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Meet Jack and Montag.

They came into my life back when I was in college and didn't know how to take care of myself, let alone two fuzzy dependents. When they were young, I would pour several days' worth of kibble into a large bowl and call it good. It was during this time that I discovered Montag's appetite and Jack's timid nature. The only time Jack could eat was when Montag was off napping somewhere. Montag gained weight, and poor Jack never did.

Enter Terry, a new roommate, and Shadow, his new kitten. Terry decided that I couldn't feed my cats like this anymore, and put them on a strict diet of weight-control kibble. We decided that the cats would eat a quarter cup of kibble, 3 times a day. Montag was locked in one bathroom, Shadow was locked in another, and Jack was allowed to roam free. This all makes for an easy mealtime, right? And weight loss? Right...?

Yeah, no. Didn't happen. The cats would start clammering hours before mealtime. This wasn't so bad in the evenings, but *man*, 6am comes early when the 3 fuzzy alarm clocks start going off at 4. They always seemed hungry, no matter what. Their only thought was when their next meal would come. Getting ready for work, coming home after work, trying to make our own supper, trying to relax, trying to get the cats engaged in games...life was punctuated by yowling, hungry cats. And that doesn't even encompass the drama surrounding mealtime itself! Trying to sort 3 cats into 3 different areas to eat their own food was fairly time consuming and rather stressful to the two non-bully cats in the household. Once everyone was where they belonged, Montag would bolt down his food and then sit at the door yowling and scratching and bemoaning the fact that he was imprissoned so unfairly. Shadow would eat about half his food, then scratch at the door or start chewing on anything that wasn't catproofed and add his own howling to the noise that Montag was making. This was all terribly distressing to Jack, who would eat a bite or two of food and then go hide from the racket that was coming from the bathrooms. Awesome. Montag still gained weight, and Jack never did.

Fast forward a few years, and I take a job in California and can't bring the cats with me. Terry agrees to babysit long-term. Don't judge me on the particulars - when one is just out of college and unemployed, one takes any job they can get, even when they can't bring along the fuzzier members of the household.

Fast forward another few years, and I can finally bring Jack and Montag to California with me. When they first come home, Montag is gargantuan. Apparently the diet didn't help much. Jack looks on the malnourished side - ribs and hips sticking out, fur ratty and dull, and obviously stressed. I don't feel that Terry did anything wrong, necessarily - Jack is simply a stresser and the mental anguish of "never knowing" when the next meal will come, along with the stress of mealtimes themselves, didn't put Jack in the healthiest of states.

So I did what any loving (yet still misinformed) pet owner would do - I went back to leaving as much kibble as they could eat out for them. This has really helped Jack. He's filled out to a healthy weight, his coat is shiny, and he's very obviously more relaxed than he was. Awesome. Montag....well, he still weights (gulp) about 20 lbs. To be fair, they are both built very large, but Montag eats. A lot. Jack is quite happy grazing, eating a bite or two every few hours.

So now I've done my research and I've decided to put them back on a controlled diet and switch them to a grain-free kibble and much more wet food (gradually, of course). Yes, I know they need exercise, and I'm taking that into account. However, I need to figure out a way to control how much they eat while still controlling the amount of stress I subject Jack to. Montag would simply gulp down both cats' meals if I let him, so they need to be separated.

So how do I accomplish this? How do I get Jack to maintain his healthy weight, get Montag to lose his extra weight, keep both cats stress free, and as a bonus, keep them from waking me up hours before dawn asking when breakfast will be? Do I put them on separate foods? And what do I do when I travel (which happens on a fairly regular basis, for 2 or 3 days max, usually)?

Another issue - when we had Montag on controlled feeding, giving him an amount of kibble that was recommended for his weight, he still gained. I'm sure he didn't get much exercise while I was gone, so I'm sure that will make a difference. But how do I decide how much to feed him? The logical thing would be to feed him less food, but he's still convinced he's starving to death at all times, and I don't want to risk under feeding him.
 

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I have one food-stealer (Apollo) and one timid eater (Athena), and what I've found works best is feeding them in separate rooms, or feeding Athena on a high surface and sitting with her while she eats.

Apollo I always feed in the same spot since he'll run straight to his bowl, but I tend to bring Athena's food to wherever she is at the time. This seems to make her feel more comfortable. This morning she was sitting on the back of the couch, watching birds. I was able to get her to eat by putting her food up there with her, and sitting by the couch while she ate. I made sure Apollo stayed away until she was finished.

I find I can keep Apollo away easily enough by first distracting him by putting down his bowl, and then just keeping an eye on him while I sit with Athena. If Apollo finishes and wanders over to where Athena is eating, I shoo him away, or just block off his access to Athena. If this doesn't work for your guys/if Montag is too persistent, you may have to literally separate them with a closed door.

I don't think separate foods is really necessary. As long as they're both on a good quality food and getting the right amounts, that should help Jack gain weight and Montag lose it.

Honestly the kibble is probably a big offender here in Montag's weight gain. Kibble is extremely high in carbohydrates, which tends to make it really hard for some cats to lose weight. Restricting portions doesn't do too much good because kibble is also usually not very nutrient-dense, so the cat is still getting a lot of carbs, but not enough nutrition. My recommendation would be to make it your goal to get them both eating a grain-free canned food as either the entirety or majority of their diet. That will remove the excess carbs from their diets while still making sure they get adequate amounts of nutrition.

To put it in human nutrition terms: If someone were trying to lose weight, but were eating mostly bread, corn, and potatoes, they'd have a rough time. Chances are, reducing meal sizes a lot would just leave them hungry since they wouldn't be getting adequate nutrition. Whereas reducing the carbs but increasing the amount of lean protein/veggies would produce more successful results. The same applies to cats except they require even fewer carbs than we do, and need mostly quality animal protein and the other associated nutrients that go with that sort of food source.

Exact feeding amounts is hard. I found my cats didn't overeat on nutritionally dense wet food, so I basically just give them as much as they'll eat and use that as my guide for proper portion-sizes. I'd let Jack eat as much as he wants, and then for Montag, maybe give him the recommended amount of canned food for his ideal weight, and adjust (up or down) from there based on how it goes? Just be careful that he doesn't lose weight too fast, since cats (especially overweight cats) can develop a dangerous condition called hepatic lipidosis when they lose weight too rapidly. What you want for him is slow, gradual weight loss which should *hopefully* come naturally with a switch to a nutrient-dense, low-carb diet.
 

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the only thing I would add to the post before me is that when looking at recommended amounts, you have to understand that most of those amounts are WAY too high. And also, you have to base them on the cats IDEAL weight rather than current weight. Feeding a 20lb cat the amount recommended for a 20lb cat will only prove to keep him at 20lb, if not have him continue to gain weight.

Some cats will eat themselves sick... I think personality plays a lot into it. I have two adult cats who regulate themselves pretty well, often not finishing meals and occasionally not eating at all. They maintain their weight well.

I have two kittens (about 7 and 10 months I think?) who will eat anything in sight and then continue to hunt for more. They go crazy when they think I might be making them food. Any time I am in the kitchen or approach where they eat the screaming and pacing begins.

Another vote for switching to wet. Do so slowly, and reduce portions slowly.

It is very important that he loses the weight. Diabetes is far too common in cats. It wouldn't hurt to have some baseline bloodwork run just to check him out.
 

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So now I've done my research and I've decided to put them back on a controlled diet and switch them to a grain-free kibble and much more wet food (gradually, of course).
Although grain-free kibble is relatively low carb, you'll find it's much higher in calories. So, the more grain-free wet food you can give them (particularly Montag), the better. If they've been eating kibble all of their lives, you might have some difficulty transitioning them to wet initially, but it's worth the effort.

So how do I accomplish this? How do I get Jack to maintain his healthy weight, get Montag to lose his extra weight, keep both cats stress free, and as a bonus, keep them from waking me up hours before dawn asking when breakfast will be? Do I put them on separate foods?
I'd transition both to a grain-free wet food. You will likely have to separate them at first to avoid Montag eating Jack's food. As for them waking you up...I have never fed my girls as soon as I get up first thing in the morning, so they have never come to associate my getting up with their being fed. I always wait for an hour or so. I have my shower, run on the treadmill, etc., and then feed them. You can try that, although you have years of bad habits to break, so it's going to take time and patience.

Another issue - when we had Montag on controlled feeding, giving him an amount of kibble that was recommended for his weight, he still gained. I'm sure he didn't get much exercise while I was gone, so I'm sure that will make a difference. But how do I decide how much to feed him? The logical thing would be to feed him less food, but he's still convinced he's starving to death at all times, and I don't want to risk under feeding him.
The amount of kibble (or wet food) recommended on the bag/can is always more than a cat needs. You're going to have to experiment with the amount of food to give him. You might want to invest in a baby scale, so you can weigh Montag weekly, to ensure he's losing weight, but not too quickly. You can then increase/decrease the amount you're giving him accordingly.

Here are several helpful articles. The first discusses carb/calorie content in foods, contains tips to transition cats from dry to wet and has other useful information on nutrition. The second specifically deals with obesity in cats. Both are by the same author, a vet who focuses on feline nutrition.

Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition :: healthy cat diet, making cat food, litter box, cat food, cat nutrition, cat urinary tract health

Feline Obesity: An Epidemic of Fat Cats by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM :: cat weight management, obese cat, cat weight loss
 

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Thanks for such thorough replies!

Currently I have them both on the grain free kibble, and I'm increasing the amount of wet food I give them gradually. They have always loved the wet food - I fed it as a treat almost - so I'm not having any problem with their appetites. I tried giving them some raw food that I got as a free trial at the pet store. Montag ate it halfheartedly, and Jack refused to touch it. So much for the whole raw thing.

I think I've solved the problem of Montag yowling when I locked him away from the rest of the household to eat. I simply lock Jack in the bathroom instead of Montag. Montag finishes his food and goes to amuse himself in other ways, while Jack eats as much of his food as he likes and curls up on the back of the toilet until I come let him out. I take away any extra kibble that is left after half an hour or so because I know Montag would just come hoover it and that seems to work out. They still carry on for quite a while in the mornings, but I really have no choice but to feed them first thing. Oh well, guess it couldn't hurt to wake up earlier? :)

I have definitely noticed that both cats are much more active. They would always lose interest in whatever toys I tried to get them engaged with, but now they *gasp* actually play on their own too. They're almost like kittens again. Sometimes. Giant kittens.

The next big question I have is involving the costs of feeding the wet food. Yes, I realize that feeding them healthier will cost a lot of extra money, and yes, I'm prepared to spend as much as I need to. However, I'd prefer not to have to sell a firstborn to pay for wet food. Once I transition them to just wet food, they'll essentially be eating 2 5.5 oz cans of food between them a day. I've been getting the Nature's Variety Instinct stuff, at minimum a buck a can at the Pet Food Express, so that adds up quite quickly. I'm sure there is all sorts of advice on which particular wet food to get, but is there a really good cheaper source? Online options?
 

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Of all the quality grain-free canned foods I've fed, Wellness has been the cheapest (note: not all of their flavors are grain-free. look for the yellow grain-free triangle on the front or check the ingredients). I'm not sure how it compares, pricewise, to Nature's Variety, but I do know it comes in a variety of can sizes so buying the 12 oz cans may help save a bit of money.

Which raw food did you try? If one brand didn't work, another might be more palatable to them. My cats, for example, have no interest in Ziwi Peak, but like Primal and Stella & Chewy's. I have a friend with one cat who will happily eat Nature's Variety raw, but another who refuses to touch it (and both like Primal).

Oddly enough I've found premade raw (at least both Primal and Nature's Variety) to be cheaper than a grain-free canned diet, so if money is a concern, it may be worth giving the raw another shot with a different brand or flavor. Also, some cats refuse to eat it cold. You can try warming it by placing it in a ziploc bag in a bowl of warm water after it's been defrosted to bring it to room temp or slightly warm (just be sure to not actually cook it).
 

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I've found Evo 95% beef to be slightly cheaper (but only that flavor). That's what I feed and I spend about 37.00 a month on cat food for one cat(and that includes shipping).
 
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