We know all too well when those sparkling little eyes are looking up at you pleadingly, all you want to do is reward them with a little treat or two. It seems like we've all been a little too guilty of this, as 60% of vets now say that obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for our pets. Obviously, treats aren't the only cause, but today we're going to explore why it's so important to maintain a healthy weight for our cat's, how to do a BCS using a cat weight chart, and what to do if you discover your kitty isn't their ideal weight.
Why is maintaining a healthy weight so important?
Conversations about our furry friend's weight are often tricky to have, and surrounded by feelings of blame or prejudice. Whilst hard to have, it's incredibly important that we do talk about it due to the impact obesity can have on our cat's overall health. A 14 year study recently showed that pets fed to lean condition from birth could enjoy up to 2 more years of life.
There are also a number of serious and chronic diseases associated with excess body weight, such as joint problems, diabetes, and heart disease. For example, obese cats are 4x more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes. Not only is obesity reducing our fur friends' quality of life, but research by Direct Line Pet Insurance also found that consequently pet ownership costs are on the rise. With the most common causes of our pets needing medical treatment due to issues associated with being overweight.
For all these reasons it's essential we watch and maintain a healthy weight for our cats. Let's explore how...
How much should my cat weigh?
The good news is that if you're reading this blog, you're already on the right track, as you're clearly aware that your kitty's weight is important. Sadly there are a huge number of cats in the UK that are overweight or obese, and the PFMA reports that this number is only on the rise. Inconveniently there is no one-size-fits-all answer as to how much your cat should weigh, so stick with us through this blog, as we'll be talking you through how to know if your cat is a healthy weight.
Why 'average' Cat Weight doesn't matter
To start things off, we first want to address a little bug bear that "average cat weight" is the most searched for term in regards to cat weight. As we're sure you'll agree, no kitty can be considered as 'average', so in the same sense, there isn't any such thing as an 'average cat weight'.
There are a huge number of variables that affect what a healthy weight for our kitties should be. These factors include things like coat type e.g try comparing a Siberian Cat vs a Sphynx, sex, breed, and whether they've been neutered or not.
We know average weight ranges for breeds are often mentioned in breed guides and these can be useful for a very initial and general idea, or for prospective cat parents. However if you're wondering "how much should my cat weigh", please don't just type in average cat weight and work off whichever numbers show up.
Instead, to work out if your cat is a healthy weight we'd always recommend you carry out a BCS...
What is a BCS?
A BCS is a Body Condition Score. Essentially this is the pet version of a BMI that enables you to evaluate what weight your kitty is. The tool gives your kitty a score from being underweight to being obese. The score better takes into account the variable factors mentioned above, to give you a more accurate result. However please note the tool is still a guide, and some factors like coat type might make it trickier to carrier out (as you'll see in one sec).
Now let's have a look at a cat weight chart, and how to use it...
Cat Weight Chart
We've created this slightly simplified and condensed Body Condition Score chart so it's super easy for you to use, giving your kitty a score of 1-5, very thin to obese. (vets typically use a score of 1-10).
Depending on the willingness of your kitty, a BCS is easy to carry out. Simply perch them on a raised surface (safely) or wherever they're comfortable, then run your fingertips along with them. Whilst doing so check how they compare to the descriptions on the score image above, do you easily feel their ribs, spine, and shoulder bones, or is there's a layer of fat in the way? For less furry cats it might be easy to see if their waist is raised above their ribs, but for serious floofsters like our Boo, we have to get our fingers right into the floof for a good feel.
Now you know what score your kitty is, it's time to work out what you need to do to either maintain their current weight if it's in the ideal section, or how to get to ideal if you're outside...
How to maintain a healthy cat weight?
If you're kitty passed with flying colours and is at their ideal weight, the key is to maintain this healthy weight. This is one of the easiest ways to prevent against cat obesity, as simply requires you keeping a constant eye on them. By carrying out a BCS monthly, you'll notice any small changes and can react accordingly to maintain their healthy weight.
5 tips for maintaining a healthy weight
- Read the feeding guidelines on the cat food packaging. We have a feeding guideline on all our wet cat food and dry cat food recipes packaging, as well as a feeding calculator that you can use to work out your cat's daily recommended feeding quantity. Don't forget though that these are guidelines, so require you to tailor to maintain the right weight e.g. a slight reduction if you feed cat treats.
- Carry out a BCS regularly. For example once a month
- Make sure clean, fresh water is always accessible. If your kitty is anything like Boo, the bowl will always need to be filled to the brim so her little whiskers don't get wet.
- Watch out for too many cat treats. Treats should be a treat, not a presumption.
- Avoid feeding human foods. The calorie content is often much too high for our little fur babies. E.g 3 small piece of cheese is the equivalent of you eating a 2 cheeseburgers according to the PDSA
What to do if my cat is underweight?
If you could feel your kitty's ribs, spine, and hip bones very easily and are concerned they're underweight consult your vet. Especially if this coincides with your cat being ill for a period of time. Your vet may recommend a new food with a specific nutrient balance to help them gain weight, a kibble with a different size/shape, or a food that is more palatable to get them enjoying dinner time again.
It's not as simple as just feeding more of their current food. In fact, doing this could upset their digestive system even further, as they might not be able to cope with the larger portion, and it could further reduce their appetite.
Your vet will always be best placed to recommend ways to help your cat gain weight in a safe and healthy way, but here are a few at home methods you could try to start off:
- Tune in to what their favourite flavours and food types are. Do they prefer wet food or dry? Fish or meat? A larger kibble or smaller kibble?
- Make sure they're as comfortable at mealtimes as possible. Do they have a favourite bowl or eating with their food raised up a bit?
- Try not to stare at them whilst they're eating, even if you're worried, as it may cause them to feel anxious.
- Keep their water bowl separate from their food bowl. Cats are programmed not to drink near their food to avoid contamination.
- Feed smaller portions more regularly. This can make eating feel less daunting for your kitty.
What to do if my cat is overweight?
If whilst doing the BCS you felt a noticeable fat covering over their bones, and couldn't distinguish their waist behind their ribs your kitty might need to lose some weight. Being overweight or obese can have serious medical implications such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, all of which could shorten the amount of time you get to spend with them. Something we know none of us wants!
Book in to speak to your vet as they'll be able to do a thorough checkup and identify if there are any medical reasons for your cat being overweight. If there aren't any health issues the RVC attribute four main factors to the rise in cat obesity:
- not using feeding guidelines
- feeding human foods
- providing too many treats
- a lack of exercise
So the first step is to have a think if you're doing any of these things, or what the cause could be. For example, if you've recently changed foods, have a double-check of the feeding guidelines, as these vary from brand to brand.
Your vet will then be able to help you put together a personalised weight loss programme to get to their ideal weight, including diet and lifestyle changes.
How much to feed a cat to lose weight
In theory weight loss sounds easy, but it's not as simple as less food = weight loss. You should never put your cat on a sudden or drastic diet. Slow and steady is always best, even if the results take longer. Cats physiology is different to ours, so if they don't eat for as little as two days they can develop a condition known as fatty liver syndrome.
Your vet will recommend an initial target weight, and the quantity of food needed to get there (e.g 5-10% less than). Once the initial goal weight is achieved, you can re-evaluate if they need to lose some more weight.
As part of your weight loss programme the vet may recommend some of the following tips:
- Reducing or cutting out any treats.
- Increasing the amount of exercise your kitty does via extra long play times. Short bursts of high intensity exercise are best (think catching prey in the wild).
- Weighing out every meal (to the gram, for the gram).
- Moving their bowl to different places at mealtimes, so a) they don't lounge near it b) they have to do some extra exercise to get there.
- Try some environmental enrichment activities, like hiding a small piece of food in a feeding ball that they have to play with to get out. We have plenty more tips too in our blog on environmental enrichment for cats.
Click 'view profile' to see what @herbi.and.friends do to keep off the chub.