We all love to cuddle a chubby cat. In fact, in popular culture most cats are portrayed as a little chonky to appeal more to us – from Garfield to Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, cats are usually portrayed as being … erm… fuller figured. Cats have earned themselves a reputation for being in possession of a healthy appetite for food and for being rather selective about their physical activity.
And, while a chubbier cat is cuddlier and rounder and plays into the Garfield narrative, cat obesity is on the rise, with around 50% of domestic cats falling into this category.
So, your cat’s a little rounder than he should be - what’s the big deal?
The truth is an overweight cat is at risk of a number of conditions that can impact their overall wellbeing and ultimately impact their lifespan.
Most commonly, an overweight cat is at a higher risk for skin conditions, diabetes, urinary issues like bladder and kidney stones, as well as arthritis and reduced mobility. So, managing your cat’s weight is far more than an aesthetic choice, but one that will make the difference between a healthy, happy cat and a sickly one.
How much should my cat weigh? What’s the average cat weight?
Most domestic cats should weigh in the region of 10 pounds (4,5kg), but that region can be anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds. Of course, when you weigh only 10 pounds, a gain of just a pound or two can make a huge difference to your cat.
Giving an average cat weight can be somewhat misleading as the breed of the cat will play an important factor. Smaller breeds like Siamese can weigh as little 5 pounds while a bigger breed like a Main Coon can weigh as much 25 pounds and still be within a healthy weight range for a cat.
However, if you don’t know the breed of your cat it can be tricky to judge whether you have an underweight cat or an overweight cat by that measure.
The gender of your cat will impact how heavy your cat should be, as the average male cat usually weighs between 10 and 15 pounds while female cats average between 8 and 12 pounds. The average weight of a cat is also likely to be higher if they are sterilized.
Remember one of the best ways to track your kitty's weight is to weigh yourself, then weigh yourself holding your pet, then subtract to get their weight.
How to tell if your cat’s a chonk
If you’re not sure if your cat is at risk of obesity, a visit to your vet will quickly answer your question. Your vet will be able to weigh your cat and let you know if your cat’s weight is healthy.
Of course, simply eyeballing your cat might not give an accurate picture of things, especially if your cat is of a fluffier breed. But you can look out for other signals that Sir Pounce is filling out a little too much.
If your cat has shorter hair, stand above your cat, looking down on their back from above as they stand or walk. You should see an obvious waist – little dips just before the back hips. Not there? Sir Pounce might need to lose some weight.
Place your hands on your cat’s sides – if you can’t feel ribs, it might be time for Fluffy to slim down. If you can feel and count each rib, you may have an underweight cat. If your cat wears a collar, this is a great barometer for weight gain. Find yourself having to loosen it again? Maybe it’s time to cut back on his chow a little.
Other signs include a saggy belly, difficulty jumping, sleeping more than usual, and difficulty cleaning themselves. This last point affects the area on their back at the base of the tail the most. If you see this area looking disheveled or oily, chances are your cat’s belly might be affecting their ability to reach this area to clean properly.
What causes weight gain in cats?
Cats will usually gain weight from eating too much and moving too little. But there are other contributing factors:
Age: the older your cat gets, the less energetic and active your cat will become. Because of this more sedentary life, they’re more likely to gain weight. Average cat weight tends to increase as they get older.
Breed: Mixed breed cats are more prone to weight gain than their pure breed counterparts. Also, some breeds are more energetic than others and therefore are less prone to weight gain.
Gender: Female cats are more likely to become overweight.
Neutering/Spaying: Neutered or spayed cats are twice as likely to become obese because they tend to be less active. Don’t let this deter you. You should still spay and neuter your cats, but make sure to watch their weight.
Overfeeding: Cats with an unending supply of food will absolutely eat more than they need to. Free feeding is a huge contributor to overweight cats, especially among indoor cats who tend to eat out of boredom.
Overeating: Commercial cat foods are often highly palatable, with high salt and fat content. This means they taste great but can lead your cat to overeat. Sharing your ‘human’ food with your cat in addition to their cat food will also lead to weight gain.
Lack of exercise: Cats sleep a lot, so it’s important to provide plenty of stimulation for them when they are awake. Regular, scheduled playtime is essential to maintaining a healthy weight.
How to help your cat lose weight
The good news is there are lots of ways to help get your chubby kitty back to health, ranging from the "catkins" diet to special exercise equipment. Here's how to get your cat back in shape.
Change how you feed
It’s likely that you can see some pretty significant improvements in your cat’s weight by simply looking at what and how you feed your cat.
For a start, chat to your vet about the food you are currently using. There are various cat foods that have been specially created to offer your cat optimum nutrition while managing caloric intake and helping your cat lose weight.
Dry foods are some of the highest in calories. Cats are natural carnivores so it's actually best for them to eat a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. A ratio of 50% dry and 50% wet food are an optimal feeding mix for weight loss but even as little as 25% can make a difference.
If your cat eats too quickly, not only can it cause vomiting, but it can also lead to weight gain. Slow feeders can help your cat pace themselves, and you can even make your own. Cut small holes in a soda bottle and fill the bottle with dry cat food. Your cat will have to roll the bottle in order to get the food out, engaging them not only mentally but physically.
Stick to the correct serving size. For an animal the size of a house cat, small amounts of food can add substantial calories, so be very strict with how much you feed your cat.
If you have a bowl of food that your cat can access throughout the day – stop. Free feeding is one way to ensure your cat eats more than it should – especially if you have an indoor cat who tends to get bored. Measure out strict portions for your cat, and try not to feed them in between meals, or from your plate.
If you often share tastes and bites of your own food with your cat, you will do better to avoid this in the future. Your food is probably significantly higher in calories than what your cat needs, especially if they’re already getting all the vitamins and nutrients that they need from their own cat food.
Cats are creatures of habit, so any change you make here is going to require some patience from you. If you’re changing your cat’s food entirely, you can introduce it slowly and gradually phase it in. If your cat is notoriously fussy you may need to introduce new food by mixing it into your cat’s current food in ever-increasing proportions until you’ve successfully switched over. Consult your vet if your cat is super fussy and you’re having trouble.
When you reduce your cat’s food, they may beg. They may meow like they’re about to expire from starvation. Don’t buy it. They will adjust. You’re not being cruel. You’re doing this for their health. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied into giving treats or snacks. Stay Strong. (You might find it helpful to save this paragraph and read it during difficult times.)
And if you're feeling too guilty and uncertain about what you're doing and whether the methods are appropriate, you can double-check your steps via Online Vet from Petcube. A team of licensed vets will readily guide you through the journey to a normal cat's weight.
Give your cat enough exercise
Adult cats aren’t known for being overly active. In fact, the older they get, the more they tend towards sedentary lifestyles. Regular, scheduled playtime is important for your cat. Not only is this a great time to bond with your feline, but it’s a good way to ensure a good workout to help your cat lose weight.
Cats can get bored with their environment, and by mixing it up you encourage them to be more active. Even things as simple as an empty box, a crumble of paper, or a toilet paper tube can give your cat some temporary entertainment.
High spaces encourage movement, so give your pet cat towers or perches where they can get above the room. Brands like Catastrophic Creations make fabric raceways that are safe for cats to climb on along the walls.
When it comes to exercise, try and mimic natural cat behaviors that they would exhibit in the wild. Your cat is a natural hunter, so providing an opportunity to stalk, chase, attack, and ‘kill’ will be the ideal outlet for your cat. Use feather toys, or laser toys to stimulate the chasing and stalking. Make sure to reward them after this with a ‘kill’ – a meal or a snack – so they don’t get frustrated and irritated by never getting a pay-off to their hunt.
Cats also get used to their toys so even if they have tons of offer, they may not want any of them. Cycle out their toys in order to make them always seem new. Some cats prefer feathers to fur, or may even prefer one color over another (hint: cats best see blue, green, and yellow.) If you want to make them really exciting, let them sit inside a bag of catnip until you bring them out again so that they're infused with the scent.
There are more and more battery-operated toys as well that can especially help older cats who may need more stimulation to get them up and active. This circling feather is a favorite of many cats, as is this door hanging toy.
If you’re not at home for a good portion of the day, try a pet cam that lets you interact with your cat. Although some pet cams just let you watch your pet, cameras like Petcube Play 2 have a laser pointer that you control from your phone, letting you exercise your cat from anywhere. You can even set up an autoplay session that moves the laser pointer around in a pattern when you're away.
- Leash walking is also a great way to get your cat out in nature without facing the dangers of being an outdoor cat. Find a well-fitting cat harness and try taking your cat for short walks in quiet natural areas so they can become accustomed to the process.
Just 10-minutes of play twice a day will yield significant results and keep your cat stimulated and active. Variety is also essential to keeping your cat engaged and entertained. Mix up your toys and keep things interesting – cats will get bored of the same toy after a time.
How to help your cat gain weight
Trauma and illness can cause your cat to lose a great deal of weight. In these cases, knowing how to get them back up to a healthy weight can be helpful.
We’ve spoken at length about the dangers of feline obesity, but an underweight cat is equally at risk of health problems. Returning your cat to optimum weight can often lead to overfeeding which then results in a separate set of complications. So how do you help your cat gain weight in a healthy way?
If your cat is recovering from an illness, it’s important that you don’t overwhelm its digestive system when striving for weight gain. Knowing how to fatten up a cat is about more than simply giving them larger portions as this can overwhelm their digestive system.
Chat with your vet who will be able to recommend the best option, but usually, this will include a high-calorie diet that is both highly palatable (to stimulate their appetite) and easy on the digestion. The ideal food will be high in good quality protein as well as containing added probiotics to assist with digestive health.
Large portions might be too much for your cat’s recovering digestion. Split portions into smaller, more regular meals, and if your cat doesn’t seem to be interested in the food, try warming it up slightly to release aromas that may stimulate the appetite.
If you’re not winning, don’t wait too long to contact your vet. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best way forward.
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know it can be tough to lose a few pounds. When it comes to helping your cat lose weight, it can be hard for you both. Your cat might not be happy with smaller portions or new diet food, but no matter how hard they protest, it’s important to remember that a cat with a healthy, average weight will live a better, longer life.
Always consult with your vet when you make changes to your cat’s diet and lifestyle. They will be able to guide you and help wherever needed. Any sudden changes in your cat’s weight must be taken seriously, even more so if accompanied by gastric problems like bloating, vomiting or diarrhea. Get to a vet as soon as possible to rule out any underlying problems.