How Much Should My Cat Weigh?

July 17, 2021


July 17, 2021

A Guide to Feline Weight

As a kitten, your cat pounced on anything that moved, and zoomed around the house at lightning speed. Now, as an adult, your cat likely spends more time napping than stalking “prey,” and impatiently reminds you to add food as soon as they see the bottom of their bowl.

Along with their more sedentary lifestyle may have come a few extra pounds, and you may wonder exactly how much your cat should weigh. You know that being overweight—or underweight, for that matter—isn’t healthy, but how can you tell if your cat’s weight is appropriate?

There is no easy answer to this question, since an ideal weight does not apply to all cats. Cat size obviously varies less than dog size, but individual differences, including breed, gender, and reproductive status, affect a cat’s ideal weight. Although ideal weight for many domestic cats is approximately 10 pounds, a cat’s appropriate weight can range from 5 to 25 pounds.

For example, an average housecat in good body condition may weigh eight pounds, whereas a fit, trim Maine Coone may tip the scales at 25 pounds. And, although a certain weight range may be preferable for your cat, no number on a scale will indicate whether they are at a healthy body condition.

If you have questions about your cat’s weight, discuss your concerns with your family veterinarian, who can determine whether they should lose or gain weight, and make healthy recommendations. In the meantime, you can assess your cat’s body condition at home and get an idea of how they stack up.

How to assess your cat’s body condition

As a cat owner, overlooking a little extra “fluff,” or not noticing that your cat’s belly is dangerously close to touching the floor, is easy. An objective body condition assessment will help you honestly evaluate your cat’s weight to determine whether they need to lose a few pounds.

How to conduct an objective body condition assessment

To assess your cat’s weight, observe them in a standing position. From above, your cat should have an hourglass shape, with a slight indentation at their waist.

From the side, you should see an abdominal tuck, and their belly should not sag. Keep in mind that many adult cats have a primordial pouch, which is a skin flap that hangs down from their belly in front of their back legs.

This pouch is completely normal, but should be soft and loose—not filled with fat, or hanging to the floor. Also, run a hand over your cat. You should be able to feel, but not see, their ribs, and should not be able to see, or easily palpate, their vertebrae or pelvis.

A body condition chart can be a helpful tool to evaluate your cat’s physique. The chart helps you assign a body condition score (BCS) to your cat by assessing factors such as their waist, abdominal tuck, presence of an abdominal fat pad, and ability to easily feel their ribs, vertebrae, and pelvis. On a scale of 1 to 9, a score of 5 correlates to an ideal body condition.

What if my cat is overweight?

Approximately 60% of cats are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, so don’t be surprised if your feline friend falls into this category. Cats become overweight for many reasons, including:

  • Overeating
  • Eating the wrong diet
  • Inadequate activity
  • Lower metabolism, especially with increasing age

Like people, being overweight predisposes your cat to a variety of health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and arthritis. Returning your cat to a healthy weight will decrease their risk of dangerous medical problems, and help them live a happier, more active life. However, before starting any weight-loss program, discuss your cat’s weight with your family veterinarian.

Weight loss in cats should be a slow process—a one-pound loss in a cat (i.e., approximately 10% of their ideal body weight) is equivalent to a 15- to 20-pound loss in a human, so be patient, and do not expect your overweight cat to make a Biggest Loser-type transformation overnight. In fact, rapid weight loss in cats can be dangerous, and can lead to hepatic lipidosis, which is a deadly liver disease.

Thankfully, there are a few techniques you can use to help your cat lose weight:

Ways to help your cat lose weight

  • Counting calories — Ask your family veterinarian to calculate the number of calories your cat should eat each day, and divide the appropriate amount of food into several small meals, instead of simply keeping your cat’s bowl full. Remember that cats are grazers, and prefer to eat up to 20 small meals throughout the day, rather than two large meals like dogs.
  • Feeding a weight management diet — Ask your family veterinarian for an appropriate diet recommendation.
  • Feeding your cat canned food — Many canned diets contain more protein, and less carbohydrates, than dry food.
  • Cutting back on treats — Treats should make up no more than 10% of your cat’s daily calorie allotment. Although you may have fallen into the habit of expressing your love with food, too many treats, especially table scraps, may be killing your cat with kindness. Choose healthy treats, such as chunks of fresh cantaloupe—most cats love melon—or chicken breast, instead of calorie-laden store-bought varieties.
  • Feeding your cats separately —If you have multiple cats, consider feeding them separately, or using collar-activated bowls, to prevent your overweight cat from eating their housemate’s portion.
  • Making your cat work for their dinner — Puzzle feeders require cats to bat food, piece-by-piece, from a food chamber, or perform tasks, such as sliding open doors, to reveal pieces of kibble. This provides much-needed activity and mental stimulation, and slows your cat down so they eat less before feeling full. You can also hide pieces of dry food throughout the house to encourage your cat to forage for their meal.
  • Incorporating more activity into their routine — While most cats don’t enjoy leash walking like dogs, you can still build exercise into your cat’s daily routine. Take advantage of your cat’s instinctive prey drive by using feather wands and battery-operated mice to get them up and moving. Climbing towers are beneficial, and provide your cat a lookout for watching household activity safely—more mental simulation!

What if my cat is underweight?

Although cats are more commonly obese, being underweight is also concerning. Underweight cats may have a bony appearance, but weight loss can be difficult to appreciate if they have long fur. Possible causes for weight loss in cats include:

  • Malnourishment, especially if your recently adopted cat was a stray
  • Medical conditions, including hyperthyroidism
  • Dental problems
  • Dietary change
  • Anxiety or stress

If your cat has recently lost weight, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian immediately to determine the cause. Many health conditions that cause inappetence can quickly progress, and may become life-threatening without prompt treatment. If your cat is underweight, the following suggestions can help them achieve a healthy weight.

Ways to help your cat gain weight:

  • Feed a higher calorie, nutrient-dense food to increase your cat’s daily calorie intake.
  • Feed your cat more of their typical diet.
  • Ensure your cat likes their current diet—cats are notoriously picky eaters, and may turn up their nose at food that does not interest them.
  • Place food bowls on each home level—cats with arthritis may have a difficult time going up or down stairs to get to their food.
  • If a medical condition is causing your cat’s inappetence, ask your veterinarian if an appetite stimulant could be helpful.

Like weight loss, weight gain should be slow. Don’t overfeed your cat, or give them too many treats, which can establish unhealthy habits and set them up for future obesity.

Once your cat is at a healthy weight, switch them to an adult maintenance diet to help them maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, encourage exercise, which will help your cat build muscle instead of simply packing on fat from increased calorie intake.

Sources: Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. 2019. Live Science. 2021.

Purina. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

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Disclaimer: Our content is for informational purposes only — it’s not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.