Healthy weight isn't only measured on a scale
Weighing your cat is not the only way to check if they're overweight. You can find out if your cat's a healthy weight and shape, by asking your Vet about Body Condition Scoring.
What is body condition scoring?
Vets use Body Condition Scoring to make it easier to check whether your cat is overweight, underweight or at ideal weight and shape. However, weighing a cat isn't always enough to determine if they are a healthy shape, so the score assesses how they look and feel.
The body condition score uses a 9-point system that goes from severely underweight at 1 to obese at 9. The three key factors assessed for the score are your cat’s ribs, waist and abdomen. A cat with a score of 4 or 5, is at ideal weight and shape. This means they’re well proportioned with ribs you can easily feel, a waist you can see from above and an abdomen that tucks up behind their rib cage when seen from the side.
Your vet can help you work out your cat’s body condition score. It’s also important to take your cat for regular visits so they can help you continually monitor your cats shape as they age.
What are the signs my cat is overweight?
Cats are considered to be overweight when they’re 10% to 20% over their ideal weight, but it’s easy to overlook this – especially if the weight creeps on overtime. The best way to keep track is by taking a regular 3-step look-feel-weigh approach.
First, look at your cat’s behavior. Are they somewhat lethargic and get tired quickly? Next, does their stomach sag or can you see their waist and the tuck of their abdomen behind their ribs? Next, check their ribs. Can you feel them with light pressure? Thirdly, weigh your cat and make a note so you can compare next time. Your vet can give you an indication of your cat's ideal weight based on their current weight and using the body conditioning score.
This kind of monitoring is vital as an overweight cat is more likely to suffer serious and life-changing conditions. These can include diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk of urinary tract disease. Keeping your cat in shape is key to maintaining a healthy life.
It’s important to check your kitten’s weight and condition from the start and to monitor them regularly to be sure they develop into healthy adults. As soon as your kitten arrives home, weigh them regularly. If you don’t have a scale of adapted size (baby scales for instance), simply weigh your kitten by holding them as you step on your family-scale and subtract your own weight. Besides the weight, it’s also easy to pay attention to a few details when you pat them.
First, you should be able to easily feel their ribs when massaging with your fingertips. Next, ask yourself a few questions: Can I see a clearly defined waistline when I look at my kitten from above? Does their abdomen tuck up behind their rib cage when viewed from the side? If not, and if they appear barrel-shaped, your kitten may be overweight.
The more comfortable you are checking your kitten’s weight and condition from the start, the more likely you will detect changes that require veterinary support going forward.
How to help your overweight cat lose weight
Fortunately, it’s possible to help your cat lose weight. Helping your cat return to their ideal weight will help to improve their quality of life, and cats at ideal weight have also been shown to live longer than those who are overweight or obese.
Cats become overweight when they eat more calories than they use, so the first thing to address is their food. Ask your vet about diets formulated to support weight loss in overweight cats, as simply reducing their daily food ration, reduces the likelihood of them getting all the nutrients they need. Stick to the portion size on the pack and give them a space to eat alone. Cats are solitary hunters and shared feeding spaces could lead to stress-induced issues such as overeating.
Regular physical activity is also essential for keeping your cat in healthy shape and for their overall wellbeing. The amount of exercise they need will vary depending upon their age; younger cats require more exercise, whereas an older cat may require less. Cats prefer short, frequent bursts of play, so rather than providing one long play session, consider changing this to shorter, more frequent sessions (two-three minutes sessions). You will know when your cat has had enough because they will stop or walk away. Give them plenty of toys and things to climb, particularly if they’re kept mainly indoors, and play games with them regularly each day.