Dogs will eat until they make themselves sick, but cats are dainty, proper and know perfectly well when they’ve had enough. When it comes to universally acknowledged truths, that’s one of the basics, right? At least, we’ve all heard it.

Unfortunately, our little Swooner looks like a cat but he has the soul and appetite of a Labrador.

When Swooner joined the family eight months ago, he was rail thin as he’d been living rough. He was a bit weak physically but his condition also came with some mental issues.

When human people live through periods of starvation, they often become obsessed by food. They hoard the stuff and will scoff as much as they can at mealtimes because they are constantly anxious that there won’t be enough. They may steal too.

We anticipated that our little cat would be the same and so we were gentle with him. At breakfast and dinner we put his bowl down first. If he scoffed his food, which he did often, we’d offer seconds. We gently discouraged him from stealing by making sure he had a small plate of his own whenever we ate. And when he meowed in between meals, he’d get extra biscuits, no questions asked.

Our aim was to help Swooner achieve a sense of food security and our method worked. About two months ago, Swooner slowed down. Instead of gobbling his food, he sat down and chewed. He still policed the other cats Target and Guido’s bowls, sweeping up any leftovers with a happily flicking tail, but that frantic look in his eyes disappeared.

Best of all, he stopped stealing. Although he hangs about and is shameless about begging, he does not raid plates when I’m preparing meals.

Cats

Swooner showing off his fat little tummy. Photo: Ellen Whyte

The day he checked out some lunch and decided he didn’t want any, was a red-letter day for us. We were chuffed that our little cat was secure enough to turn down food.

However, it also meant we had to adjust our policy a little. You see, our Swooner is a boy but if you saw him, you’d easily mistake him for a pregnant lady cat. We knew our approach would have this effect but we thought it better to have him happy and secure than the proper weight. However, as he had adjusted, and as being obese is as bad for kitties as it is for humans, we knew it was time to slim him down.

As he’s still a kitten and hugely active, we weren’t worried. Target used to be a champion chomper but when he got too porky, we helped him regain his elegant proportions without any problems. We just took a teaspoon a week off his plate, and distracted him from asking for more by offering tummy rubs.

So we looked at our butterball Swooner and experience told us that it was simply a matter of very quietly nudging our new pet into eating sensible portions. Of course, I should have known Swooner would be different but I was full of pride and zeal and that had us heading for a fall.

I started by halving breakfast portions, and cutting down on biscuits and treats. Swooner noticed of course. He can tell a half full bowl of kitty crunchies from a full one as well as anyone. But he seemed to accept it, especially as I made extra fuss over him.

It helped that Swooner is maturing. Tiny cats tend to be ticklish and so they want to kick box and play when you pet them. Older cats are a bit less ticklish and learn to enjoy being petted.

As it turns out, Swooner is a cuddle bug. He adores being picked up cradled on his back and having his chin and ears rubbed. And if you stroke his nose, he shuts his eyes and you get high octane purring.

So there I was, working with my pet and thinking we were well on the way. Except that Swooner wasn’t getting any slimmer.

“It took him months to get this fat,” I told myself. “It will take some time for his little body to adjust.”

When there’s a will…

Right. So then the Hari Raya holidays came by. On the second day, we had a visit from our neighbour who asked if we could pet sit while she visited family. She’s got a tribe that consists of Charlie and his friend Toby who live outside, and two boys Happy and Joy who live inside.

“No problem,” I said as Charlie was rolling at my feet. And then Swooner rocked up, waddling a little.

When we’re away, Charlie’s mum pet sits for us, so I wasn’t surprised when our little cat meowed a hello.

“Isn’t he sweet?” Charlie’s mum gushed. “And he’s so good with Charlie!”

At this point Swooner was sitting down and looking perfectly angelic. But I know my cats and I had a funny feeling. “How is Swooner being sweet with Charlie?”

“Swooner comes to say hello most evenings,” our nice neighbour exclaimed. “They eat together!”

“Does he?” I said, giving our junior cat an evil look. “How social of him.”

Of course, Swooner was sitting there, looking like butter wouldn’t melt. I wasn’t fooled for a second. I saw that cunning gleam in those amber eyes.

All that time while I was cutting back on food, Swooner quietly sabotaged me by snacking across the street. And at home he was cleaning up with extra cuddles too, the little devil. So much for thinking that being in charge of filling the food bowl would give me the upper hand!

I’m not giving in. I will slim down our little cat. But clearly I’m going to have to up my game.