While there might be plenty of jokes about fat, obese, or overweight cats online and elsewhere, the health of our feline friends is nothing to laugh about. Obesity in cats is on the rise, and this negative health trend can lead to many consequences for our beloved cats, and for us. If left untreated, an overweight cat’s weight problem will ultimately lead to worse health and lower quality of life. So what can we do to help our feline friends get healthy and lose weight? Here we cover a couple of ways, including some tips to get your cat to exercise.

Overweight cats: A growing issue

Cat obesity is a growing issue around the world. As people in developed countries have become rounder, so too have our feline friends!

According to a 2018 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59.5% of cats in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese¹.

So if you’re wondering if your cat is overweight, chances are they probably are.

But what is obesity exactly? Obesity is the accumulation of excess body fat. Your cat may be overweight, and not considered obese, but still have excess body fat that could be hurting their overall health and well-being.

Yes, #fatcatsneedlovetoo! But not only belly rubs and encouragement. A vet-approved and carefully implemented weight reduction plan is the best way to help your overweight kitty take back their full health.

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How do I know if my cat is overweight?

Since images of fat cats in the media are so popular, it might be difficult to tell if your cat’s body weight can be classified as ‘normal’ or healthy. On average, domestic cats should weight about 8 – 10 pounds (3.6 – 4.4 kg). Keep in mind though that the ideal weight also depends on your cat’s age and breed.

🛈 If they weigh 10-20% heavier than the ideal weight, a cat may be classified as overweight. If a cat’s body weight is 20% or more than what is considered normal or healthy, then the cat is classified as obese².

Talk to your vet to determine the ideal weight of your cat and if they are currently considered underweight, normal, overweight or obese.

Cat body condition score chart

The body condition score chart for cats (below) can be useful in helping you check and assess the weight of your cat. The chart uses 9 different ratings to describe a cat’s body weight and condition:

  1. Emaciated: Ribs and backbone visible from a distance. No noticeable fat.
  2. Severely underweight.
  3. Underweight: Ribs and backbone may be visible and can be easily felt with minimal fat covering. Obvious waist, minimal belly fat.
  4. Slightly underweight.
  5. Ideal weight: Ribs can be felt, with slight fat covering. Minimal fat layer around belly. Observable waist behind ribs.
  6. Slightly overweight.
  7. Overweight: Ribs not easy to feel by touch, with moderate fat covering. Belly area noticeably round, and moderate fat pad around abdomen.
  8. Obese
  9. Grossly obese: Ribs cannot be felt under heavy layer of fat. No waist, obvious rounding of belly and extensive fat deposits around abdomen, over lower back, face and limbs.

How it works

Run both hands, palms down, across your cat’s rib cage, and take a look at your cat from the side and above. That way, you can make use of the scale below and determine if your cat is underweight, at an ideal weight, or overweight. Keep in mind that a body condition score of 4.5-5 is considered the healthy range for our feline friends.

Read more about the body condition score for cats.

Cat Body Condition Score - Overweight Cats

Health problems associated with overweight cats

There are various health risks and conditions associated with weight issues in cats. First of all, overweight cats are more likely to live shorter lives than their healthy-weight counterparts – and are more likely to face a wide range of potential health problems.

Excess feline weight and obesity can lead to the following conditions in overweight cats:

  • arthritis
  • joint stress and injuries such as hip dysplasia
  • diabetes mellitus
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • urinary tract disease
  • cancer
  • decreased immune function
  • dystocia (birthing problems)
  • breathing problems
  • hepatic lipidosis (fat deposits in liver)

Therefore, obesity in cats should not be taken lightly. Consult your vet to determine which weight-reduction measures are right for your feline.

Why is my overweight cat wheezing or snoring?

If your cat is overweight, the chances of them wheezing or snoring are higher. This is because there is excess fat in the tissues surrounding the cat’s airways. If your cat is wheezing or snoring, it could also indicate another serious health issue, such as upper respiratory infections, asthma, or a heart or lung condition. Consult your vet if you notice abnormal wheezing or snoring in your overweight cat.

Causes of obesity in cats

If your cat is overweight or obese, you might ask yourself, how did this happen? First of all, remember – there’s no need to feel guilty. Sometimes, things go wrong even if we mean well. Then, you can start looking at potential causes.

Like humans, cats can become overweight for a variety of reasons, including overfeeding, lack of exercise, old age and a slowing metabolism.

Weight gain can occur any time calories consumed exceed the energy expended. Excess energy gets stored in the body as fat.

We’ve highlighted some of the main causes of weight gain in cats below:

1. Diet & Feeding

Diet and feeding often play a big role when cats become overweight. Diets high in carbohydrates and fats, rather than protein, can especially lead to weight gain. In the wild, cats would naturally consume a protein-rich diet based on meat.

In addition to this, another culprit is free feeding: Letting a cat eat at anytime of day by leaving out a bowl of dry food for them. Dry food often contains a high amount of carbohydrates and fat, leading your cat to put on the pounds.

Free feeding is one of the main causes of obesity in cats.

Just as humans who snack all day may be likely to put on weight, so too do our feline friends. This is especially likely for cats who are also stuck inside, which brings us to the next reason why cats gain weight:

2. Activity & Exercise Level

For cats, dogs, and humans alike, a moderate amount of physical activity is essential to good health. Cats in the wild get a substantial amount of physical activity every day by stocking and hunting prey, exploring their territory, and playing with other friendly animals.

But indoor cats unfortunately have no such opportunities most of the time. And unlike in the wild, they have easy access to nearly unlimited food sources. Soon enough, their activity is not enough to burn off a healthy portion of the calories they consume in one day. That’s why, to combat obesity in your cat, it’s important to make sure your cat gets plenty of activity.

3. Other Causes

Some other factors which may contribute to weight gain in cats include:

  • Breed: some purebred cat varieties are less likely to carry excess weight than their mixed breed counterparts.
  • Neutered status: neutering can decrease the natural activity level of a cat.
  • Age: older cats are more likely to gain weight than younger cats.
  • Medications: those that affect appetite or metabolic rate can have an impact on weight gain.
  • Genetics: some cats may be predisposed to weight gain due to genetic factors.

Understanding the reasons why your cat may be overweight can help you to better plan for the best weight-loss approach in cooperation with your pet’s medical professional.

overweight cat outside

How to get a cat to lose weight:

Ready to support your overweight cat in losing weight? Great! There are many things you can do to support your furry friend find their optimal health, including a new feeding plan, increased playtime and activity monitoring. We’ll explore those in more detail below. But not so fast:

❗Rapid weight loss in cats can lead to serious health consequences such as hepatic lipidosis.

When it comes to helping your cat lose weight, the goal should not be rapid weight loss, but rather gradual weight loss – aim for your feline friend to lose 1-2% of body weight per week.

As always, consult with a vet to determine the best plan of action for your cat’s weight loss. Then, put the tips below into action and watch your cat’s weight loss journey unfold.

Consult your vet.

If you suspect your cat might be overweight, the first step you should take to improve their health is to talk with your vet. Your vet will be able to:

  • tell you your cat’s current weight
  • determine your cat’s ideal or target weight
  • develop a weight-reduction plan tailored to your cat
  • provide you with other important information about your cat’s health condition

Only your vet will know what’s best for your feline friend. All cats are different, so it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines and recommended weight loss plan for your overweight cat. In addition to that, you may want to try the following:

Start a calorie-controlled diet.

Find out your cat’s current daily calorie intake – and together with your vet, figure out how many calories would be ideal for them to consume per day, in line with your weight-reduction plan.

❗ Never put an overweight or obese cat on a diet without the supervision of your vet.

Feed at meal times.

As an alternative to free feeding, try feeding your cat meals at a certain time of day, using canned wet food. This canned food contains more protein and a higher water content, which will give your cat a balanced diet and ensure their health in the long run.

In addition, limit treats to 10% of your cat’s diet, and spread them out over play periods. And make sure your cat drinks enough water.

Help your overweight cat get more healthy physical activity.

While quite active in the wild, house cats are known to be somewhat lazy. However, there are many ways to encourage your feline friend to add more healthy movement to their day. For example, you could try to:

  • Use a food puzzle toy to give them a healthy challenge before feeding.
  • Make them go up and down the stairs.
  • Encourage a few healthy exercises before feeding.
  • Play, play and more play!
  • Consider letting the cat outdoors to play, chase, hunt, run, climb trees, etc.
  • (Gently) see if your cat likes swimming.
  • Cats love boxes– set some up for your cat to jump into!
  • Consider getting a second pet as a playmate.
  • Use a kitty-treadmill.
  • Encourage your cat’s prey drive with a laser-pointer.
  • Invest in some moving toys, such as a robotic mouse.
  • Place your cat’s favorite bed in a place where they need to jump to reach it.
  • Stop letting guests feed your cat snacks – encourage them to bring toys instead.

And that’s not all; get more tips on how to exercise your cat.

Monitor your overweight cat’s daily activity, calories burned, and weight-loss progress.

Now that you know what to do to get your cat burning calories and excess weight, you might wish there was a way to see how active your cat has been that day. Or how many calories they’ve burned. Good news – it exists! The Tractive GPS cat tracker and activity monitor lets you do all that, plus set activity goals.

A bonus feature of Tractive GPS for cats is that, since it’s an all-in-one GPS tracker and activity monitor, you can easily find your cat if they get out of your sight while playing or exercising. Just open the Tractive app on your phone, press LIVE, and voilà! You can follow your cat’s every step.

More tips on how to help your obese cat lose weight:

Well, those were our tips on how to help your overweight cat lose weight. Do you have more ideas we should consider? Let us know, and in the meanwhile, watch this video on how to help your cat lose weight:

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