proportions of nutrients in their diet as their wild relatives.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these nutrients in turn….
Proteins are compounds made up of large, complex molecules including long chains of amino acids. They perform various roles in the body, including supporting cell, tissue and organ structure. They are also important in the regulation of hormones and production of antibodies.
As such, they are necessary for growth and reproduction, as well as cell maintenance and repair.
The amino acids provided by protein cannot be synthesized by cats and must be supplied in their diet. Examples of amino acids include leucine, trypophan, lysine, and taurine, among others.
Deficiencies in amino acids can lead to serious health problems (for example, taurine deficiency can result in blindness).
Fats provide the most concentrated form of food energy, more than twice that of proteins or carbohydrates.
They are vital in the structure of cells. In addition, fats are needed for the production of hormones and are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Fats also provide body insulation, as well as protection for internal organs.
Cats cannot synthesize fatty acids themselves. Therefore, fatty acids must be provided in a pet’s diet.
Fatty acids help to keep your kitty’s skin and coat in tip-top condition, support kidney function and reproduction, and help with healing inflammation.
Carbohydrates provide energy for body tissues. They are vital for intestinal health, and important for reproduction.
Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate which modifies the mix of bacteria in the small intestine and helps maintain gut health.
Vitamins act as catalysts for enzyme reactions in the body. Cats only require tiny amounts of vitamins for normal metabolic functioning.
Minerals are inorganic compounds, which are not metabolized and yield no energy. They are important as structural components of bones and teeth, and help to maintain fluid balance.
It is not necessary to provide cats with vitamin and mineral supplements unless directed by your veterinarian. In fact, it can be dangerous to supplement your pet’s diet, as the amounts of vitamins and minerals needed by healthy cats are so small.
In summary, pet cats, like their wild relations, require:
- High amounts of complete proteins from animal sources
- Amino and fatty acids derived from animal sources
- Moderate amounts of fat
- Minimal amounts of easily fermentable carbohydrates
- Minimal amounts of vitamins and minerals from food, not supplements.
It’s also important to remember that dietary requirements can be affected by the age, gender, build, and reproductive status of your kitty.
A cat’s dietary needs can change across their lifespan.
We wouldn’t feed a teenager a toddler’s diet, or vice versa, and it’s the same for cats.
Once they have been weaned, kittens require food specifically formulated for kittens. Kittens and young cats have high energy requirements, as they learn to play, pounce, and explore their surroundings.
For this reason, high-fiber foods should be avoided for young and growing cats.
Adult cats need food which will meet their energy needs and help to maintain and repair body tissues. The amount of food required depends upon your cat’s size and energy output. Activity levels among cats vary dramatically. More active cats will burn more energy than less active ones.
Cats begin to display age-related changes somewhere between 7 and 12 years of age. These typically involve changes in metabolism, body composition, and the immune system.
Some age-related changes are inevitable, but some can be managed with diet. Consequently, it is important that older felines are provided with food specifically designed for senior cats.
Like humans, if cats take in more calories than they expend through daily activity, they can become overweight.
Unfortunately being overweight can be detrimental to your pet’s health, and place unnecessary stresses upon their body.
Obesity in cats can increase their risk of serious conditions such as diabetes, liver problems, and joint pain.
How Do I Choose the Best Food for My Cat?
As we’ve learned, the age, health and activity level of your cat all play a role in determining which kind of food is best.
In addition, you’ll need to consider factors such as your budget and feeding schedule (for example, whether you will provide food at certain times, or allow access over extended periods).
When evaluating a cat food, look at the first five ingredients. Ideally, you want to see high-quality animal protein sources with a minimum of fillers, cheap starches, or by-products.
Apply the same thinking you would in assessing a label on human food: as you go down the list of ingredients, the more ‘real’ ingredients with pronounceable names, the better!
What If My Cat Is Overweight?
If your kitty is overweight, you should aim to support a slow, steady weight loss of between 3 and 4% of your cat’s total body weight per month, until they reach a healthy goal weight.
Most adult cats require around 250- 300 calories daily, although this will vary according to a cat’s age, sex, reproductive status and general health.
Your veterinarian will be able to give you a specific target weight and caloric intake for your cat based on these factors.
Ask your veterinarian to do a body analysis. You can ask them to show you how to conduct this check at home. A general rule of thumb is that if you cannot feel your cat’s ribs when you place your hands on their abdomen, they may be overweight. Ribs should not be visible through the fur.
Tips for cat weight loss
- Ensure that treats do not make up more than 10% of your cat’s total calorie intake daily.
- Timed feedings, rather than free choice feeding (where food is available all day) is generally better for cat weight loss.
- To ensure portion control, use a measuring cup. Divide the recommended daily portion suggested by the packaging and/or your vet’s recommendations by two and feed twice, 8-12 hours apart.
- Aim for a diet which is high in quality animal proteins and relatively low in calories and carbohydrates.
Is Wet or Dry Food Best For Cat Weight Loss?
Dry Cat Food: Pros and Cons
Dry cat food, or kibble, is classified as having between 3 and 11% water content.
- An economical option for owners on budget
- Can be bought in bulk
- Can be left out in feeding bowls for longer periods of time without becoming rancid
- A good option for owners who plan on making food available for longer periods (free-feeding).
- May have spent considerable time on warehouse shelves, leading to an increased risk of bacterial contamination
- Must be stored correctly at home to avoid contamination and/or spoiling
- Calorie dense which can be a problem if your cat is already overweight and likes to ‘graze’ throughout the day
- Have a low moisture content
- Generally have higher levels of carbohydrates than wet foods, which many veterinarians feel can be detrimental to feline health.
Is a wet food diet better for cat health?
The higher levels of carbohydrates in dry food is a hotly-debated topic. Veterinarian Lisa Pierson argues that the low water content of dry food, coupled with potentially high carbohydrate levels, can lead to various health problems, including
- urinary tract infections (particularly in males)
- kidney problems
- diabetes and obesity
and advocates for a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet instead.
In response to concerns about carbohydrate levels, many manufacturers of dry cat food have boosted animal protein content, even experimenting with freeze-drying raw ingredients to do so.
There has also been an increase in grain and starch free formulas, although veterinarian Lorie Huston suggests that unless your cat has been diagnosed with a grain or gluten allergy, they are capable of metabolizing small amounts of such ingredients easily.
Recent studies suggest that overall, wet food diets may be better for cats.
However, while ideally, she’d choose a wet diet for cats, Veterinarian Hyla Gayer points out that many cats have a preference: ‘it all depends on the cat,’ she stated in an interview with the Today Show this year. ‘Some only like dry food and some only like wet.’
For weight loss, many vets will recommend a combination of wet and dry food.
Wet Cat Food: Pros And Cons
- High moisture content: wet foods usually contain between 60 and 78% water, comparable to the 70-75% water content of prey in the wild; this helps cats, who naturally have a low thirst drive, stay adequately hydrated
- Generally tests much higher in terms of ‘palatability’
- Can be a good choice for owners concerned that their cat might not be eating enough, or for ‘picky eaters’
- Contains high levels of animal protein, which is of higher biological value to cats than plant-based proteins which can appear in dry foods
- Quality animal protein in wet foods is a good source of amino acids
- Due to their high protein content, wet foods can satiate appetite more quickly, meaning smaller portions can be given.
- Wet cat food is sold in cans and pouches. Once opened, wet cat food will spoil more quickly and should not be left out for long periods of time
- Wet cat food is generally more expensive than dry cat food.
Best Wet Cat Food For Weight Loss
High in quality proteins such as chicken, chicken liver and turkey, and low in carbohydrate, this food by Holistic is grain-free and does not list any questionable fillers or by-products in its ingredients.
It is a complete food, suitable for all life stages, and can also be given alongside dry food. It also provides probiotic support.
This high protein, low carbohydrate food by Against The Grain uses human-grade shredded chicken and cheese for increased palatibility, potentially making it a good choice for fussy eaters or cats with dental issues.
It has no artificial colors or preservatives.
Boasting responsibly sourced, grass-fed venison as its #1 ingredient, this food by Instinct is grain-free and high in protein and fat.
Instinct has no fillers, by-product meals, artificial colors or preservatives.
Best Dry Cat Food for Weight Loss
Primal Raw Freeze-Dried Feline Chicken and Salmon Formula
Suitable for all life stages, this food uses high-quality, certified antibiotic-free chicken and salmon.
The freeze-fried formula is easily reconstituted by adding water, boosting your cat’s water intake.
It is a low carbohydrate dry food, making it a good cat food for weight loss.
ZiwiPeak uses human grade, grass-fed lamb to create this highly digestible food.
This food is free from grains, soy, corn, potatoes, wheat, rice, sugars, glycerin, rendered meals and preservatives.
Because it is high in protein, smaller portions can be given, making it a healthy cat food for weight loss.
Instinct Ultimate Protein Grain Free Recipe Natural Cat Food & Toppers by Nature’s Variety.
This food lists cage-free chicken as its #1 ingredient, and includes probiotics for digestive health plus omegas for skin and coat condition.
It is free from potato, corn, wheat, soy, by product meals, artificial colors and preservatives.
Each piece of kibble is coated with freeze-dried raw ingredients for added palatability.
Healthy Cat Weight Loss
Like their human owners, cats who need to lose weight will need to expend more calories than they consume.
Choosing a high protein, low carbohydrate diet and regulating portion size, treats, and feeding times can help with weight loss.
Making time to play with your cat can also help them to burn off some calories, and is a fun way to enrich their day- and yours!
Don’t forget to talk to your veterinarian. They will be happy to provide you with tips and expertise to help your pet shed unwanted weight in a healthy way.
Have you been on a weight loss journey with your cat? Join the conversation by commenting below!
For more cat articles take a look at our guide to cat dry skin!
- AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Feline Health Center
- German, A. The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats Journal of Nutrition, 2006
- Lund, E. Et al. Prevalence and Risk Factors for Obesity in Adult Cats from Private US Veterinary Practices, International Journal Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine, 2005
- Scarlett, J.M., et al. Overweight Cats: Prevalence and Risk Factors, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 1994
- Zoran, D. The Carnivore Connection In Cats Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2002
- Zoran, D. & Buffington, T. Effects of Nutrition Choices and Lifestyle Changes on the Well-Being of Cats, a Carnivore That Has Moved Indoors Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2011