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The best cat foods for weight loss are specially formulated to help cats lose weight in a safe and healthy way. These foods typically have lower calories, less fat, and more nutrients per serving than other cat foods. They may also contain extra fiber, which helps cats feel full while eating less.
Cats can gain excess weight for a variety of reasons. For example, spaying or neutering cats is essential for their health but can lead to weight gain over time. Other factors that play a role in weight gain include age, limited mobility, or not enough mental and physical exercise. Cats might also gain weight if they eat too many calories. Properly portioning your their food can help them maintain a healthy weight, but it's important to make sure you're giving them the right amount of food. Simply cutting down the amount of food you provide can be dangerous, since a smaller serving may not provide all the nutrients your cat needs, says Dr. Mark Freeman, a board-certified veterinarian and assistant professor of community practice at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
If your cat has put on an extra pound or two, your vet can offer more guidance on their daily calorie needs. They may also recommend a weight management diet, or a food specially designed to promote weight loss. We spoke with feline nutrition experts and a small animal veterinarian to find out how to choose the best cat food for overweight cats. We also referenced the Global Nutrition Guidelines published by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and ensured all of our picks meet or exceed the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.
Canned food, also called wet food, contains a lot of water: 75% to 78% moisture per can compared to 10% to 12% water in dry food. This is significant because cats prefer to get most of their hydration from their food rather than drinking water, says Dr. Deb Zoran, a board-certified small animal internist, nutritionist, and professor at Texas A&M University. What's more, the water in canned food helps fill cats up, even when they consume fewer calories.
Because wet and dry cat foods have different amounts of water, you'll need to convert the wet food values to a dry matter basis to compare the nutritional content. This means you remove all the moisture from the wet food and then calculate the nutritional values based on the remaining solids. We contacted the manufacturers of the foods listed in this guide to get the nutritional profiles of each food on a dry matter basis. If you'd like to compare recipes for dry foods with wet foods not listed in this guide, you can use these directions from the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, call the food manufacturer, or ask your vet for help.
Our picks for the best wet cat foods for weight loss have added fiber from ingredients like powdered cellulose. More fiber can help your cat stay full for longer, so it may help keep them from meowing for more food between meals. They also contain L-carnitine. This amino acid helps the body burn fat for energy, which may help with weight loss.
Your veterinarian might recommend dry food (kibble) that contains salt for weight control. Salt may seem like a strange ingredient, but Freeman says pet food brands add salt to encourage your cat to drink more water. "It's another mechanism to help pets feel full and reduce food consumption," he says.
Calorie control also plays a major role in weight loss. Even so, treats are still important for bonding with your cat and rewarding them, says Dr. Julie Churchill, a veterinary nutritionist and professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. She suggests using a portion of your cat's kibble as a treat. This way, you can give them a few small pieces of a complete and balanced food without disrupting their diet.
Our picks for the best dry cat food for weight loss contain soluble and insoluble fiber sources like beet pulp, oats, psyllium seed husk, and inulin, which can come from either chicory root or Jerusalem artichoke. Soluble fibers absorb water and form a gel in the stomach, which can slow down digestion while helping cats feel full. Insoluble fibers add bulk to your cat's stool and help keep their digestive system healthy.
Along with added moisture, many wet cat foods contain carbohydrates sources that can help your cat lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. For instance, Tufts University says complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and whole corn are more fiber-rich than other types of carbohydrates. They can help your cat feel full for longer. Our experts recommend whole, complex carbohydrates over processed carbohydrates such as flour and meals. This is because cats use more energy to break whole carbs down, says Dr. Korinn Saker, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University.
Our budget weight management picks include fiber to help your cat feel full and L-carnitine to help them burn fat. If wet food still feels too pricey (it tends to be more expensive per serving than dry food), you can ask your vet for help creating a meal plan that mixes wet and dry food. Zoran says she offers her cats wet food to keep them hydrated but also incorporates a small amount of dry food in feeder puzzles. This helps slow down her cats' eating by making them work for their food, which can help them feel more satisfied and promote weight loss.
Budget dry food is a good option for cat owners who are looking for an affordable way to help their cat lose weight. Both budget and premium weight loss cat foods may contain cost-effective protein sources like meat byproducts and byproduct meals. These are secondary ingredients from the human food industry, but they meet the nutritional requirements for pets set by the AAFCO. Our experts agree that byproducts and meals make good sources of protein for cats.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need animal-based proteins for essential amino acids like taurine. Budget dry cat cat foods can meet your cat's dietary needs, as long as proteins in the form of whole meat, meat meal, or byproducts come first on the ingredients list
The budget weight loss dry foods below are low in calories and fat, like our other picks in this guide. They contain proteins such as deboned chicken, turkey meal, and salmon meal. Salmon meal is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help improve joint health and relieve inflammation. This may help ease joint pain caused by stress on the joints from excess weight. Additionally, our picks from Purina and Natural Balance contain L-lysine, an amino acid that supports the immune system and may boost a cat's resistance to certain viruses.
Senior cats are more likely to develop health problems, especially if they are overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight can add years to a pet's life, improve their quality of life, and delay many chronic diseases that occur with aging, Churchill says.
When choosing a senior diet, it's important to work with your veterinarian to determine your pet's specific needs. Some cats may require a diet with lower levels of phosphorus, sodium, or protein, while others may benefit from a high-protein diet. Many senior cat foods, such as the ones below, also contain ingredients like fish oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin that can help improve mobility and reduce inflammation. Our senior picks also contain cranberries and blueberries. These ingredients provide antioxidants, which can help keep a cat's liver, kidneys, and brain healthy.
When shopping for the best cat food for weight loss, you'll want to consider the following criteria:
AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement for adult maintenance or all life stages:
The AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that recommends nutritional guidelines for pet food. An AAFCO statement indicates that a food meets the nutritional needs of cats based on their life stage. You can confirm a cat food is nutritionally complete and balanced for "adult maintenance" or "all life stages" if it has an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement on the label.
Keep in mind that cat food will only meet your cat's nutritional needs when served in the right portions. Giving your cat a smaller portion could lead to a nutritional deficiency, while overfeeding them may lead to weight gain, especially if they don't get much activity.
Growing kittens need more calories and nutrients than adult cats. Therefore, weight management foods don't make a good choice for kittens, even if the food is labeled for "all life stages." If you have any concerns about your kitten's weight, start by consulting a vet before you change their diet or feed them smaller portions. As your cat nears their first birthday, your vet can evaluate their weight and how many calories they should consume daily.
Guaranteed analysis and nutrient profiles: The guaranteed analysis on a pet food label shows the percentages of important nutrients, including protein, fat, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Food for adult cats, including seniors, must have a minimum of 26% protein and 9% fat. Our experts say it's important to carefully examine the guaranteed analysis of protein, fat, and fiber percentages to ensure the recipe meets your cat's needs. The best cat foods for weight loss generally contain low to moderate fat and high fiber.
Ingredients list: The ingredients on a pet food label appear in order of weight. As obligate carnivores, cats must eat diets made up of animal-based proteins. So, animal proteins in the form of whole meat, meat meal, or animal byproducts should appear first on the ingredients list of any cat food. To add fiber to your cat's diet and keep them feeling full between meals, opt for recipes with whole complex carbohydrates such as whole corn, whole brown rice, oats, and inulin. Sources of inulin you may notice on cat food labels include chicory root and, less commonly, Jerusalem artichoke.
Expert formulations: Expert formulation is even more important when it comes to weight loss diets, since the best cat foods for weight loss are developed to provide more nutrients per serving, with fewer calories. We only recommend food from brands that employ a full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist or a PhD-level animal nutritionist. This helps ensure your cat's food meets nutritional recommendations and includes the right ingredients for cats. It also aligns with the WSAVA guidelines and our experts' guidance.
Manufacturing standards: When it comes to commercial cat foods, we expect pet food brands to be transparent about their quality control measures. This means providing information about the types of tests they conduct, how often they test, and the results of those tests. If this information doesn't appear on a pet food company's website, brand representatives should provide the information upon request.
Calorie content: The calorie content of cat food is listed in kilocalories (kcals). Weight management foods generally have fewer calories per serving but are nutrient-dense to meet nutritional needs. However, the calorie needs of adult cats can vary depending on their age, ideal weight, and overall health. Our experts emphasize the importance of switching to a weight management diet instead of just giving your cat less food. Your vet can recommend the best cat foods for weight loss and recommend the right portion size for your cat. When a pet is only a little overweight — 10% to 15% — a successful approach to weight loss may involve switching to a lower-calorie food and adjusting treats and snacks, combined with increased exercise, Churchill says. Pets more than 15% heavier than their ideal weight are considered obese and may benefit from a prescription weight loss diet.
Vets can use a scale and the body condition scoring (BCS) system to assess your cat's weight and body fat. Your vet will consider your cat's lifestyle, ideal weight, and overall health to recommend the ideal number of daily calories your cat should eat. You can ask your vet to teach you how to use the BCS system to check your cat's body fat at home between wellness visits. Frequent monitoring of your cat's weight is important, since it allows veterinarians to fine-tune caloric intake and ensure that weight loss stays safe and healthy, Churchill says. She adds that cats should lose weight gradually, at a rate of 1% to 2% of their body weight per week.
To select the best cat foods for weight loss, we consulted four veterinarians, including three specializing in animal nutrition. Our experts didn't recommend specific foods, but they helped us determine what makes an effective weight loss food and how to ensure your cat loses weight in a safe and healthy way.
Dr. Deb Zoran is a board-certified small animal internist, nutritionist, and professor of small animal clinical sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
Dr. Korinn Saker is a board-certified veterinarian, a distinguished member of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, and a professor of clinical nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University.
Dr. Julie Churchill is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Mark Freeman is a board-certified veterinarian and assistant professor of community practice at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
We also consulted guidelines and recommendations from the AAFCO and the WSAVA Global Nutrition Guidelines, as well as other publications and organizations linked in this guide.
What is the best food to feed my overweight cat?
The best cat foods for weight loss are formulated for and labeled as "weight management," "weight loss," or "healthy weight" cat food. Weight management cat foods typically have less calories and fat and more nutrients per serving than regular cat food. However, there is no single best food for all overweight cats. The ideal food for your cat will depend on their individual needs, along with their age, ideal weight, and overall health. That's why it's important to consult your vet before making any changes to your cat's diet. They can help you choose the right food and develop a safe and effective weight loss plan for your cat.
How do I get my indoor cat to lose weight?
A weight management diet plays an important role in weight loss, but food is just one of the pillars of an effective weight loss plan for cats. Freeman stresses the importance of portion control. He and his team provide pet parents with a carefully calibrated measuring cup for dispensing food. Churchill recommends using a kitchen scale to accurately measure portions. Keep in mind that treats also count toward your cat's daily calories, Because treats are typically empty calories, which means they're not complete and balanced, Churchill recommends giving your cat a small portion of their meal as a reward instead. Exercise is also essential, especially for indoor cats, since it burns calories and helps keep cats from getting bored. Churchill recommends offering food from a feeder puzzle, and all of our experts agree that cat trees and perches are important additions to your home.