Friday 18 April 2008

Healthy Cat Weight

fat cat
Fat Cat photograph copyright

A Healthy Cat Weight is a growing concern for people who care about cats including veterinarians. Vets are seeing more overweight cats than before. This is probably partly or perhaps mainly because people are getting fatter. People are getting fatter because the world is getting richer and cat afford better food, which tastes better and encourages eating. Eating can be pleasurable. People accept being heavier than before and pass that mentality to their cats.


Obesity in cats it seems affects (in the USA at least) about 50% of cats in the age range 2-10 years (src: Elizabeth Hodgkins DVM "Your Cat"). Information on weight be it high or low is useful in diagnosis of illness. Obesity in cats is much more common than underweight cats in the United States. It is said that obesity is the "leading nutritional malady" as reported by USA veterinarians1.

Although lack of exercise is a major factor in a cat becoming obese, dry cat food encourages eating as is contains high levels of carbohydrates and therefore discourages a Healthy Cat Weight. Dry cat food needs carbohydrates in it to make the manufacturing process work. Cats that eat a dry cat food are more likely to be overweight and be less active. Elizabeth Hodgkins DVM argues that dry cat foods create swings in blood sugar levels which can cause sluggishness and a lack of desire to play. This translates into putting on weight to a greater extent than enforced inactivity due to being locked indoors permanently, which is the case for a large percentage of cats in the USA (much less in the UK and Europe).

It is thought that being overweight can increase the chances of contracting diabetes. Elizabeth puts the relatively high levels of diabetic cats (2.5% of the population on her rough estimate) down to the effects of the high carbohydrate levels in dry cat cat food. Rarely diabetes in cats can be accompanied by other diseases such as Cushing's Disease and Hyperthyroidism.

If you want to read more about cat food click here. And here you can see my initial assessment of the best dry cat food in the United States. And here is a page answering the question: how many calories does a cat need?. Finally, read more on cat obesity.

All manufactured cat food, if one looks at it a bit cynically, it designed to be eaten and liked as that is how the manufacturers make their profits. It is hard sometimes to know exactly what goes into cat food. The list of ingredients are written in terms that sound strange such as "ash" and "moisture". In wet cat food cats love the jelly and are not sure about the rest; what's in the jelly? I personally don't see a great level of transparency in the cat food market. Dry cat food is very convenient and suites modern life (I mean modern human life) but it does not suite modern cat life. I agree with Elizabeth Hodgins in that it discourages a Healthy Cat Weight.

thin cat
Thin cat - photo copyright *mangu*. Of course not all unhealthy cat weight is overweight. But excess weight is more common than underweight particularly in the Western countries. This cat is probably a feral cat in an Eastern country. I feel for this cat - a tough life.

Checking for a healthy cat weight

So we have a general problem with finding a Healthy Cat Weight. There are a number of websites that tell you how to check a cat's weight. I am not sure we need this information. We can tell when a person is thin, normal or overweight. In fact we can fine tune that and very accurately measure a persons weight against a norm just by looking at the person. Of course this doesn't apply to people who have a weight perception problem but that is a small percentage of people. Or is it in fact? Going back to the argument in the first paragraph of this post people are drifting towards an acceptance of being overweight.

So if your cat looks overweight she is. You can feel the fat around the neck and rib cage for example. There should be a thin layer of fat over the ribs.If the fat around the ribs is more than thin then the cat is deemed to be overweight by the experts. A cat of correct weight should have a lean body1. When viewed from above the cat should have a "slightly hourglass appearance" and an indentation at the loin area.

As a guide average sized male cats should weigh in the order of 9-12 pounds and females about 7-9 lbs. That said, in my personal experience there is a distinct tendency for veterinarians to pigeon hole all cats into generic weight categories. This seems wrong to me. As is the case for people, some cats are naturally bigger than others. Some are naturally small. Some cats will have a propensity to be a bit heavier etc. These individual differences should be taken into account and accepted. Yet you see charts and the like listing weights for cats as if they all have to be within certain limits.

I favor a more practical and common sense approach. We all know when we and our cats are overweight. There is one factor that needs to be factored in. Although the vast majority of cats are mixed breed cats without a pedigree there is a growing number of purebred cats.

Although most purebred cats are in the middle ground for weight and size, in other words they weigh the same as a mixed breed cat, some are smaller and some bigger.

I have built a page of the average weights of all the cat breeds. The weights are set out as minimums, averages and maximums. The purpose of the page is to ascertain the largest cat breed but may help in ascertaining a Healthy Cat Weight as well.

Sources other than stated as as numbered:

1. The Cat, Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health by Linda P Case

Healthy Cat Weight to Cat Facts - cat food

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