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Is My Cat Overweight? Vet-Approved Ways to Spot Feline Obesity & Prevention

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

fat cat sitting on the grass

Vet approved

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Many cats are commonly stereotyped as fat, lazy, and only interested in long naps and plentiful meals. There is some truth to this concept. Cats really do spend most of their day sleeping and will opportunistically eat whenever they can, as these are traits needed for survival in the wild, which are hardwired into their DNA. However, unlike wild cats, our pet cats don’t struggle to find food. Being consistently inactive and eating more than their dietary requirements results in an overweight feline.

It’s estimated that close to half of all pet cats are overweight, often obese. Like humans, obesity in cats can lead to a slew of health problems, which we’ll discuss later in this article. First, we’ll learn how you can tell if your cat is overweight. Finally, we’ll talk about what to do if it turns out your feline companion is carrying a few pounds too many.

What Is Feline Obesity?

A cat is considered overweight if they are 10-20% above their ideal body weight and obese if they weigh at least 20% more than what their ideal weight should be. The ideal weight for your cat is based on several factors: your cat’s breed, sex, and genetics.

fat shorthaired cat lying on the ground
Image Credit: Eveline de Bruin, Pixabay

What Causes Obesity in Cats?

Obesity is the result of calorie input being higher than calorie expenditure. Cats are particularly at risk of becoming obese if their owners free feed their cats or leave food in their bowls all day rather than serving measured meals. Given the constant opportunity, many cats eat too much. Combine this with the decreased activity level most indoor cats maintain, and voila! Obese cats galore!

That being said, there are other risk factors that increase the likelihood of your cat being obese. These include:

Risk Factors for Obesity:

Why Is Feline Obesity a Problem?

Obesity is the most common nutritional issue in cats. Obesity in cats is associated with many health problems. Some of the problems you may find in obese cats include:

Problems Obese Cats Face:
  • Decreased life expectancy
  • Lower quality of life
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Exercise and heat intolerance
  • Joint and musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis
  • Compromised immune function
  • Increased risk for diabetes and hepatic lipidosis
  • Heart and lung problems

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Overweight

1. Rib Check

Run the palms of both hands along your cat’s sides, using light pressure. If you can’t easily feel your cat’s ribs, there’s a good chance it’s because your cat has built up a layer of fat. In a normal-weight cat, the ribs are easily palpable during this check.

2. Profile Check

Look at your cat from the side. If your cat doesn’t have a visible tuck to their belly, meaning their lower body line curves upward from front to back, your cat is likely overweight. You may also notice fat deposits on your cat’s back, head, and legs.


3. Overhead Check

hepper weight chart
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Stand over your cat and look down at them. Your cat should have an easily visible waistline or body narrowing behind their ribcage. You should be able to tell where your cat’s shoulders, chest, and waist are based on the visible curves of their body. If your cat has no waist and only one visible curve, somewhat resembling a basketball, they’re probably overweight.


4. Weigh Your Cat

This seems like the most obvious and accurate answer. However, it will only work if you have an idea of what your cat weighed before you began to suspect they were gaining weight. Therefore, it is a good idea to regularly weigh your cat at home. A weight check once or twice per month is recommended. If you don’t have a pet scale, an easy way to calculate your cat’s weight is by using a human scale:
Determining Your Cat's Weight
  1. Stand on the scale yourself and record your weight
  2. Hold your cat and step back on the scale to see your combined weight
  3. To determine your cat’s weight, subtract your weight from the combined reading of you and your cat’s weight (answer of Step 2 minus answer of Step 1).

5. Observe Behavior Changes

cat sleeping on its back
Image Credit: Jim Black, Pixabay

If your cat is carrying excess weight, you may notice they start to become less active. They may become reluctant or unable to jump up on the couch or climb stairs like they used to. Your cat also might seem to get out of breath or tired more easily when they do move around. Obesity isn’t the only cause for some of these signs, so if you’re noticing them, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

What to Do if Your Cat Is Overweight

Now that you know your cat is obese, it’s time to do something about it! First and foremost, have your cat thoroughly examined by your veterinarian to ensure that there isn’t an underlying medical issue perpetuating the weight gain.

If your vet ascertains that your cat doesn’t have a medical issue, they will help develop a weight loss plan for your cat. The goals of such a plan include short- and long-term goals.

Short-Term Goals:
  • Lose weight
  • Reach an ideal body condition score
Long-Term Goals:
  • Maintain the ideal body condition score
  • Regularly monitor your cat’s progress with your vet

These goals require a change in your cat’s management style at home (which probably led to the weight gain in the first place). Therefore, it is important to note that this process will involve a massive effort on your part too, as you will have to implement changes in your routine to see meaningful long-term results with your cat’s weight loss journey.

Cats are obligate carnivores and function differently than us when it comes to food and the mechanics of weight loss by caloric control. It is VERY IMPORTANT to note that you should NEVER attempt to fast your cat to help them lose weight; this is extremely inhumane and potentially life threatening for your cat. Always seek the advice of your vet to formulate a meal plan for your cat’s weight loss journey. Your vet will help you figure out a safe way to reduce the number of calories your cat eats.

We would also like to hand you a tool to know how much you should feed your cat to maintain their health:

The exact amount of calories an individual animal needs to maintain a healthy weight is variable and influenced by many factors including genetics, age, breed, and activity level. This tool is meant to be used only as a guideline for healthy individuals and does not substitute veterinary advice 

You will also need to help your cat become more active. This activity could take many different forms. You can invest in cat toys such as lasers, teaser wands, or maybe even a cat exercise wheel. You could also make your cat work for their supper by filling a puzzle toy or treat ball with their daily kibble. For morbidly obese cats, your vet may refer you to an animal physiotherapist to safely help your cat exercise and lose weight without injuring themselves.

Conclusion

We all love our cats and want what is best for them. Unfortunately, many of us are loving our cats right into obesity by overfeeding them. If you discover that your cat is overweight, don’t despair. As we discussed, this is an extremely common problem among pet cats. With the help of your veterinarian and a good cat scale, you will soon be on your way to a slimmer, healthier feline friend!

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Featured Image Credit: islandworks, Pixabay

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