Fat Cats - Unhealthy or Cute? - Cat Info Detective

Fat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings cat lovers everywhere! Skye Blake here uncovering what you need to know about fat cats.

Is your “chonk” cute & adorable or dangerously unhealthy?

Join me to discover more…

paw prints coming in from a distance

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs. 

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

Is Your Cat Fat?

tabby fat cat sitting on stump, obese

Being an overweight cat, a “chonk” in the Cat World, is cute and adorable to many people.

But all the extra weight makes it difficult for a chonky cat to walk, jump or run.

In other words, it becomes hard to be a cat!

If you’re wondering about your cat’s weight, start with a vet visit for an exam… vets are your partners in health.

What Is Obesity?

fat tabby cat lounging, obese

Other words for “fat” are “overweight” and “obese”.

Obesity is defined as “a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body”1 Obesity Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

What Causes Obesity in Cats?

ginger, orange fat cat sitting up, obese

Did you know obesity is the #1 nutritional problem in cats?

Almost all cases of obesity are caused by owners overfeeding… no two ways around it, folks!

We felines need the right number of calories and exercise every day, just like you!

white, orange fat cat sleeping, obese

Other possible causes (that you can’t use as an excuse) are…

  • hypothyroidism (low thyroid) – rare in cats
  • genetics (breed tendencies) – all the more reason to be diligent about proper feeding habits
grey fat cat with nail caps lounging, obese
  • less active indoor lifestyle – spend time playing, harness train and go for walks
  • spaying and neutering – be careful how many calories you give per day
  • free feeding – portion control and feed a few meals a day (find out more at “How to Feed a Cat“)

How To Tell If Your Cat’s Too Fat

black, white fat cat sitting up, obese

If your cat’s the right weight and in good health, you should be able to feel her ribs.

If you see ribs, she’s too thin… if you can’t feel them, she’s too fat.

This “Body Condition Score” chart from WSAVA makes it easy to see the difference.

Here’s a video that explains how to assess your cat’s body condition…

“Is Your Pet Fit or Fat? A Veterinarian Discusses the Best Way to Assess Them.”, Dr. Em,
Vet Med Corner, March 14, 2021

Health Dangers for Fat Cats

Dangers You Never Knew

fat tawny cat

Did you know that all that fat squashes down and makes it hard for blood to flow and lungs to expand?

This causes less circulating oxygen, more carbon dioxide levels in the blood, and chronic inflammation through your cat’s whole body.

It leads to disastrous consequences for your cat…

tortie wearing medical cone (cone of shame)
  • constipation
  • fatty liver disease
  • insulin resistance
  • diabetes mellitus
  • lower urinary tract disease
  • bladder stones
fat cat on floor
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoarthritis
  • skin problems

The one disease NOT related to obesity in cats is pancreatitis.

This is very different from pancreatitis in people and dogs, where there’s a definite connection between obesity and high fat diets.

$$$ Dangers for Your Wallet

fanned bills, money

Feeding too much whether through meals or treats, costs you money you don’t need to spend.

Cats don’t need treats except for training purposes and even then, you can use low-calorie treats like bits of cooked chicken or liver.

dollars bills with gold $

Add to that the fact that you’re setting your cat up for serious health problems, causing major vet bills.

You could avoid all of this by keeping your cat at a healthy weight.

Your wallet will thank you!

The Diabetes Example

vet checking cat's leg

“Managing a diabetic cat requires a big commitment: usually twice-daily insulin injections, special diets, and careful monitoring of food intake and activity levels.

All of this, and the cost associated with it, can be avoided by addressing and/or preventing obesity.”2Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy? – PMC (nih.gov)

Reasons People Overfeed Cats

woman feeding cat a treat

Free feeding with no portion control and giving homemade food, table scraps and treats are big contributors to creating a fat cat!

Since so many cats are overweight, it’s important to understand why people feed too much food.

Here are some common reasons…

man sharing cantaloupe with kittens
  • Unaware their feeding habits are causing problems
  • Mistakenly equating food with love
  • Bribery
  • It’s cute

This article points out some mistakes people make… “7 Mistakes That Could Cause Weight Gain in Dogs and Cats“… worth reading!

Do Carbohydrates & Fats Cause Obesity?

wheat in field - litter, food

Research-based evidence shows that “carbohydrates do not appear to be the biggest concern in the development of obesity.” 3 Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy? – PMC (nih.gov)

While fats have twice the calories of carbohydrates, they also are not a cause of obesity.

The problem is humans feeding too many calories per day of any food, including treats.

It’s a matter of feeding the right number of calories in a complete and balanced diet to meet your cat’s individual needs.

Does Wet Food Have Less Calories Than Dry?

Dark tabby cat eating kibble off ground

“Higher moisture diets are typically less calorie-dense than lower-moisture diets, and it has been suggested that canned diets may help prevent or treat obesity in cats.

Other factors are clearly also relevant, of course, such as the specific composition of the diet, the amount fed, and the feeding pattern.

fat calico cat sitting

Obesity can happen with any diet whether dry or wet.

It is clearly possible to maintain cats in a lean body condition with dry foods and to develop and perpetuate obesity while feeding canned diets.

Overall, however, it is likely that high-moisture diets, including canned foods or dry diets with added water, may be beneficial in preventing and managing feline obesity.” 4Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, skeptvet.com

Helping Your Cat Lose Weight

cook figure in front of recipe

The best thing to do to help your fat cat lose weight is to get a full health check done.

Discussing the situation with your vet is vital when dealing with weight loss.

If you do it too fast, you can cause serious illnesses like fatty liver disease, which can be fatal.

WSAVA has a helpful guideline for determining the number of calories a healthy adult cat needs daily… Calorie-Needs-for-Healthy-Adult-Cats

cartoon orange fat cat, obese

This is only a guide and should be adjusted according to your vet’s recommendation for your cat.

How you feed your cat is a factor in having a healthy weight.

Measuring each meal portion by weight and using food puzzles helps control calories and gives your cat exercise, challenging him to hunt and work for his food.

cartoon black fat cat, obese

This is a great way to give him mental and physical exercise… burn those calories!

Discover more at “How to Feed a Cat” and “Cat Dieting: How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight“, PetMD

Watch this vet video for tips on how best to help your cat lose weight…

Tips for Healthy Feline Weight Loss With Dr. Em, Vet Med Corner, April 18, 2021

Purrfect Weight App

digital scale with tape measure

Cornell Feline Health Center has a free app called “Purrfect Weight“.

“Purrfect Weight is a unique iOS app that allows cat owners to generate and track the progress of a feeding plan designed to safely promote weight loss in overweight cats.”5 Purrfect Weight App, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

You can download it on your iOS phone in the Apple App Store.

Multiple Cats

3 cats sitting on a step

Multiple cats with various health needs, including obesity, can make things complicated.

Talk to your vet about each cat’s particular dietary needs, what type of food is best for each, and how many calories are required for each per day.

3 tiny dark tabby kittens

There are options available to make it easier to feed each one properly, such as automatic feeders.

They’ll save your sanity!

Discover more at “How to Feed a Cat“.

Videos

Here are a couple more videos by vets about dealing with weight loss in cats…

Feline Obesity (How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight), Pete Wedderburn, DVM, All About Cats, July 16, 2020
How to help your fat cat lose weight. Tips and tricks from the vet, Krista Magnifico, Pawbly.com, February 25, 2018

Conclusion

Help your cat live a long and healthy life by watching his calories and waistline!

Work with your vet to monitor and slowly help your cat lose the pounds if he’s overweight.

Wanna learn more about cat nutrition, health and food, check out “Cat Food!” and “Cat Health“.


Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

7 Mistakes That Could Cause Weight Gain in Dogs and Cats” by PetMD Editorial, October 9, 2018

“Animal models of disease: classification and etiology of diabetes in dogs and cats” by Richard W Nelson, Claudia E Reusch PubMed (nih.gov), Society for Endocrinology, 2014

Canine and feline diabetes mellitus: nature or nurture?” by Jacquie S Rand, Linda M Fleeman, Heidi A Farrow, Delisa J Appleton, Rose Lederer, J. Nutr., PubMed (nih.gov), August 2004

Carbohydrate metabolism and pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats” by Margarethe Hoenig, PubMed (nih.gov), Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci, 2014

Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy?” – PMC (nih.gov)

Cat Dieting: How to Help Your Cat Lose Weight” by Krista Seraydar, DVM, June 30, 2020, PetMD

End the Wave of Fat Cats” by estaff, Cornell Catwatch Newsletter, Published: July 23, 2021, Updated: May 25, 2022

Learn the truth about carbs and cats” by Brennen McKenzie, MA, MSc, VMD, cVMA(veterinarypracticenews.com), May 26, 2022

Pancreatitis Is a Real Threat” by estaff, Cornell Catwatch Newsletter, January 20, 2022

Tips For Finding the Best Cat Food for Weight Gain” by Liz Bales, VMD, PetMD, December 10, 2019

Updated November 15, 2023

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