Though 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 the majority of their day sleeping. And it’s estimated that close to half of all pet cats are overweight, often obese. Similar to 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 and Why Is It a Problem?
A cat is generally considered obese if they weigh at least 20% more than what their normal weight should be. Obviously, the normal weight will vary based on the individual cat. Normal weight for a giant Maine Coon cat isn’t going to be the same as it is for a slender Abyssinian. Obesity is the most common nutritional issue in cats. An overweight cat can suffer from a shorter life span and decreased quality of life. Some other problems you may find in obese cats include:
- Joint problems, such as arthritis
- Increased risk for diabetes
- Heart problems
How To Tell If Your Cat Is Overweight
In many cases, your veterinarian may be the one to alert you to your cat’s increased weight during their annual physical exam. If not, here are some ways to examine your cat and figure out if they’re 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 should be easily discovered 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
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 answer and most accurate. However, it will only work if you have an idea of what your cat weighed before you began to suspect they were gaining. If you keep track of your cat’s weight during their normal vet visits, you can weigh your cat and compare the numbers. If you don’t have a way to weigh your cat at home but suspect they’re overweight, it’s time for a visit to the vet. Your vet can confirm or deny obesity in your cat and get you started on a safe weight loss program if necessary.
5. Observe Behavior Changes
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 Causes Obesity in Cats?
The causes of obesity in cats are similar to the usual reasons in humans: overeating and lack of exercise. In some cases, medical conditions can cause cats to gain weight. Cats are particularly at risk of becoming obese because many owners free-feed their kitties, 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!
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, make sure you work closely with your veterinarian to develop a weight loss plan for your cat. Obese cats can develop a dangerous liver disease called hepatic lipidosis if they stop eating for even two days at a time. Your vet will help you figure out a safe way to reduce the number of calories your cat eats. Sometimes they may recommend changing from dry cat food to wet cat food. They may suggest you stop free feeding and start measuring out your cat’s daily food intake. If your cat is dangerously obese, your vet may recommend a prescription weight loss diet. 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. Your vet will likely recommend frequent, regular weight checks to monitor your cat’s progress and make sure they’re losing weight safely. Eventually, you should start to see changes in your cat’s body shape when you perform the rib, overhead, and profile checks.
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!
Featured Image Credit: islandworks, Pixabay