Veterinary Viewpoint: How fat is my cat?

“I had a cat who was so fat. He could not even sit on his mat. He had a hat that did not fit. He put it on and then it split.” Anonymous

Fat cats are not healthy cats. A healthy cat should have no more fat along his rib cage than the padding on the back of your hand. “Fluffy” is not an excuse for fat. If you can’t even feel his ribs, he's fat.

As cats age, their metabolism shows down. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly 60% of all domestic cats in the U.S. are overweight. Just as with humans, carrying extra weight can lead to numerous health problems.

Here’s a tip to help you determine whether your cat needs a membership in Weight Watchers:

Using a scale of 1-5 (5 being high) to measure body condition, stand over your cat while he is standing. If he is not fat, you should be able to see a slight indentation over his hips (looks like a waist in humans). Long-haired pets might be difficult to judge this way.

If his sides bulge out, then he’s chubby. You can also weigh your cat at home. An ideal weight for most cats (dependent on breed, age, and bone structure) is around 10 pounds. If your smallish cat tips the scales at 15 or more, he’s too fat.

A cat is considered to be obese when he weighs 10-20% more than his expected body weight.

Symptoms of obesity can include:

  • Difficulty jumping or climbing stairs

  • Sitting or lying down more and an unwillingness to move around

  • Loss of a visible waistline

  • Owner’s inability to feel rib or hip bones

  • Dirty, messy, unkempt hair

  • Less frequent bowel movements and/or passing more gas

Excess weight has a psychological effect on humans and animals. While cats don’t judge their appearance and lack of fitness by trying on clothing in front of mirrors, their response to feeling “puffed” is to refrain from engaging in normal cat activities such as playing and keeping up on their personal hygiene.

Cats can get depressed and anxious, and they tend to overeat when stressed.

Overweight cats are more prone to diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis, and joint pain. Excess weight can also trigger inflammation that can lead to multiple acute and chronic conditions that can become life-threatening.

As cats age, so do their nutritional needs. Free choice feeding is not recommended for older or obese cats. However, drastically reducing or changing your cat’s regular diet is not recommended just as crash diets do not succeed in humans.

Changing diets too quickly can actually be harmful to your cat. For a fat cat, not eating for a couple of days whether from stress, starvation, or refusal to try a need food can lead to a form of liver disease. Therefore, any food transitions should always be made gradually.

Good health begins with a complete physical to rule out any endocrine problems such as a thyroid condition.

General causes of obesity can be divided into 2 categories: animal-specific factors and diet-specific factors.

Animal-specific factors include:

  • Age: Middle-aged cats (8-12) years old are more likely to be overweight;

  • Neutered: Neutered or spayed cats tend to have a larger appetite;

  • Environment: Indoor cats are generally heavier than outdoor cats;

  • Underlying Health Conditions: Food allergies, joint discomfort, arthritis.

Diet-specific factors:

  • Type of diet: Feeding mostly dry food tends to increase weight gain;

  • Inaccurate food;

  • Measurement: Not paying attention to amount of food offered;

  • Rapid food Consumption: Feeding on demand can become a problem;

  • Free choice feeding or small, frequent meals are better than 2 large feedings daily;

  • Excessive treats: Treats have high caloric counts upsetting required nutritional needs.

Finding your cat is fat without any underlying issues, there are methods to reverse his weight and keep him healthy.

Calorie-restricted foods promote weight loss but help maintain lean muscle mass. These diets combine low fat with higher protein and insoluble fiber to help him feel full.

Dry vs. canned diet. Switching from dry to canned food can help achieve weight loss. Careful washing of food dishes between feedings is important.

Prescription veterinary diets. These metabolic-controlled diets aim to induce ketosis (the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates) without a reduction in calories fed.

Once a cat has started and his weight loss program, it’s essential to continue the plan to keep him from regressing.

Dr. Joanna Bronson of Bronson Veterinary Services, located at 452 W. Central Road, Coldwater. Contact her at (517) 369-2161 or visit

Dr. Joanna Bronson
Dr. Joanna Bronson

This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: Veterinary Viewpoint: How fat is my cat?