You might think your chubby kitty is cute, but obesity increases the risk of many health issues in cats, including a compromised immune system, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, endocrine disorders, and more. These complications are just a few reasons why the symptoms of cat obesity should not be ignored.
If you're wondering, "Is my cat fat?" know that for nearly two-thirds of American owners, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, 59% of cats in the U.S. are classified as either overweight or obese.1
To address this epidemic, we're going to explain how to tell if your cat is overweight. We’ll also discuss what you can do to help a chubby cat lose weight in order to help pets live happier, healthier lives.
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While the optimal weight of a cat depends on its breed and health history, the average domestic feline should ideally weigh between 8 and 10 pounds. Cats are considered to be overweight when they reach 9 to 20% above their ideal body weight — meaning a cat that weighs just 0.72 to 2 pounds heavier than average could be considered overweight.
Overweight cats account for about 5 to 10% of the feline population. Weight gain is most likely to develop between the ages of 2 and 10 years old when cats use less energy and are therefore at an increased risk of becoming overweight.
Obese cats are those that weigh more than 20% above their ideal body weight, causing excess fat to accumulate. About 40% of domesticated cats fall into the “obese” category.
If you don’t own a scale but want to know if your cat is overweight, there are several signs of cat obesity that may suggest your pet is heavier than it should be:
Obese cats are more likely to develop a number of serious health conditions, including:
The number one reason why the cat obesity epidemic exists in the U.S. comes down to pets' over-eating habits. Here are several common examples that cause or contribute to weight gain in cats, many of which you may not be aware of at home:
New data reveals a staggering 114% increase in diagnoses of overweight or obese cats over the last decade.2. This statistic is particularly troubling given the health consequences known to frequently arise with feline weight gain.
While all felines are susceptible to gaining weight, there are four factors that increase the risk in obesity in cats: age, gender, underlying medical conditions, and housing (environment) .3
If you’re still wondering, “Is my cat fat?” and don’t own a scale, the body condition score (BCS) chart can help assess your pet's weight. Veterinarians use the BCS system, which consists of 9 different body condition scores, to identify where a cat’s weight falls in relation to its health.
Body Condition Score
Emaciated - no noticeable fat and the backbone and ribs are visible from a distance
Underweight - backbone and ribs might be visible and can be easily felt; waist is clearly noticeable and there is very little belly fat
Healthy weight range - ribs can be felt and there is a very thin fat layer around the belly; waist is noticeable behind the ribs
Slightly overweight - the belly is noticeably round and the ribs are difficult to feel beneath a moderate layer of fat
Morbidly obese - no visible waist; ribs cannot be felt; heavy fat deposits are present around the cat’s abdomen, lower back, limbs and face
Note: While a cat's body condition score can indicate whether they fall into a healthy weight range, only a veterinarian can diagnose cat obesity and screen for secondary complications.
Statistics show that obese cats have an average life expectancy of 5 to 10 years old, which is 5 years shorter than the typical 10- to 15-year lifespan of healthy cats.4 Obese cats between the ages of eight and 12 have a 2.8-fold increased mortality rate when compared to their lean counterparts.
Obesity shortens a cat's life and increases its risk of becoming sick. However, a cat's lifespan can be reduced even if it is somewhat overweight.
Helping an obese cat lose weight will require time, patience, and commitment. Talk to your vet to strategize a weight-reduction regimen for your feline friend.
Your plan of action should consist of three components:
Putting your feline friend on a diet can be tough because hungry cats often beg annoyingly for food. Here are a few tips for a feline weight-loss diet:
Regular weigh-ins are an important component of successful cat weight loss and help to keep everyone accountable. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) recommends scheduling vet appointments every two to three weeks (or once per month at the minimum) to track your cat’s weight and BCS.5
Although the cost of vet visits may add up quickly, unchecked medical issues can cost even more — especially if obesity leads to a chronic and severe condition like cancer, which often costs upwards of $10,000 to treat. Pet insurance offers financial protection by covering 60 to 100% of the vet bill after your deductible is met.
While obesity is a potentially fatal condition, it is preventable if you schedule a thorough exam with your veterinarian and work together to create a good weight management plan.
It should be noted that cats that become overweight as young kittens are more likely to be overweight or obese in adulthood. For that reason, it’s very important to prevent obesity at an early age.
Ask your vet to help you pick the most adequate cat food. Young kittens need food that is developed for their life stage and meets their individual nutritional demands rather than all-purpose cat food. Your vet can also advise you on the ideal time to transition from kitten to adult food.
Adult felines have different nutritional requirements than kittens, therefore a kitten formula isn't the best option. Senior cats are in a distinct life stage and require a different composition to maintain their health. Furthermore, cats with particular medical disorders or diseases require highly specific nutrition.
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Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.