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Is my cat obese? Everything you need to know about cat obesity

Obese cat sitting next to scale

Are you wondering if your cat is obese? Find out all about cat obesity.

© Andriy Blokhin - Shutterstock

Cat obesity is nowadays considered as a real pathology. Indeed, it can have serious consequences on the health of our felines: reduced longevity, osteo-articular affections, sensitivity to infections, cardio-respiratory disorders... Carrying too much weight, or just a fluffball? Find out how to tell if your cat is obese.

By Dr. Katy Ellison MA VetMB MRCVS

Updated on the

Obesity in cats is essentially if your feline is carrying too much body fat, and it can have serious consequences for their health. It can also effect their activity levels and ability to lead a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Read on for our top tips on how to check whether your cat is overweight and what to do about it.

What is obesity and what is considered obese for a cat?

According to International Cat Care Obesity in Cats | International Cat Care, cats are considered obese if they are at least twenty percent heavier than their ideal body weight. Above 11 pounds, we can already start talking about obesity! This obviously depends on the cat breed: a Maine Coon is well over 13 pounds (you should actually be more worried about your Maine Coon if it weighs under).

A cat normally weighs between 9 to 10 pounds. A cat of normal weight should have a slender body, with a marked dip in the flank (the abdomen should be smaller in diameter than the chest) when viewed from the side. The ribs should not be visible, but should be felt by touching the chest without pressure. Conversely, an overweight cat can be recognised by its large build, often with a ball of fat hanging from the bottom of the belly.

What are the risks with obesity?

Obese cat health problems can be very serious and result in a reduced lifespan. This is in part due to the extra weight that an overweight or obese cat carries. Additionally, recent scientific studies suggest that fat tissue releases chemicals that cause inflammation and damage to the body’s tissue, contributing to the development of many diseases. For example, an obese cat has an increased risk of:

What happens if your cat is obese?

If your feline tips the scales at a higher than average cat weight, the first thing that you may notice is that they will become less active. Sometimes this is hard to spot, because cats love nothing better than lazing in front of a warm fire or curling up asleep in a quiet corner. However, once a cat is obese, they may struggle to jump up onto you lap, or no longer leap onto the work surface. At this point their health is probably starting to suffer.

What are the symptoms of obesity in cats?

Obesity symptoms in cats are caused by the extra weight that their delicate frames have to carry. A change in your cat’s body shape may be the most obvious symptom, however when you live with your cat and see them regularly a gradual weight gain may be tricky to spot. Combined with the high obesity rates in the general cat population, it is easy to understand why it is sometimes difficult to determine whether your pet is a healthy weight or not.

If you have ever asked how to tell if your cat is obese, you may find obese cat charts and body condition tools such as Healthy Cat Weight & Body Condition | Purina useful.

However, obesity does not just cause a change in your cat’s body shape. There are other more serious symptoms that may develop as your pet’s weight increases.

1. Difficulty grooming

As your kitty’s weight creeps up, they may struggle to groom effectively – their expanding waistline prevents them getting to those hard-to-reach areas such as their tail, bottom and rump. Fur can quickly become matted, resulting in discomfort, and increasing the risk of skin infections.

2. Breathing difficulties

Carrying extra weight can increase the risk of breathing problems. This tends to be more of a concern in the flat-faced breeds such as Persians, and those cats with pre-existing disease such as feline asthma.

3. Difficulty in jumping

Being obese puts extra strain on a cat’s joints and causes increasing difficulties with mobility. As your cat gains weight, you may notice that they become less agile. Whereas they used to be able to leap onto the sofa with ease, now they may need a step or stool to help them. Or maybe they struggle to get up after a rest. Sometimes these changes may be dismissed as a normal part of the ageing process, but if your cat is becoming less mobile, it is worth considering whether they would benefit from losing some weight. Ultimately, the additional strain on obese cat’s joints will increase the risk of joint disease such as arthritis.

How do you treat an obese cat?

The top priority when treating an obese cat is to start an obese cat weight loss program. An obese cat must return to a healthy cat weight without delay to reduce the risk of a number of serious medical disorders. The great news is that once a cat is losing weight and has slimmed down, these health risks can be greatly reduced, and in some cases reversed altogether.

Our feline friends are no different to us and the key to your kitty losing weight is reducing the calorie content of their diet, increasing their exercise levels, or ideally a combination of both.

1. Diet

If your cat is obese, you will need to adjust their diet carefully. It is best to feed a diet that is nutritionally balanced for weight loss - simply reducing the portion size of standard food will result in a hungry kitty and potentially leave your cat deficient in certain important nutrients. Weight loss diets tend to be low in fat and calories but high in fibre and protein. If in doubt, consult your vet for advice in selecting an appropriately formulated diet. 

Remember to weigh out your cat’s food according to the feeding guide and stick to regular meal times. Gradual weight loss is the key to success. Not only will this approach mean you and your cat are more likely to stick to the new regime, it will also reduce the risk of a serious condition called hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver). Fatty liver is more common in obese cats and is typically seen after three or four days of either not eating or eating a greatly reduced amount.

Regular weigh-ins with your vet are a great idea to ensure that your cat is losing weight at an appropriate rate and to determine if any adjustments need to be made to their diet.

2. Exercise

Encouraging your cat to exercise is an important part of treating an obese cat. Without increasing your cat’s exercise levels you are likely to find the rate of weight loss very slow. The best exercise regime for your cat will depend on several factors including their age, any underlying medical issues, lifestyle and the amount of weight that they need to lose.

Start by setting aside time each day to play with your cat. Their natural predatory instinct means they love to chase and pounce on ‘prey’. Why not try fishing rod toys or a battery-operated mouse? Anything that harnesses their innate hunting behaviour and grabs their attention.

Older cats may be less inclined to play, and it can be tricky to get them moving. Hiding their food around the house or using treat balls which require them to ‘work’ for their food can help.

3. Medication

In the UK, there are no licensed medications to aid weight loss in cats. However, treating underlying conditions such as arthritis will help increase activity levels and so aid any weight loss regime.

How long do obese cats live?

Data produced by the Royal Veterinary College revealed that the average lifespan of a healthy cat is fourteen years. Some experts believe that being obese, may reduce a cat’s life expectancy by as much as five years!

What are the factors contributing to feline obesity

A study by Purina showed that a significant factor driving cat weight gain and the rise in obesity, is that one third of owners do not realise that their pet is a bit portly.

Until we recognise that our pet is overweight, we are unlikely to take action to reduce their weight.

Combined with an increase in home working (with owners about more to give in to feline food requests) plus a more sedentary lifestyle, it is easy to say why feline waistlines are expanding.

There are medical conditions that may contribute to obesity in cats and before starting any weight loss regime it is wise to have your kitty checked by a vet. Two hormone diseases that may cause weight gain are hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) and Cushing’s disease (an over-production of cortisol by the adrenal gland). However, medical causes of weight gain in cats are relatively rare. Certain breeds may be predisposed to obesity such as Birmans, British shorthairs and Ragdolls.

So why is my cat obese? The answer is probably a combination of factors but lifestyle is usually top of the list.

How can you prevent obesity in cats

They key to preventing obesity in cats is to start as you mean to go on with healthy habits.

  • Feed a high quality cat food that is nutritionally balanced for optimum health.
  • Use the feeding guide but adjust it according to your cat’s activity levels. Reduce amounts fed if you need to.
  • Weigh out the food - it is best not to feed ad lib if your feline has a large appetite!
  • Encourage your cat to exercise. For indoor cats keep them entertained and active with toys and spend time playing with your cat.
  • Resist the temptation to feed your cat when they rub round your legs or miaow. It’s just them saying ‘hello’ in cat language.

What diet should I put my cat on if he is obese?

Obese cat food should be lower in fat than normal cat food and have a higher fibre content to make your cat feel full. Choose a high quality palatable weight loss diet from a reputable company. It may be best to seek veterinary advice to plan a diet for an obese cat.

What exercises does my cat need to do if he is obese?

The key to weight loss is to make sure that your feline friend burns off more calories than they eat. Sometimes easier said than done of course but with a little imagination you can start to increase your cat’s activity levels. Here’s some things to try:

  • Buy your cat a new toy to keep them active. 
  • For older cats, encourage them to work for their food with a treat ball feeder or why not hide their food around the house?
  • Activity mats can help to keep more sedentary cats moving.
  • If your cat goes outdoors, encourage them to brave the elements even on a chilly day.

However you choose to encourage your cat to exercise, any increase in activity should be gradual to avoid sprains, strains and other injuries!

Are obese cats happy?

Obese cats can have a good quality of life and be happy in the short term but the long term consequences of obesity are serious. Without weight loss, your cat’s quality of life is likely to deteriorate in the coming months and years. So, take action today and look forward to many more years with your feline friend!

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