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 by asking your vet how to use the Body Conditioning Score.
What is a cat’s body condition score?
Vets use the body condition score to make it easier to check whether your cat is overweight or underweight. However, weighing a cat isn't always enough to determine 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 emaciated at 1 to severely 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 5 is the ideal 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 your vet can help you monitor their 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 over time. The best way to keep track is by taking a regular 3-step look-feel-weigh approach.
First, look at your cat’s behaviour. 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 shape 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 (babyscale for instance), simply weigh your kitten by holding them as you step on your family scale and subtracting your own weight. Besides the weight, it’s also easy to pay attention to a few details when you pet 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 shape from the start, the more likely you will detect changes that require professional attention.
How to help your overweight cat lose weight
Fortunately, it’s possible to help your cat lose weight. By doing this, and helping them maintain an optimal weight, you’ll increase their quality of life. Cats of a healthy weight have also been shown to live longer than those with obesity.
Cats become overweight when they eat more calories than they use, so the first thing to address is their food. Ask your vet about formulas designed specially for overweight cats, because if you just decrease meal sizes with their current food it could cause nutritional deficiencies. 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. Give them plenty of toys and things to climb, particularly if they’re kept mainly indoors, and play games with them regularly each day.