These days, barely a day seems to go by when someone, somewhere isn’t warning us about the dangers of obesity. The nation is too fat, we’re too fat, our kids are too fat, even our pets are too fat… so they say, repeatedly. But what if you have the opposite problem? Well not you, maybe, but another member of the family. Specifically, a member of the family with four legs, a tail, and a predilection for mice? For most pet owners, the sight of an underweight cat is even more distressing than the sight of an overweight one. After all, a bit of extra flesh to press can be remedied easily enough. But an underweight cat?
When an otherwise healthy cat starts losing weight, alarm bells sound. Sometimes, there’s a simple enough reason and a simple enough solution. But that doesn’t stop us worrying. While speaking to your vet should be the first port of call, it also pays to know exactly how to tell if your cat really is underweight in the first place. Of course, you could try popping them on a pair of weighing scales. But as each cat has a different frame and body type, the number it comes back with might not be as helpful as you think. So, how do you do it? With your hands…
Is My Cat Too Thin?
The first step in working out if your cat is too thin is to complete a physical inspection. This can be done easily enough at home, and providing you know what to check for, represents the quickest and easiest way of determining whether your cat’s weight falls into a healthy category or not. Providing your cat doesn’t mind being petted, they’re unlikely to object to the process- they might even see it as a bonding experience. Begin by doing as Purina recommends and giving your cat plenty of affection to help them relax. Once they’re thoroughly blissed-out, start stroking your hand along the length of their body. Make a note of what you feel. Once you’re done, get your cat to stand for the next part of the process – the visual check. Look at your cat from above, from the front, and from the side (it helps if you’re as close to their level as possible when you do this). Again, take note of your observations. Once you’ve completed the inspection, compare it to the below to assess whether your cat is underweight, a healthy weight, or even overweight.
Signs of an Underweight Cat
As cathealth.com notes, if your cat is underweight, they’ll display the following:
- Ribs: Ribs will be visible and easy to feel with no discernible fat or muscle covering.
- Spine: From above, the bones of the spine can be easily seen. No fat or muscle covering will be felt when you stroke your hand along the length of their back.
- Base of Tail: The bones protrude to a noticeable extent. When you run your hands along the area, no layer of fat or muscle can be felt.
- Waist: An extreme waistline is visible from an overhead angle, with a pronounced abdominal tuck observable from the side.
Signs of a Normal Weight Cat
- If your cat is a healthy weight, your observations will show:
- Ribs: The ribs can be felt, but will have a small covering of fat.
- Spine: The spine can be felt, but will have a light layer of fat along its length.
- Base of Tail: The base of the tail will feel smooth with no protruding bones and a small layer of fat and muscle.
- Waist: A visible waist can be observed from an overhead angle. When looking at the cat from the side, the area behind the ribs is smaller than the chest. There will be a small paunch of fat on the belly.
Signs of an Overweight Cat
Cats who are overweight will display the following:
- Ribs: Ribs are not visible and a significant amount of fat can be felt.
- Spine: No bones can be felt under the fat deposits.
- Base of Tail: No bones can be felt underneath the layer of fat when you run your hands along the length.
- Waist: No waist can be observed when looking down at the cat from overhead. There is no visible tick behind the ribs and the abdomen is distended.
What Should I Do If I Think My Cat’s Too Thin?
Now you’ve completed your observations, it’s time to take action. If your cat is severely underweight or seems to have lost a dramatic amount of weight over a short period, consult a vet immediately. Significant weight loss can sometimes indicate a serious underlying health concern that warrants prompt attention. If, on the other hand, your cat is only slightly underweight, seems otherwise healthy and happy, and has not suddenly lost a significant amount of weight over a short space of time, there are a few steps you can take at home.
As cattime.com advises, start by monitoring your cat at feed times. If you free-feed and have several cats, it may be hard to work out how much the underweight cat is eating. If possible, feed them separately and at defined times. If they leave more than they eat but have otherwise always had a healthy appetite, consider whether you’ve recently changed their food. Unlike dogs who will eat just about anything you put in front of them, cats are fussy. If they don’t like what you’re feeding them, they’ll often simply refuse to eat it. If you have made any recent changes, switch back to their old food. If they go back to eating as normal, problem solved. If they don’t, a visit to the vet is going to be required – a loss in appetite could indicate something more serious.
If your cat regularly finishes their food but still appears underweight, check whether you’re feeding them enough. Cats require different calorie levels depending on their natural body type (e.g., a slender Siamese will need less food than a hefty Maine Coon), their activity levels, and their age. Check the packaging of the food for feeding guidelines and speak to your vet about recommended serving sizes. If you believe you’re feeding your cat the right amount but are still concerned, speak to your vet as soon as possible. Most problems can be easily rectified, but require prompt attention to stop them from escalating into something more serious.