Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 22, 2023 by Crystal Uys
A staggering 53% of America’s cats are overweight. Obesity leads to any number of health issues, including diabetes and arthritis. On the flip side, gradual weight loss can also be an indicator of a developing health problem, including hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and intestinal disease . Your cat’s weight is one of the most important indicators of her health.
Weight: the 4th vital sign
Gradual weight loss or gain can be difficult to recognize in cats. Consider that the average cat weighs 10 pounds. Weight loss of only 6% of a cat’s body weight is considered a clinical sign – that’s less than ten ounces. Depending on the size of your cat, visible changes to her weight may be too subtle to notice without actually weighing her.
Dr. Andrea Tasi, a homeopathic vet and owner of Just Cats Naturally, considers weight the 4th vital sign. “Temperature, pulse, and respiration are awfully valuable for assessing any patient in an acute situation,” she says,”but for really tracking the chronic health status of a cat over time, there is nothing more valuable than weight.”
A cat who is losing weight with no change in her diet or exercise levels requires veterinary attention. “Nearly all chronic diseases that creep up on cats cause insidious weight loss,” says Dr. Tasi.
Body condition score
You’ve probably seen body condition charts like the one pictured above at your vet’s office. While these charts work well to determine whether your young or middle-aged adult cat is at an ideal weight, they are somewhat subjective. My experience has been that while we’re pretty brutal when it comes to assessing own weight (“When on earth did I gain so much weight!”), when it comes to our cats, we can sometimes view them through rose colored-glasses. “Oh, he’s not fat, he’s just fluffy.” “He’s a big cat, but he’s not fat!”
An easy way to determine body condition score
Here’s a super easy way to determine body condition score, and it’s virtually impossible to fool yourself into anything but an accurate assessment.
Make a fist with your hand. If your cat’s spine looks even remotely like the protruding knuckles on your hand, he’s underweight.
Now flip your hand. if your cat’s spine looks like the soft fleshy pads on the opposite side of your knuckles, your cat is overweight.
Muscle condition score
Body condition score is a good indicator to determine healthy weight in young and middle-aged cats, but when it comes to senior cats, muscle condition is a more accurate indicator. “You will find fat cats with low muscle condition score,” says Dr. Elisabeth Colleran, a feline veterinarian and owner of two cat hospitals. “You will start feeling bones in cats that are still overweight if they’re starting to lose muscle mass.”
Weigh your cat regularly
Weigh your cat once a month and write down the results. While you can weigh your cat by weighing yourself on a human scale, then weighing yourself while holding your cat, and subtracting the difference, your results will not be accurate enough.
Your best bet is to purchase an inexpensive digital scale designed for babies (affiliate link.*) These scales measure pounds and ounces accurately.
I weigh Allegra and Ruby once a month. It can sometimes be a little challenging to keep them on the scale long enough to get a good reading, but that’s nothing that a few well placed treats can’t fix.
This information is brought to you thanks to Assisi Animal Health, who sponsored my attendance at the AAFP conference. The Assisi Loop and Assisi Loop Lounge offer complete and safe pain management solutions for your cat. For more information, please visit http://www.assisianimalhealth.com or contact Assisi Animal Health at [email protected], 866-830-7342.
Featured Image Credit: Odua Images, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.