Big Cat, Little Cat: Why are Some Fat and Some Thin

Why is your cat fat? Why is your cat thin? Should you be putting it on a diet or switching foods? Knowing the right thing to do will help you have a healthy pet.

Please note that some cats are not actually fat, they merely have saggy belly skin. People assume that a saggy belly means the cat is fat. In many cases this is a genetic thing, actually a way for them to be protected in fights with other cats, since cats use their hind claws to tear at each others tummies, a cat with extra skin down there has extra protection.

Beyond this though, there are certainly some overweight felines, and some scrawny ones as well. Assuming that the cats have been checked for medical issues (such as thyroid problems or diabetes), we can learn why some are chubby and others thin.

Big Cat

A common misconception is that cats get fat because of being neutered or spayed. This is not true, I have seen several fat intact cats.

Obesity in cats is real problem, and many owners are making their pet fat, not because of too much food, but because of low quality food. The problem with low quality food is that it is low in nutrition and high in filler, so cats actually have to eat a lot more food to get proper nutrition. I am referring to the dry cat food at this point, and want to make the point that most owners do not know if a food is good or not. No food admits to being junk.

Low quality cat foods (those without meat as a first ingredient) typically use fat as a way to give the pet a shiny coat and to add flavor. Most owners think a shiny coat is an indicator of a healthy pet, and therefore a sign of a quality food. Because the cats have to eat more food, they are also eating more fat.

You can spot a low quality food one of two ways. If it contains “by-products” anywhere on the ingredient list, or if it has anything other than an actual meat source as the first ingredient, for example, Chicken meal, it is a low quality food. Another way of spotting a low quality food is that generally grocery stores and supermarkets do not sell quality food. Cats on good food, actually eat less, because their nutritional needs are met. Ignore the percentages of protein, and fat, because quality determines how much food the cat will eat, and therefor how much fat and protein it eats, percentage means nothing if you don’t know how much food the cat is eating in a day.

Semi moist food is often low in nutrition and high in fat, and should be avoided too. These are the preshaped chunks that have individual serving sizes in a pouch.

Canned food is another culprit. Most cans tell you to feed a full can, this is a marketing scheme in order for the companies to sell more food. In truth a cat is fine with a heaping teaspoon of canned food per feeding. However, when a canned food is “chunks in gravy” this is particularly fattening. Gravy is carbohydrates and carbs are fattening. Don’t forget, cats are true carnivores, they need meat, not gravy. If a kitten is starting to get chubby, they can be switched to adult food as early as 8 months of age. If a cat is hugely obese,it should be checked by a veterinarian, diabetes in cats is not uncommon.  The cat needs to go on a diet.

You may hear, or read, that treats can make a cat fat, but most people do not offer the required amount of treats to make a cat obese. Most people do not even give their cats daily treats, so treats are not responsible for the majority of chubby cats.

Lack of exercise may play a small role, but cats naturally rest for most of the day, so this is not a common culprit. I do suggest you encourage your kitty to be active, offer it lots of toys. Cats like toys they think are new, this can even be an old toy that you hid for a few weeks, then rotated with the other toys. I especially like honeysuckle toys, as they really seem to encourage activity. Catnip increases appetite. Also the best way to keep one cat active, is to have another cat. In reality, at the end of it all, the cat may just be a cat that metabolizes his or her food very well.

Little Cat

Some cats are naturally thin. No amount of food will bulk them up, but if your cat is excessively scrawny the first thing to do is have a veterinarian check the cat for medical problems, including parasites or poor teeth.

Stress is a common reason why a cat is abnormally thin, they are unable to eat and digest food to the same extent as they should. This can be a stressful home, or because the cat itself is more susceptible to smaller stresses. It must be noted that declawed cats are more susceptible to a stress response. Not enough food, or poor quality food. Some people limit a cats intake of food, which is particularly dangerous if the food is low quality.

A thin cat can stay on kitten food up until it is 18 months of age, and should be given additional canned food, especially he or she, goes outside in poor weather. As with overweight cats, quality of food is important. They might be eating until they are full, rather than until their nutritional needs are met, if they are on a low quality food (as described above), they will be full before they have eaten enough meat protein. It is very important a thin cat gets fed sufficient meat, the food should have a meat ingredient as the first ingredient, chicken meal, or lamb meal for example. You should note, that “by-products” is NOT a meat source, it may be beaks, feet, and feathers, basically filler.

A cat who has hairball problems may also have problems maintaining a healthy weight. Continual regurgitation of fur is stressful on their body. Better food and more brushing will help alleviate this problem.

If your cat is thin and always has been thin, and you have ruled out medical problems, but it otherwise appears healthy and active, you may just have a cat with genetics that lean towards a faster metabolism, your cat burns calories faster than a naturally chubby cat. Some people are this way too, they can eat and eat and not gain weight. I still suggest you feed a good quality dry food, offer a small amount of canned food once or twice a day, and make sure your thin cat has a warm place to sleep at night.

Please Note:

Any sudden changes of weight should be investigated with a veterinarian check up. This can be a sign of problems that you will want to address immediately.

Related Links

Cat food – Wet or Dry?

Cat Food Review – Purina Cat Chow

Hills Science Diet cd feline Review

Understanding Cat Food Ingredients

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Article has been republished here.

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User Comments
  1. jbjbhk

    On July 5, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    it is true for real food taken

  2. Juti

    On March 4, 2009 at 2:10 am

    I have a 6 month old kitten, he has a lot of loose skin on his belly, I never thought he was fat until my vet laughed at me and told me I had the fattest kitten he ever saw. Now after reading this article I feel reassured that he isn’t fat after all. The vet told me I needed to feed him 1/3 of what he was eating at that time.
    Would you know how to determine if my kitten is actually fat or just has loose skin? My vet is obviously no help…

  3. Brenda Nelson

    On March 4, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    to Juti #2.

    you may want to look at this link about food to help determine if your cat is fat.. it shows what ingredients lead to obesity and why.. really though I covered most of it here.. but anyhow a fat kitty would be fat all over.. you can feel if the skin is saggy or fat.. if the vet is selling you the food you are feeding.. he wont suggest a different food.

  4. presila

    On September 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

    My cat gave birth to kittens and they are 4 weeks old now, they all have saggy tummies. There are only 3 of them so I assume they get plenty of milk and maybe they are getting chubby, but the tummy skin is loose and hangs when they walk, is this normal? Should I be worried?
    - Presila

  5. Brenda Nelson

    On September 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    presila if the kittens are playful and growing they are probably getting enough to drink, soon they will be able to start on kitten food. The big tummies might be a sign of worms though. You may want a vet to check them and give you a wormer, or have somebody who is familiar with kittens look at what you mean by sagging skin.

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