How to Keep Your Cat From Being Obese or Overweight
Who can resist the cute meows, warm cuddles, and more commonly, incessant 3 a.m. chirps for extra cat food and treats? As tough as it is to resist, or as easy as it is to give in, it’s important to keep your cat on track in terms of weight.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly 60 percent of cats in the United States are obese or overweight. As more and more cats are becoming overweight and suffering health complications because of it, many pet parents are asking what's the right weight for a cat.
How Much Should My Cat Weigh?
With so much fur, it’s not always easy to tell if your cat is gaining weight. Thus, keeping track of your cat's weight from an early age is a great place to start.
When it comes to how much a cat should weigh, there is no "one-size-fits-all" answer. The average domestic shorthair should weigh between 8.4 and 10 pounds (3.8-4.5 kilograms). However, this does vary between cats, and also varies between breeds. For example, a Maine Coon can weigh up to 25 pounds (11.3 kilograms).
If you aren’t sure of your cat’s breed or what a "healthy weight" looks like for them, please consult with your veterinary team.
What Are the Health Effects of an Overweight Cat?
It can be very dangerous for a cat to be overweight or obese. An overweight cat will struggle with day-to-day living, be more likely to suffer from certain health conditions, and may have a shorter lifespan than if they were a healthy weight. Some common problems we see in overweight and obese cats include:
- Reduced range of movement, such as difficulty jumping
- Joint problems, such as arthritis
- Poor grooming, causing mats
- Lower energy levels
- Heart disease
- Urinary tract disease
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
While not every cat is prone to all of these conditions, we certainly don’t want them to struggle with any of them as they age. Because of an indoor cat’s loafing nature, it is much more difficult for a cat to lose weight than gain weight.
How to Tell If My Cat Is Overweight?
Since there is so much individual variation in weight between cats, the best way to tell if a cat is a healthy weight is to use Body Condition Scoring (BCS). The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has produced a really useful chart, illustrating how to body condition scores a cat.
Body Condition Scoring involves running your hands over your cat and looking at your cat from the side and from above. Summarized simply, your cat is overweight if:
- You can’t see their waist when looking from above
- You have to press firmly to be able to feel their ribs
- You can feel fatty areas
Your cat is obese if:
- They have no waist
- You can’t feel their ribs, or it is very difficult to feel them
- You can see fatty areas
- They have a rounded belly
If you are concerned that your cat is overweight or obese, your veterinary team are the best people to advise you on the next steps. In fact, many veterinary clinics run weight-loss programs for cats.
What to Do If My Cat Is Overweight?
As mentioned earlier, early prevention of weight gain is better than having to lose weight. If you find that your cat is at a healthy weight, continue to weigh them regularly to ensure they stay at that weight.
If your cat is found to be overweight or obese, don’t feel guilty or embarrassed, you are not alone. The best thing you can do is take action. One option is for your cat to be put on a weight-loss program. One feline weight-loss study suggests that weight loss can improve a cat’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
Here are our top tips for healthy weight loss in a cat:
1. Cut out all human food. Even a tiny amount of human food can cause weight gain in cats, which makes sense when you think of the size of a cat compared to a human. More importantly, many human foods are toxic to cats.
2. Specially formulated weight-loss diets work well. Prescription weight-loss diets are low in calories and dense in essential nutrients. Simply reducing their usual diet may mean they become deficient in some essential nutrients. They are also designed to help your cat feel full, meaning less begging for food. In addition, feed your cat two separate meals instead of leaving food out all day. This will prevent the cat from becoming overweight and also help with weight loss.
3. Promote exercise. Overweight or obese cats may be reluctant to chase a toy initially, so you could try feeding puzzles to get your cat moving (using food from their daily meal). These tools also provide great mental stimulation, which can help to reduce eating out of boredom.
4. Weight loss isn’t a race. Take it slow and steady. A cat that loses weight too quickly is at risk of fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis). The desired weight loss should take place over weeks to months, at a rate of 0.5-2 percent of the original weight (i.e., when obese), per week. Your veterinarian will advise on the desired weight loss for your unique cat.
Bottom Line: You Can Help Your Cat Have a Healthy Lifestyle
It is not uncommon to have a cat that’s overweight or obese and the signs can be tough to spot. If you believe your cat is overweight or obese, or you aren’t sure, have a weight check with your veterinary team as soon as possible.
There are steps you can take now to help your overweight cat drop weight, feel better, and get back to their playful, active lifestyle.