They were words I didn’t know I needed to hear until someone said them to me: “You’re such a good cat mom!”
Well, I try.
I know that some people find the concept of pet ownership as a form of parenthood controversial—even offensive—as an October 2016 New York Magazine piece makes clear: “Pets Are Not Children, So Stop Calling Them That.”
But, to be honest, that’s not really what this blog post is about. It’s about my efforts to help my nearly 25-pound cat, Albie, get healthy. Upon taking up this endeavor, I soon discovered that cat weight loss struggles and human weight loss struggles have some frustrating things in common.
The Debate About Goal Weight
Human obesity is a well-known problem in America. Nearly 69% of adults in the US are overweight or obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Clinical definitions of overweight and obesity in humans are generally tied to body mass index (BMI), which in turn is determined by a person’s height and weight.
This makes every person’s goal weight dependent on their size. In other words: There is no universal goal weight that everyone should aim for.
But, at the beginning of my efforts to help Albie lose weight, I found that defining a cat’s goal weight is not as easy. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) recommends that domestic cats aim for a weight between 8 and 10 pounds.
His vet told me 15 to 17 pounds was more realistic for a cat of his size. “If you look at his face and paws, you can see that he’s got a large frame,” he said. “So his goal weight won’t be that low.”
In other words, cat body sizes are variable, just like human body sizes. So ideal weights for cats shouldn’t be listed as a static range, either. There should be a cat equivalent to BMI.
I decided to start with low expectations—which turned out to be a wise move—and made Albie’s goal weight 20 pounds.
Cat Diet Difficulties
Once I knew how much I wanted Albie to weigh, the next step was cutting down on his favorite activity: eating. I immediately encountered my second obstacle in the project I had officially dubbed “Operation Get Albie Healthy:” How much food do cats need?
I took this mission extremely seriously. I started a Google document to keep track of my research, and a Google spreadsheet to log Albie’s weight loss progress (or lack thereof).
I used APOP’s guidelines to determine how many calories Albie should consume in a day based on his current weight and goal weight—which required more math skills than I had used since my high school AP calculus days.
Then I figured out how much wet food and how much dry food he could have based on all of that math.
But, as with humans, it’s not as easy as simply looking at calories in vs. calories out. What those calories are made of counts, too.
So I looked for the best cat food I could reasonably afford, headed to the nearest store, and brought back four different flavors for Albie to try.
In my spreadsheet, I logged how many calories were in each food, and made a note of whether Albie seemed to like the different flavors.
I eventually settled on one type of wet food and one type of dry food. I mapped out the next month’s worth of portions so that he could (hopefully) lose weight at a decent rate without compromising his health.
I was nervous because I had read that cats need to lose weight very slowly. If they drop the pounds too fast, they can develop a potentially fatal liver condition. I decided to err on the side of caution and aim small with my already modest goals.
Exercise: The Struggle Is So Very Real
As with humans, there are two components to cat weight loss: diet and exercise. And, as with humans, getting an unmotivated cat to exercise is just as impossible as getting an unmotivated human to exercise.
I tried enticing Albie with every cat toy I had accumulated over the few short years he had been in my life. Occasionally the laser pointer would interest him for a few laps around the apartment, but once his sister, Minnie, joined in the chase, he quickly gave up.
I didn’t blame him. While “Operation Get Albie Healthy” was underway, “Operation Get Ros Healthy” was in progress as well. I had come to terms with my hatred for exercise and accepted that the majority of my efforts would need to go towards changes in my diet. It looked like the same was true for Albie.
From June to September of 2015, I weighed Albie weekly, hoping to highlight the number in green instead of red on my spreadsheet. (I take my spreadsheet tracking very seriously, in case you couldn’t tell.)
His first weigh-in on June 14 showed him at 23.3 pounds. On September 6 (the last number I recorded before I realized the futility of my logging efforts) he was 23.5 pounds.
Like I said, I try.
I won’t call “Operation Get Albie Healthy” a complete failure. His food intake has been cut back simply because I got tired of feeding him half a dozen times a day.
I learned to put up with his incessant whining about the fact that he wasn’t eating all day, everyday. Eventually he accepted that that would never happen and the 24/7 whining stopped.
I also bought him a shirt on Amazon for $10. It was designed for small dogs. It fits him perfectly. When he starts to whine, I put it on him. He immediately calms down.
I posted a picture of Albie in his shirt on Facebook not too long ago. One of my friends commented, asking why he was wearing a shirt. I explained.
Her response: “You’re such a good cat mom!”
I really hope Albie and Minnie think so, too.