Cuddly cats are cute...but not always healthy. For many cats an overly ample waistline is a downpayment on health problems down the line. For example, carrying too many layers of love is a known risk factor for problems such as FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease), diabetes, cancer, joint diseases, and arthritis.
As a caring cat owner you want your fur friend to lead a long and happy life, which begs the question "What should my cat weigh?" Being weight aware is a great first step to keeping your cat healthy, but asking how heavy should a cat be, is a question fraught with problems.
The Problem with an Average Cat Weight
Blanket formulas for working out a cat's ideal weight can be misleading. Just as people have different physiques, so do cats. And in the same way people have different life styles and are more or less prone to weight gain, so are cats.
To recommend an average weight can cause more problems than it solves. For example, a petite, female house cat weighing in at an 'average' 7lbs, may well be overweight, whereas an entire outdoor tom cat will be underweight. In terms of good health, what matters most is how much fat they carry...in other words the cat's body condition score (BCS).
A Better Way to Determine Your Cat's Ideal Weight
Putting a number on your cat's weight is only useful as a means of checking progress (if Kitty need to lose or gain weight.) What really matters is if they have a healthy level of fat cover or not. This is monitored through a technique called body condition scoring (BCS)
Body Condition Scoring
Body condition scoring is an easy skill to learn. You assess your fur-friend's BCS by studying their body shape and by feeling the amount of fat over their bones.
A fit cat has an hour-glass shape. When looked at from the side they have a neat tucked up waist, and when regarded from above have a narrowing where their waist is. (So dangly tummies or barrel-like sides are a big no-no.)
It sounds target to say it, but their head should be in proportion to their body. If the head looks too small, the odds are that their body is too big!
Feeling for Fat Cover
The next step is to see if you can feel the cat's bones or not. You should be able to count the cat's ribs when you apply moderate pressure with your fingertips. If you can't find the ribs or have to squish fat to find them, then the cat is overweight. The same applies for their backbone and pelvis.
Likewise if you can see bones sticking through the fur or their bones feel hard because of a lack of fat cover, then the cat is underweight.
There are lots of great charts to be found, which illustrate these points, which you will find helpful.
Body Scoring: So What?
Learning to body score is a great tool for getting your fur-friend to their ideal size (and weight!). You simply score the cat each month, and adjust the amount of food they get according to what you find.
For example, if the cat is overweight you put the cat onto a weight loss diet. Then recheck the BCS next month. If the cat is still overweight, you cut their ration by 5 - 10 %. Then a month later, do their BCS. Still overweight? Cut the ration by another 5 - 10% ...and so on.
When you get to feeling their ribs, you've find how much to feed your cat. Job done. But check again the next month, just to make sure they aren't getting too thin. But if they are, no hassle, just increase their food by 5 - 10%. This provides a foolproof way of reacting to your cat's waistline and nipping weighty issues in the bud before they become a problem.
Even better is this technique works for young, growing cats every bit as much as adults. And when they finish growing, you'll spot them gaining weight before it becomes a problem.
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVSVeterinary surgeon, Linkedin
Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow.