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Cat Obesity and Health Risks & Exercise Tips

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“Is my cat fat?” is a question that gets asked more than one would think. In fact, obese and overweight cats are actually more prevalent than cats with normal, healthy weights. By some accounts, more than half of all cats are overweight, and approximately 25 percent of cats are obese.

What’s more, if you’re asking if your loveable kitty is fat, there’s probably a reason you’re curious and, just maybe, you already know the answer. But just to be sure, here’s some information on how to tell if your cat is overweight or obese and what you can do to address the issue.

overweight grey and white cat with black collar

Symptoms and Signs

The average domestic cat should weigh about 8 to 10 pounds. Of course, depending on the breed, the ideal weight can change based on the varying standards – a Maine Coon, for example, can weigh 25 pounds and be perfectly healthy.

However, there are some telltale signs of feline obesity, including unhealthy eating habits, disinterest in physical activity, and excessive weight gain. If you suspect your kitty may be obese, here are a few things pet parents can do to see if their cat is at a healthy weight or if they’re trending toward obesity:

  • Place your hands on either side of your cat’s body and stroke them – you should be able to feel their ribs. If you can’t feel their ribs, your cat is probably overweight.
  • Stand above your cat and look over on them. You should be able to identify their waistline (a slight indentation behind their ribs). If there is no indentation, your cat is probably overweight or even obese.
  • Look at your cat’s stomach. A swinging pouch between their hind legs can be a sign of an overweight cat.
  • Examine your cat’s back. If they have greasy patches of hair, matted fur, or flaky skin, they may be overweight and unable to clean that area of their body.

Concerned pet parents can also take their kitty comrade to the vet for a body condition scoring examination, a standard weight test. Plus, if you already think your cat is obese, you should probably be in touch with your veterinarian just to be on the safe side.

chubby grey and white cat with blue collar

Causes of Cat Obesity

So, how did kitty become obese? Well, there are several reasons why a cat packs on the pounds. Obesity itself is defined as storing extra fat in the body. The concern isn’t even a matter of weight but the characteristics surrounding the weight gain. Normally, cats become obese one of two ways: disease/illness and overeating.

Disease or Illness

If your kitty shows signs of weight gain, there may be an underlying health issue. Cat obesity can be caused by certain conditions, including:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Insulinoma
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (a.k.a. Cushing’s Disease)

If you suspect that your cat gained weight because of one of these conditions or another medical-related concern, take them to the veterinarian for a check-up. Need help finding a vet or clinic? Use our veterinarian finder.

Overeating and Inactivity

Every breed of feline is equally predisposed to weight gain and obesity. However, lifestyle and gender can have an impact on your cat’s weight gain.

On average, neutered males who live indoors have the highest risk of becoming overweight or even obese. This is not due to their change of state, but because their caloric intake needs drop and quantity of food provided does not.

While living indoors can help keep a kitty safe and is recommended by our strategic partner the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), it can limit a cat’s activities and also provide them with regular – sometimes constant – access to food. This lifestyle is vastly different from their ancestors who were forced to hunt for their meals since food was often a scarcity.

If your cat has unlimited access to food (and those calories!), a practice commonly called “free feeding,” it could be contributing to their weight gain.

cat being fed a treat

Plan of Action

If you think your cat is obese (or a bit overweight), speak to your veterinarian and work with them to develop a plan of action. You want to make sure you’re taking a safe approach to weight loss, one that focuses on gradual improvements. But it is important that you take action because feline obesity can lead to other conditions, such as diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, osteoarthritis, respiratory issues, heart disease, liver disease, and more.

Obesity and being overweight can also have a negative impact on your kitty’s lifespan. Fortunately, the key to getting your cat back in shape – and reducing the likelihood of exacerbating the problem – is no different than trying to get yourself in better shape. It’s those two magic words: “diet” and “exercise.”

Cat Weight Loss Diet

It may sound a bit ridiculous when you tell someone you’re putting your cat on a diet, but your kitty will thank you for it – or maybe not, but at least you’ll feel good about doing the right thing for their health. Here are a few tips for a cat weight loss diet:

  • Start feeding your cat wet food, which is protein-rich and a way to increase fluid intake
  • Avoid dry food, which can contain up to 400 calories per cup – on average, your cat only needs 180-200 calories per day
  • Schedule meal times – that you control – to avoid free feeding
  • Manage your kitty’s portions and measure out their food
  • Ease up on the treats, which are high in calories; treats should make up less than 10 percent of their daily caloric intake
  • Consider giving your cat more meals but with smaller portions


Just like dieting, exercising your cat can sound a little absurd. But if it’s done right, it can be a fun bonding experience for you and your feline friend – not to mention helping them become a little more svelte.

When it comes to exercising your kitty, you want to take it easy at first. If your cat is overweight, they’re probably out of shape, and you don’t want to risk an injury by overdoing it. Ideally or eventually, you and your cat will get about 20 minutes of activity each day. Here are a few activities to get the heart rate up and to help shed some pounds:

  • Get a laser pointer, aim it at the floor and let your kitty give chase
  • Roll jingly balls or catnip-scented toys around on the ground for them to pursue
  • Buy some feathery toys attached to a stick with rope and whirl it around your cat like a fishing pole and lure
  • Purchase a scratching post, and your cat will know what to do (Bonus! This may save your furniture and your legs from playful scratching)
  • Take your kitty’s daily allotment of treats and hide them around the house – this activity will inspire their natural, albeit dormant, prey drive
  • Place a brown paper bag or open cardboard box on the floor… enough said

Show Your Love by Helping Them Shed That Weight

Feline obesity is a serious concern, but one that is manageable and, with a concerted effort, correctable. When you make an effort to get your cat’s weight under control, you should see some noticeable results – the most important one being a healthier kitty.


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