Although we fondly call big kitties “chunks” and fawn over their tubby tummies both in our living rooms and on Instagram and TikTok, we don’t always pause to think and ask ourselves: how heavy should my cat be? Generally speaking, a healthy weight for cats ranges between 7 to 12 pounds.
As devoted cat parents, we prioritize our kitties’ happiness, and if we’re being totally honest, cuteness above all. Sometimes at the expense of being selective about what we choose to notice about their health. Namely, those extra pounds our kitty companions are carrying around. As much as 60 percent of cats in the US are overweight.
The fat acceptance movement for humans has really taken on a life of its own and has been met with much acclaim by activists and medical professionals alike. But what about fatness in felines? Does being overweight pose health risks for cats? And where do veterinarians stand on fat cats?
Here’s what you need to know about excess weight in cats and what we can do to help.
Why does it matter if my cat is overweight?
Is it really such a big deal if you’re a proud cat parent to a Garfield-sized cat? After all, the lasagna-loving ginger tabby is always living his best life in his comics where he drops spicy one-liners and indulges in hearty comfort foods.
Well, unlike our flesh and blood cat companions the fictional pen and ink feline doesn’t have any consequences for his sedentary lifestyle and mighty appetite.
Chubby kitties who don’t live in a fanciful Jim Davis cartoon world risk developing obesity and at least a dozen other health conditions or illnesses including:
High blood pressure
Joint pain and osteoarthritis
Breathing problems and respiratory disorders
Loss of mobility
Metabolic and endocrine diseases
Poor kidney function
While some of these conditions can be reversed with intervention, others may become permanent problems that require medication and even hospitalizations.
How much is too fat for a cat
So how do we know if our tubby tuxies or chubby calico kitties are carrying around too much fat?
Generally speaking, a healthy weight for cats ranges between 7 to 12 pounds. However, these numbers don’t take into account cats with larger frames like Maine Coons, who can easily tip the scales at upwards of 20 pounds.
A better way to get a grasp of whether a cat is considered too fat is to look at the numbers in a different way: as percentages. According to veterinarians and feline health experts, a cat is too fat if they weigh 10 to 19 percent more than their ideal weight.
Yes, you’re going to have to crunch some numbers! After working with your vet to discover your cat’s optimal weight, you can get the clearest picture of whether they’re in a healthy range or if they’re overweight.
Risk factors for cats gaining weight
Unlike dogs and humans who can be prone to gaining weight through overeating, food isn’t always behind weight gain in cats. Other factors can lead to our feline friends packing on a few extra pounds.
One of the most enduring myths in the feline health community is that spaying and neutering cats cause them to gain weight. That neutered male cats are more likely to become fatter than non-neutered cats.
Well, we’re here to set that story straight. Neutering your cat won’t automatically make him fat.
The reality is that, yes, neutering reduces your male cat’s metabolism but it doesn’t mean their weight will balloon up to an alarming level. Vets and feline health experts say that as long as you’re mindful about how much you’re feeding your cat and providing opportunities for them to get exercise, weight gain after neutering is not inevitable.
As a general rule, these experts suggest reducing your kitty’s total caloric intake by 20 to 30 percent after neutering them, and regularly monitoring how much they eat.
Age and activity level
Kittens and juvenile cats younger than 2 and senior and geriatric cats older than 10 are less likely to be overweight or obese than cats between the ages of 2 – 10.
This is because kittens and cats younger than 2 tend to be very physically active, while geriatric cats although less active tend to eat less frequently and smaller amounts of total calories than younger cats.
Causes of obesity in cats
According to Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinarian Medicine portion control, and the lack thereof is a huge factor in the feline obesity crisis. Many cat parents aren’t mindful of recommended serving sizes, especially when it comes to calorie-heavy dry food. By filling bowls to the brim with kibble and leaving them out all day, we risk feeding our cats three times the amount of food they’re supposed to eat.
Lack of exercise
The recommended activity guidelines for cats are three play sessions lasting five minutes each, for a total of 15 minutes of movement.
Cats who are left to their own devices day in and day out, especially indoor-only cats, don’t always get the physical activity they need. Because misconceptions that cats as entirely self-sufficient persist our indoor kitties cats are prone to lounging around without lifting so much as a single paw.
Another reason why creating an enriching environment for indoor cats is especially important for their health.
Some cats have preexisting health conditions that are behind their body fat. Hormone problems are some of the leading causes of weight gain in cats. Because of their sluggish endocrine system cats with underactive thyroids can gain a significant amount of weight even if they’re not eating large portions of food.
Cushing’s Disease, also known as Hyperadrenocorticism, is another hormonal condition that causes weight gain. Fueled by overactive adrenal glands and flooded with an excess of the hormone cortisol, one of the first symptoms cats with Cushing’s develop is a large “potbelly”.
How to determine if your cat is overweight
Although at first, it may seem complicated to tell if whether or not your cat is overweight through crunching numbers alone, there are also more straightforward ways to get a read on whether or your cat is just a bit too chunky.
Body condition scoring
Body Condition Scoring is a less controversial sort of BMI for our feline companions. The World Small Animal Veterinarian Association, or WSAVA, is home to a vast assortment of nutrition resources for cat owners. They also created the handy Body Conditioning Score Card that veterinarians everywhere use. By using visual descriptions and illustrations broken into three categories: Under Ideal, Ideal, and Over Ideal, it gives us a literal picture of how much weight is too much. Here’s how they describe each.
Ribs and pelvic bones are easily seen and felt
Obvious waist behind ribs
No fat pads felt
Ribs felt with a slight fat covering
Waist seen behind ribs, but not pronounced
Minimal abdomen fat pads
Ribs not easily felt through fat covering
Obvious rounding of the abdomen
Fat deposits present over the lower back area
Take your cat to the vet
As much as we love the readily available resources online, the best person to help you determine whether your cat is overweight or not is still your vet!
How to put your cat on a diet
When you put your cat on a diet the two words that should guide you through the entire process are these: gradual weight loss.
Veterinarians say that cats can healthily lose between 0.5 to 2 percent of their entire body weight per month. That comes out to about half a pound, and only on a carefully controlled diet.
Slimming down a cat takes time, and crash diets are not appropriate for felines.
Drastic weight loss can wreak havoc on their tiny bodies and could put your kitty at risk of developing complications and serious health issues like hepatic lipidosis. Trying to take shortcuts or rush the process along is dangerous. It can take up to a year of carefully controlled dieting for an overweight cat to reach a healthy, ideal weight.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind while you lead your kitty down this weight loss journey.
Calculate your cat’s caloric requirements
When it comes to caloric requirements, every cat is unique and needs a specialized, individual treatment plan. There’s no one universal answer about which and how much food is best.
Here’s a good calorie calculator you can use to understand your cat’s caloric needs.
Working with your veterinarian is the best way to gauge the precise amount of calories your cat needs to eat per day in order to safely lose weight and sustain the weight loss.
Be open about exactly what brands and flavors of wet food, kibble, and treats you feed your cat, as well as the amount of food you give them and the frequencies of your feeding. Holding back information can hurt your cat in the long run. Your veterinarian won’t judge you or shame you, like you, they want what’s best for your kitty.
Monitor your cat’s food intake
Monitoring your overweight cat’s food intake is crucial. Especially if you have a multi-cat household where mealtime is communal and sharing food is common.
Your overweight cat’s veterinarian-developed meal plan is precise and exact and in order to make sure they’re not getting an ounce more than they absolutely need. Because of that, you may need to get creative when it comes to feeding.
The easiest way to do this is to eliminate free-feeding and to feed your cats in separate rooms.
There are also some great new tech products hitting the market that are literally made for this. Automatic cat feeders, like microchip-activated feeders, have sensors that “authorize” one cat by reading their microchip or collar tag. This prevents other cats from getting into their food and keeps them from eating their feline siblings’ foods.
Provide exercise and enrichment
All cats benefit from exercise and enrichment, and once you figure out what makes your kitty happy, those fifteen recommended minutes go by very quickly. Be mindful of what your cat enjoys and center the play around that. Whether it’s chasing after wand toys, hunting down laser pointers, or even running on exercise wheels specifically designed for cats, playtime has emotional and mental benefits for your cat.
Exercise, play, and enrichment also help them express their natural predator instincts and give them the intellectual stimulation they need, reducing the likelihood of troublesome behavior issues.
It also increases the human-cat bond between you!
Are high-protein weight-loss diets good for cats?
Considering that cats are obligate carnivores, yes, diets high in animal proteins are best, regardless of whether they’re on a diet for weight loss or not.
Our companion cats tend to have optimal health when they eat diets containing numerous meats and animal proteins rather than overly processed foods containing vegetable and grain ingredients.
If you have a chunky kitty there are plenty of ways you can tackle the issue of their weight.
After determining whether your cat truly is overweight, you’ll work closely with your vet to create a meal plan high in animal proteins that are carefully calibrated to help them safely lose those extra pounds.
The best way to help your cat loose weight is to feed them a measured portion of a high-quality, high protein cat food and not to free-feed. For more info check out our review of the best high protein cat foods.
By incorporating several short play sessions for exercise in your kitty companion’s daily routine, monitoring how much they eat (especially after they’re neutered), and coming up with strategies to make sure felines in multi-cat households only eat the amount of food they need you can stay on top of their total body weight.
Once you have insights into your cat’s optimal weight, precisely how much food they need, and have ruled out any underlying medical conditions or medications that can lead to weight gain you can ensure your kitty stays healthy and happy!
Victoria is a freelance journalist and a proud member of the global Cat Writers Association. Victoria is a cat enthusiast, Harry Potter superfan, vegan, and an avid tea drinker. She can often be found thrifting for books, enjoying the outdoors, and reading vintage detective novels alongside her 15-year-old rescue tabby Paco.