- A domestic cat weighs 10 pounds on average — Factors such as breed, age, and gender all determine the ideal weight for an individual cat.
- Overweight cats now tip the scales in U.S. homes — Around 61% of cats are medically diagnosed as overweight, with 33% of those bulging into the obesity range.
- Being overweight or underweight can have devastating consequences — Cats who weigh too much or not enough both have higher risks of developing certain diseases like diabetes and arthritis.
We love our cats no matter what. However, part of loving them well means we want them to be as healthy as possible. Cats who are overweight or obese may have significantly shorter lives by five to 10 years compared to felines at their ideal weight. While domestic cats average around 10 pounds, the target weight for your cat depends on their age, gender, breed, and any individual health conditions.
We’ll weigh in with how heavy your cat should be, including what to do if your cat needs to gain or lose a couple of pounds.
Risk factors for feline obesity
In the United States and the UK, overweight cats now outnumber healthy cats by a margin of 10%. More than one out of 10 felines are even considered obese. Our western lifestyle may be partially to blame — we tend to get busy with work, family, or binging on the latest season of our favorite show rather than playing with our cats to ensure that they get exercise. Additionally, it’s easy to put out food and not monitor how much our cats eat. Some common risk factors include:
- Boredom. While there are certainly risks to allowing your cat outside, indoor-only cats may get bored easier. Your indoor cat should enjoy playtime that mimics their natural outdoor behaviors, such as scratching, chasing, and jumping. A cat tower and catnip toys may help.
- Poor diet. Talk to your vet about what and how much you should feed your cat. Wet food is typically healthier for cats than dry food, which contains more carbs and isn’t as nutritionally dense. (Just avoid wet food with gravy!)
- Overeating. If you have more than one cat, you may need to separate them while they eat so they receive an equal portion of food. Alternatively, if you only have one cat, talk to your vet about portion control. You might want to consider investing in a timed slow feeder bowl that delivers meals on schedule.
- Giving too many treats. Whether you’re showing them a little extra love or stooping to the level of bribery, it can be very easy to cultivate a habit of excessively spoiling your cat with treats. A nibble every once in a while won’t hurt them, but you’ll need to master the difficult task of saying no when they inevitably ask for more.
- Inactivity. While inactivity can result from boredom, it may signify an underlying medical condition or come with old age. Your cat’s activity level is also somewhat determined by their personality, so some cats may need more coaxing to get off the couch, such as engaging them with catnip toys or laser pointers.
- Underlying medical conditions. Being overweight can be caused by a variety of physical and mental disorders, from stress to hypothyroidism.
- Genetics. Certain cats may be more prone to a rotund shape than others because of their breed or individual genes.
- Reproductive status. Altered cats are at an increased risk of obesity. Their lack of hormones decreases their calorie requirement, but ironically, neutered males and spayed females often eat more than unaltered cats.
- Old age. Their nutritional needs shift as they reach senior status. If your cat is over eight years old, talk to your vet about what food would suit them best.
How to tell if your cat is overweight
It doesn’t take much for your cat to weigh more than they should. Cats are overweight when they weigh anywhere between 10-20% more than their recommended weight. For a nine pound cat, they wouldn’t even need to gain an entire extra pound to reach a problematic number.
Obesity occurs if your cat is 20% over their recommended weight. Approximately 15% of cats are classified as obese, and the numbers are rising.
Your vet can tell you if your cat is overweight by crunching the numbers and physically examining their condition. However, if you want a rough estimate, you can use the body condition score at home.
Always consult your vet before changing your cat’s diet. An underlying medical condition may be causing the changes in your cat’s physique and will need to be addressed.
Determining an ideal weight for your cat
A body condition score can help you determine if your cat is healthy. Most scores range from 1-5, with 3 as the normal number, or 1-10, with 5 as the ideal number.
If you can clearly see your cat’s ribs or spine while standing above them, they are underweight. Cats in a healthy range don’t have protruding ribs or stomachs. They have a slender hourglass figure with some lean muscle mass. An overweight cat has a round figure. You won’t be able to feel their ribs or see a defined waistline. Both underweight and overweight cats have poor energy levels.
It’s important not to mistake your cat’s primordial pouch for unnecessary fat. All felines possess this small baggy pouch hanging below their belly. The primordial pouch consists of a thin layer of skin and fat. It’s a helpful cushion for their internal organs and makes them more flexible. Dr. Erica Irish explains, “It’s extra skin with no major blood vessels, so if a predator gets them there, the cat can still escape and survive.”
What to do if your cat is overweight or obese
If your vet determines that your cat is overweight, they’ll likely implement a multi-step plan to help them shed the extra ounces. that includes measures like
- Switching their diet. Depending on their age and health needs, your vet might recommend a more balanced food or a prescription specialized for weight loss, such as Hills® Prescription Diet Metabolic.
- Lowering their caloric intake. Your vet will likely ask how much you feed your daily. Meals plans are recommended over free-feeding for losing weight so that you know exactly how much they’re ingesting.
- Encouraging your cat to exercise more. A laser toy or cat tree can provide hours of engaging playtime off the couch. You can also create DIY enrichment toys.
- Using a slow-feeder bowl. Sometimes your cat might scarf down food without taking the time to process whether they’re still hungry. A slow-feeder bowl or automatic, timed feeder allows their body to realize whether they’re actually hungry or not.
- Avoiding junk food or table scraps. Most prepared human foods contain tons of carbs and sugars. A cat’s body doesn’t know how to process these things, and they’re even harmful.
👉 You should never alter your cat’s meal plan without first consulting your vet. Reducing their portions can quickly result in malnourishment.
Should I worry if my cat is overweight?
Cats are natural foodies more inclined to obesity than malnutrition — provided they have sufficient access to food. Pets are pampered in western countries, so it’s very common for cats to weigh more than they should. You should take action with your vet’s advice as soon as there’s an issue. Chronic obesity can result in devastating consequences such as:
- Diabetes. Too much body fat builds insulin resistance, which directly causes diabetes.
- Arthritis. Extra weight puts pressure on your cat’s joints, which heightens their chances of mobility issues like arthritis.
- Decreased quality of life. Severely obese cats may struggle to breathe while doing basic everyday activities. They may no longer enjoy activities that they used to, like chasing toys or hanging out on top of their cat tree.
- Premature death. Obese cats are more than twice as likely to die between ages eight and 12. This sobering statistic illuminates the importance of maintaining a healthy weight.
What to do if your cat is underweight
Being underweight is a less common problem. You should first talk to your vet about what type of food and how much you’re feeding them. Some cats may require more calories than others, so the solution could be as simple as giving them more food. However, if your vet says they’re eating enough, being underweight is almost always caused by an underlying health issue such as:
Parasites. Tapeworms are especially common in kittens, but they can affect felines of any age. Young cats usually catch tapeworms through their mother’s milk, while adult cats can get them through accidentally ingesting fleas. It’s important to immediately treat worms, especially in kittens who may become malnourished and die without intervention. If you suspect your cat has worms, inspect their poop for any noodle-shaped pieces, which are worms. If you find worms, you should go to your vet for a dewormer. While you can buy one over-the-counter, it’s a good idea to ask your vet for advice because giving the incorrect dosage can prolong the problem.
Stress. Cats are sensitive creatures. You never know how much things will affect them, from moving to a new place to relocating their water bowl. If your cat isn’t feeling their best, they may respond by eating too much or too little, which can result in weight loss.
Dental problems. If your cat has a toothache, they may eat less, which can result in weight loss over time. Monitoring your cat’s eating habits and giving them meals on a regular schedule can let you know if they’re not feeling well. If your cat doesn’t eat anything after 24 hours, take them to the vet to make sure everything is alright.
Illness. Being underweight can be a sign of illness such as hyperthyroidism, autoimmune diseases, cancer, or kidney disease. Before jumping to scary conclusions, you should take your cat to the vet for a checkup.
Risks of underweight cats
While being overweight is certainly a more common issue than not weighing enough, both are equally serious issues. A feline at a healthy cat weight has higher energy levels and lower risks of some chronic diseases. Cats who are underweight have health risks that can be debilitating and shorten their life expectancy.
Using a body condition score should help you know whether you should worry about your cat’s weight. However, it’s always best to take them to the vet if you have any concerns.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Once your cat has achieved an ideal weight, you can revisit your vet to talk about your plan for the future. Making sure your cat engages in regular physical activity, feeding them a healthy diet, and limiting extra treats can help them keep the pounds off.
Frequently asked questions
My cat weighs more than 10 pounds. Is it overweight?
Not necessarily. While 10 pounds is the average weight for a healthy cat, some larger breeds such as the Maine Coon may tip the scale towards the 20s range without being considered overweight or obese. A vet visit is the best way to find out if your cat weighs more than it should for its size, but a body condition score gives you a good hint.
What are the medical risks of obesity in cats?
Obese cats aren’t just fluffy. The excess weight makes them more susceptible to serious illnesses such as diabetes. Additionally, their quality of life diminishes. Morbidly obese cats struggle to breathe, and their physical activity is impaired, which furthers the cycle of gaining too much weight. Ultimately, their life expectancy is often significantly reduced.
What can I do to help my cat lose weight?
If your vet determines that your cat is heavier than they should be, they’ll likely recommend diet changes and scheduled meals rather than free-feeding. It’s important to never reduce your cat’s portion without consulting your vet. Forcing your cat to skip meals or unnecessarily reducing their amount of food can cause serious health issues, including malnutrition and starvation.
How can I tell if my cat is overweight?
Although you won’t truly know until you visit a vet, the body condition score indicates your cat’s condition. Your cat should have a slightly curvy hourglass figure, with no protruding ribs and without excessive fat. Be aware of their primordial pouch under their tummy — this is healthy fat found on every cat and isn’t a sign of obesity.
My cat appears underweight. Should I be concerned?
Unless they haven’t had sufficient access to food, being underweight is almost always an underlying health condition. You should take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you notice changes in their eating habits, weight gain, or weight loss. Talk to your veterinarian about appropriate portions for your pet. A starving or undernourished kitty is more susceptible to devastating health problems, so it isn’t an issue to be treated lightly.