A weight loss journey takes time, dedication and support to stay on track and meet your goals. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it! And if you’re a pet, one thing is certain—you can’t take on this challenge alone.
Bronson the cat and his pet parents, Mike and Megan Wilson, took on this very challenge as a family a little over a year ago. At the time, Bronson was 33 pounds—three-times the size of an average housecat. Today, he’s 25.5 pounds, and he continues to shed weight, showing no signs of slowing down until he reaches his goal weight of 15 pounds.
“We believe Bronson can do almost anything at this point,” Mike says. “He’s really been a trooper and has been surprising us almost daily.”
Bronson’s weight loss journey began when Mike and Megan adopted him from the Michigan Humane Society back in April 2018. Before they even decided to take the overweight cat home, they knew they had to put him on a weight loss plan. But they didn’t know where to start.
“We didn’t really know what we’re doing in the beginning,” Mike admits.
They turned to their veterinarian and other cat parents to devise a plan of action. They also started an Instagram account (@iambronsoncat) to help share Bronson’s story and raise awareness about pet obesity.
“We want Bronson to be a motivation for others who want to work with their cats on getting to a healthier weight and would like to set a good example,” Mike says.
Over the last year, the Wilsons have learned a lot. Below, Mike shares their advice for helping a cat lose weight.
1. Schedule a vet visit.
Starting with a visit to the vet is very important. Every cat is different, so it’s important that you work closely with your vet with everything you do.
Our vet started with a checkup and then calculated [Bronson’s] initial calorie intake. They have different equations online to help calculate a calorie number, but there can be other factors your vet would consider, like your pet’s age, breed or any existing or underlying health issues.
We [also] like to bounce ideas off of our vet, which can be [about] something we saw online or have been given by Bronson’s fans.
2. Transition to wet food or raw food.
Many people [may] feed their cats dry food because you can leave it out all day, so it’s more convenient when it comes to feeding. We think there are a lot of issues with free feeding dry cat food, especially if you’re trying to have your cat lose weight.
Also, cats have a low thirst drive. Even with many sources of water available, most do not have the inclination to drink excessive amounts of liquid, which can lead to dehydration and urinary tract issues. Wet and raw food contain a lot more moisture than dry food.
It can be difficult to have a cat switch to a new type of food. We did this by slowly adding more and more wet food to his dry food, while keeping track of the calories to be sure he wasn’t going over. Speak with your vet to figure out which diet is best for your cat.
3. Schedule feeding times.
We used to free feed all of our cats, but we’ve now switched over to scheduled feeding. The reason we went to scheduled feedings was because it was the only way to keep track of Bronson’s calories. But after reading up on it, we found out that free feeding is a major contributor to obesity in cats. Our other cats have become a bit more trim, as well.
I would suggest [scheduled feedings] two times a day, even though that’s not what we’re doing quite yet. I think it’s going to be a hard transition with Bronson, since he eats smaller meals but likes to eat more often.
4. Provide exercise for at least 15 minutes a day.
We found early on that Bronson was very food motivated, so almost every exercise he did had to do with food—things like moving his dish around when he eats, tossing treats for him to chase. Once he lost a few pounds, we started making him take trips up and down the stairs.
5. Be consistent.
It can be easy to feel unmotivated and “forget” to play from day to day. We certainly have. We would suggest getting an automatic toy, to help out with those off days.
Even more important is sticking to counting their calories, because a hungry cat on a diet can be hard to say no to. There are additional steps you can take to fill them up, like adding water or chopped up, unsalted green beans to his food and having cat grass available around the house for munching.[My wife and I have] made many mistakes along the way. One of our more notable mistakes was feeding this big guy snacks in the middle of the night.
When we first started, Bronson was losing weight steadily, but not eating all of his daily calories. At night, he would hop up onto the bed and then sit staring down at me, purring as loudly as he could. I felt like he was working so hard and losing weight at the right pace, so I would give him a snack, not realizing the monster I was creating.
That was a huge mistake, because for the next four months, he continued to get hungry around 3 a.m. and I lost a lot of sleep during that time. I would wake up sleep deprived for work and remember feeling incredibly defeated.
Eventually, I stopped the nighttime snacks and after a couple of months, [I think] he started realizing that he was burning calories purring so loud, and not replacing them, so he stopped.
6. Go slow.
If a cat loses weight quickly, it can be more dangerous for them than being obese, since their bodies can’t process fat as fast as other animals, so please don’t rush it.
For Bronson, after about eight months on his new diet, his weight loss had slowed down, and he wasn’t hitting his goal of .7 to 1 pound each month. [So,] we brought him to his vet to be reassessed, since he seemed to have hit a plateau of some sort. They ended up coming up with a new daily calorie count and weight loss goal.
7. Make the journey fun!
Weight loss doesn’t need to be boring. Try and think of things that will help keep your pet active and that will also be fun for you. For us, that’s taking him outside on walks, playing with him and sharing with his fans.
Bronson’s very charming, so in general, he’s fun to work with. Brainstorming ideas for fun new exercises or trying new things with his diet is a lot of fun.
8. Weigh your pet regularly.
We suggest getting a baby scale that lays flat, and doing frequent weigh-ins.
Although we only post public weigh-ins monthly, we do these about every two weeks to see where he’s at.
We would suggest weighing weekly until you have the calorie number correct. This is important for a couple of reasons: 1. It lets you know if they’re losing too quickly or not enough, and 2. It makes you stop for a day and think of what you’re doing and if it’s working or needs to be tweaked.
9. Give rewards for their hard work.
Your pet is the one that’s losing the weight, so it’s important to give them treats for their hard work. Our vet told us that 10 percent of Bronson’s diet can be treats, so we work them in daily.
10. Document the journey.
This is part of what makes the process fun. It’s nice to be able to go back and see your progress. It’s a really good motivator, to see how far your pet has come.
Another thing we highly suggest is starting a social media account. It adds accountability and helps bring a community to help with suggestions along the way. Making videos and posts along the way has been a really fun experience … We’ve met a lot of really nice people along the way and are so grateful for the community that’s become involved with his account.
We’re very happy we chose to create a social media account for Bronson’s journey. I don’t think he would be doing so well if we didn’t.
Next step: Get started on your cat’s weight loss journey! For Bronson, he still has about 10 more pounds to lose to meet his goal weight. To keep up with his journey, you can follow his Instagram account (@iambronsoncat).
Lindsay Page, BeChewy Associate Editor
The moment Lindsay started her career here at Chewy, she hit the ground running in customer service; she knew that this is the company she wanted to grow with from then on. When Lindsay isn’t spending her time writing for BeChewy, she’s most likely binge-watching a Netflix series with her husband and their 80-pound fur baby, Dexter.
Videos courtesy of Mike and Megan Wilson