Fat Cats No Joking Matter

feline obesity,fat cats,feline diabetes,feline hyperthyroid,feline cancer,feline kidney disease

Feline obesity is all too common and it comes with serious and detrimental health problems. Keeping cats at a healthy weight is important for their health and well-being.  Some people associate food as love for their cat. Does this sound familiar?  Some cat parents feel guilty because they are gone all day at work, so they leave lots of dry cat food out to make up for being gone.  You may have read somewhere to free feed or maybe do it because everyone you know with a cat is free feeding.  Overfeeding greatly increases your cat’s risk of weight-related disorders, which are costly as well as emotionally and physically painful.  The cat in the photo here is dangerously overweight.  Sadly for them, fat cats have become the “norm.” There are fat cats in cartoons, social media emoticons, and photos all over the internet.  When I volunteer at cat adoption centers, some people would come looking for a “fat cat like Garfield.”  I think “Garfield” the cartoon cat may have been the start of this feline obesity being okay, cute, adorable and funny.  But fat cats are no joking matter.

It’s Not Normal or Natural

Being overweight is not “normal” or natural for a cat’s physique, and it’s uncomfortable for them.  As carnivores, they are naturally very lean and muscular, built for hunting.  Unfortunately, much of the commercial cat food leads to their dangerous excess weight.  You may not even consider your cat to be overweight.  For reference, one lb. of excess fat on a cat is equivalent to 40 lbs. on a human!  Feline obesity has become such a problem veterinarians see in their clinics that veterinary universities are doing studies to address the issue, and the magazine Cat Fancy writes regular articles on the subject.  A study done in 2011 and published in 2012–the Banfield State of Health Study on dogs and cats–showed a 90% increase in overweight cats in the past 5 years before the study.  Interestingly, the statistics closely mimic that of the human population–55% of cats are overweight and 28% of those are obese.

It’s Not Fun

Even if we think they are “fat and happy,” being overweight is not fun for a cat.    By instinct, cats run and play (i.e. they practice hunting and hunt).  When they are overweight, they feel lazy and sluggish and it’s difficult to play and run.  They start to have joint pain from the stress on their little joints.  And lack of activity makes them lazier, creating a lazy-weight gain cycle.

Risks of Excess Fat

Risks of being an overweight cat are highly increased chances of:

  • diabetes
  • hyperthyroid
  • kidney disease and failure
  • painful arthritis
  • cancer
  • urinary tract infections and crystal formation (sludge) that cause blockages which can kill a cat
  • inability for an obese cat to groom the back end after urinating, leading to skin scalding and bacterial infections
  • in extremely overweight cats, difficulty or even inability to groom any part of their body, which leads to the health of their skin and fur declining and emotional frustration

See this feline body condition chart to determine if your cat is too fat for her own good

feline body condition chart,feline obesity,fat cats,feline diabetes,feline kidney disease,feline hyperthyroid

NOTE:  Some female cats develop hanging skin after being spayed, so they won’t have the visible slight belly tuck.  This loose skin is different than hanging fat.  From above, she will still have the waist line behind the rib cage.

Number one cause of excess weight and feline obesity is dry cat food

Are you waiting for some good news?  There is good news.  Helping your cat achieve a healthy weight is really quite simple and just requires a bit of patience and tough love on your part.  The number one cause of cats getting overweight and obese is dry cat food (kibble), primarily if they are free fed.  Please DO NOT free feed your cat.  Dry cat food is not REAL cat food.  It’s the human equivalent to junk food.  Dry cat food is manufactured for the convenience of humans.  Dry cat food will keep your cat alive and surviving, yes, I cannot argue that.  But it is truly not real cat food, it is not natural for them, and it does not help them be in thriving health.  Dry cat food is very addicting, as the manufacturers spray it with flavor enhancers (animal digest) to entice cats.  If they did not do this, the food would smell and taste awful due to its ingredients and heavy processing.

Cats are obligate carnivores

“Obligate” means cats need pure muscle meat, are designed to eat pure meat, and require moisture from their food to thrive.  Adding water to dry food is not the same. Feeding cats dry food withholds from them what they need and require.  I used to feed my cats dry food, until I realized how vitally important their dietary needs are for thriving health. Also consider that because dry cat food is not high enough in the kind of protein and moisture cats require, they will not feel satisfied and nourished. They may eat and eat more and more, trying to get the nourishment their anatomy requires. 

My cat won’t eat canned food or raw meat…

Something I frequently hear from cat parents is “My cat won’t eat canned food (or raw meat).”  One such story comes from a family who adopted a kitten from me that I rescued, fostered and fed raw meat.  I had not seen the kitten for 10 months.  I saw her when she just turned one year old when I was going to pet sit for them.  They told me before I arrived that “she is so big when she stretches out, and her head is so small.”

When I walked into the house and saw the young cat, I gasped.  She is at a number 8 on the chart above.  This is why her head appeared so small in relation to her body.  When they adopted the kitten, they asked my advice on what, how much, and when to feed a growing kitten.  But, they chose to free fed her because they “read it somewhere on the internet to do that.” (My recommendations certainly went unheard.) Being left alone all day, sometimes for 12 hours,  boredom probably played a part in her overeating.  (And I will probably never again adopt a single kitten out to a family that is gone all day.  There is such a high risk of boredom for the cat, and eating helps satisfy the loneliness, much like a person might do.)

Tough Love

They fed her canned food and free fed dry while they were gone all day at work because she was still a kitten, and kittens need four meals per day.  But then she refused to eat the canned, so they quickly gave up and fed her only dry cat food.   A little tough love would have kept her from becoming addicted to the dry food.  Dry food is convenient for humans but does not make it the right or best food to feed a cat.  One day, they realized “she is kinda fat.”  They took her to the vet, who said the cat is at least 2 lbs. overweight.  (Remember:  1 lb. of excess fat on a cat is equivalent to 40 lbs. in a human, which made this poor kitty 80 lbs overweight in human weight!)

As I attempted to play with her during pet sitting, when she ran her back legs splayed out–something they did not do when I fostered her as a kitten.  She was hindered by a big blob of belly fat swinging back and forth.  She could only run and jump for approximately 15 seconds.  Then she flopped on the floor out of breath.  And she was only one year old!  They told me that they had just recently stopped free feeding her because the veterinarian said she must lose weight.

Dry food causes feline obesity and it won’t help your cat lose weight

If it caused the excess fat in the first place, it won’t help your cat lose much fat.  He may lose a little if you stop free feeding and decrease the quantity fed, but your cat will not lose all the fat.  His muscles will still be mushy feeling–not lean and muscular as he should be.  The cause of the mushy feeling is this.  They require meat protein and fat for energy, not vegetable, grain or bean protein–common ingredients in dry cat food.  Dry cat food is too low in meat protein.  For the required energy a cat needs, the cat’s body steals protein from muscles breaking them down, resulting in that mushy feeling.  The carbohydrates in the vegetables, beans and/or grains turn into fat tissue, which accumulates over the years.

Tigers and Lions

cat,cats,raw feeding cats

You know how tigers and lions look?  Lean and muscular.  On the chart above, a “4” or “5.”  That is where you want your cat.  Canned food and/or raw meat and exercise will get your cat to a healthy weight, strong lean muscles and optimal health.  Some cats will switch over easily.  Many will not.  Especially if they have been on dry food most their life, and if they are older.  They can become addicted — carbohydrate junkies — even at an early age.  You’ll be required to take on the parent role and use tough love.  Neither of you will die during the transition, even though your cat may act like it.  Many cat parents will give in and give up.  Want help to make the transition easier for both of you?  My Thrive Programs support you both to “Banish the Bag” and help your cat achieve a healthy weight.  Start now here.

For my recommended list of the healthiest, best canned cat foods, read here.

If you know anyone with a cat who is at risk of eating too much for her or his own good, please share this article with them.  It could be a matter of life or death for their cat. 


Body Condition Chart courtesy of Royal Canin.  NOTE:  I do not recommend this line of food, they just happen to have the most detailed chart.  There are much healthier, more cat appropriate canned cat foods.

Tabby/White Cat Photo courtesy of Frin Frodd @ Creative Commons

Feline Obesity Related Health Problems
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9 thoughts on “Feline Obesity Related Health Problems

  • September 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm


    You’ve outdone, yourself this time.

    This is probably the best, most informative guide I’ve ever seen on feline obesity and how cats can become addicted to dried cat foods.

    • September 4, 2016 at 1:33 am

      Hi Jason, thank you for taking the time to read this article. Yes, I’m really invested in helping cat parents to get the most out of their cat’s nine lives and provide them with thriving health to the best of their ability.

  • June 16, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    MyYum Yum (see The Mikado) is overweight due to excessive kibbles.
    She didn’t begin to gain weight until after she was spayed in January. She lives with her Brother, Lucas, and her little sister, Kissy. Kissy is also developing a girlish figure, but Kissy is more active. No more fishcookies.
    I’m going to divide up the wet food by thirds, as usual, but instead of 4 feedings a day, I’m going t feed them at 6am, Noon and 6pm. I’m retied, so I can monitor Yum Yum’s food intake closely. I can adjust quantity as needed, but if I need more advice, I’ll contact you. I’ll let you know how my plan is working. Thanks.

    • June 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Hi Lesa! Thank you for visiting Cats Gone Healthy and for being a conscious cat parent. Their weight, be it healthy or too high, is mostly in our hands. I recently learned that spaying and neutering does mess up their hormone levels and can cause excess skin to hang from the belly and cause some weight gain in some cats. So, it’s up to us as their guardians to feed them the best food and appropriate amounts for them that won’t cause weight gain, as well as making sure they get to play “hunt” for exercise if they are kept indoors. I admire you for taking action. You did not mention if they are kittens or adults, but that you’ve been feeding 4 times a day, going to 3 times. Kittens up to 6 months should be fed 4 times per day. From 6 months to one year old, 3 times per day. From one year old and forward, just two times per day. Cats do sleep a lot, and don’t need as much food as many cat lovers feed their cats. Yes, please do keep me updated. And if you need assistance, I am here to help you with my Thrive Programs, as well as articles on my blog. You’re welcome!

  • July 12, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you for your advice. When I try looking for my 1 year olds ribs I have to press kinda hard to find them but they do feel like the palm up knuckles.

    • July 12, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Dianna, you’re welcome! It’s my goal to help educate as many cat parents as possible so we can have the healthiest kitties as possible. Their health is in our hands.

  • August 17, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you, this is so helpful. I have two cats the same age (sisters). One is perfect in weight and very active. The other is very short in the legs with a prominent primordial pouch and sits a lot. We feed them the same quantity of food (1 pouch of wet food twice a day which is high in meat content) and make sure one doesn’t eat the other’s food. The shorter cat has become overweight. I think from a cat sitter over feeding treats while we were away a few months ago. I think I need to put her on a diet but I’m not sure how best to do do this as she doesn’t appear to be over eating. I will take her to the vet but any advice would be appreciated.

  • March 12, 2019 at 2:51 am

    I’ve been actively trying to get my cats to lose weight. Dry food and free range feeding was the issue for one of them. He’s good now. The other is still very much overweight. I’m not sure what else I can do. She has always been a very anxious cat and scared of everything. The person who sold me the cats said they weren’t socialized well as kittens. The boy has always been very friendly and have had zero issues. He’s very active! The girl is the opposite. She wouldn’t let me even touch her for months after I got her. She still won’t let me pick her up and hold her and they are 8 years old! Getting her to play or be active is unfortunately not realistic so I’m left with diet as the way to weight loss. They now eat wet food that consists of chicken and kale per the label. It’s from Smalls and arrives frozen in dry ice. Quality (and expensive!) food that I found when researching what wet cat foods were the best over a year ago.

    Last vet visit several years ago she weighed 21 pounds. I don’t believe in vaccinations after the first set so don’t take them to the vet often. Vet told me to cut her food in half. I did that and didn’t work. I then stopped dry food completely and researched about how many calories a cat her size should have to maintain (20 calories per pound) and then reduced that further to promote weight loss. She gets around 300 calories per day. She probably still weighs 21 pounds. Can’t reach her bottom to clean herself.

    What should I do? I feel like there’s got to be something else going on with her that’s impacting her ability to lose weight. Her brother was maybe 18 pounds at the vet but is definitely down closer to 15 now. Maybe less as he’s so active that there’s really no lose skin on him.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can share!

    • March 18, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Karla, yes, it definitely sounds like something else going on other than just calories. The fact she cannot reach her bottom to clean herself can be very detrimental to her health. It sounds like you cannot get her to play because she is so scared and anxious? I can relate, having a half-feral cat for 4 years and he is still afraid of me–at times. But he does play and sleep with me and loves belly rubs. He has come a long way with a lot of patience and multiple approaches. Your cat must not feel well at all if she does not/has not ever played, even as a kitten. Have you tried any flower essences? They can be very helpful for many cats. Has your vet recommended blood work to check her thyroid? I would get another opinion from another veterinarian. I recommend a holistic vet if there is one near you, or within 30 miles. Such a veterinarian can do muscle testing to recommend exactly which flower essences or homeopathic remedies your cat needs. If there isn’t one in your neighborhood, or you have blood work done and it’s all good, I would love to consult with you about your precious girl. It’s always important to meet individually to get the best possible answer tailored specifically to your cat’s health and behavior. The fact she cannot reach her bottom to clean herself can be very detrimental to her health, as she can develop a severe urinary tract infection. So, it is crucial that her weight and behavior be addressed as soon as possible. If you need help, here is the link to set up a consultation (one 60-minute call and one 30-minute follow-up call) with me: Schedule Here


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