5 Health Risks for Overweight Cats

Overweight cats are unfortunately at risk for a host of health issues. Find out what they are — and how to prevent cat obesity in the first place.

A fat cat spread out.
A fat cat spread out. Photography ©Casey Elise Photography.

Fat cats might be adorable, but, unfortunately, there are some pretty serious health concerns associated with cats being overweight. Kitty obesity has been linked to a variety of medical conditions that can impact your cat’s quality of life.

Dr. Renee Rucinsky, a board-certified feline practitioner and a DABVP, Feline Specialty, cautions that “Cats who are overweight are known to have shorter life spans, and the associated health problems can be deadly to the cat.” Not only that, treating weight-related health complications can be very expensive and time consuming. Dr. Rucinsky advises it’s far better to do whatever you can to prevent your cat from becoming overweight. So what is an overweight cat at risk for? Let’s take a look at the most common of these conditions.

1. Diabetes

An orange cat getting a shot or injection.
Keep in mind that cats with diabetes need shots. Photography ©krblokhin | Getty Images.

Diabetes is a serious condition that is challenging and labor intensive to treat. Dr. Heather Loenser, senior veterinary officer with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) explains, “Overweight cats, even just a few pounds, are at an increased risk of diabetes. Diabetes management requires insulin injections often every 12 hours for the rest of the cat’s life. Let me say that again … injections — twice a day — until the cat dies. That is a HUGE commitment and if it can be prevented, it will improve the quality of life of and the relationship between a cat caregiver and the cat.”

2. High blood pressure

A fat overweight calico cat.
Overweight cats are at risk for high blood pressure. Photography ©pyotr021 | Getty Images.

High blood pressure or hypertension, as it is sometimes called, can cause major health impacts for your cat like strokes and blindness due to the cat’s retina detaching. Cats who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of having high blood pressure.

3. Bone/joint damage

A fat cat licking his lips on a scale.
Fat cats may suffer from bone or joint damage. Photography ©sae1010 | Getty Images.

Being overweight can take a toll on your cat’s bones and joints, and unfortunately joint pain isn’t easy to combat. Dr. Loenser says that arthritis pain “can be difficult to treat because cats don’t metabolize common painkillers in a way that allows them to take them daily, indefinitely, like many people and dogs.

4. Hepatic lipidosis

A fat overweight hairless cat.
Fatty liver disease is another issue that overweight cats face. Photography ©yukipon | Getty Images.

Hepatic lipidosis is more commonly known as fatty liver disease. It is specifically connected to abrupt decrease in caloric intake because of illness, a cat being kept away from food or being offered food that the cat won’t eat. Dr. Rucinsky cautions that when it comes to overweight cats “putting a ‘diet’ food out and taking the attitude that the cat will eat when she gets hungry just is way too risky.” Even if you and your vet are trying to change your cat to a weight management diet, hepatic lipidosis can occur in just a couple of days, and treatment requires inserting a feeding tube. Symptoms include: not eating, jaundiced skin and weight loss.

5. Skin problems

A fat overweight cat scratching.
Overweight cats are at risk for skin conditions. Photography ©Heorhii Aryshtevych | Getty Images.

Overweight cats aren’t just unhealthy inside, their skin and coats can begin to have problems as well. Itchy skin, and flaky and greasy coats can all be side effects of a cat being overweight. Dr. Loenser explains that this is because overweight cats are simply unable to reach certain parts of their bodies to properly groom. The base of the tail and the back are two areas overweight cats often have particular difficulty with grooming.

How to tell if your cat is overweight

A fat orange cat.
How can you tell if your cat is overweight in the first place? Photography ©Robert Kirk | Getty Images.

Dr. Loenser encourages all cat parents to talk to their veterinarians about what an ideal weight for your cat is (most cats should be between 9 and 11 pounds). This is something every cat owner should be thinking about even if your cat is not (yet) overweight. Once you know a healthy weight for your cat, monitor his weight regularly at home between vet appointments.

“You should be able to feel ribs without too much effort, and looking at the cat from above, the profile should be relatively straight. When we see cats that from above look more round than rectangular, that’s a problem,” Dr. Rucinsky says.

What to feed an overweight cat

When selecting food for your cat, regardless of his weight, consult with a veterinarian familiar with feline nutrition. “Cats require no carbohydrates in their diets — most cats would do best and be less likely to be overweight if they never ate dry food!” Dr. Rucinsky explains.

When seeing overweight patients Dr. Rucinsky cautions that she is looking at the kinds of calories being consumed, if the cat is eating too many carbs and that she creates an individual diet plan for each cat.

How to feed an overweight cat

But it isn’t always just about the food, she says. “Sometimes the type of food is OK, but we choose to feed in a different way, with food puzzles or other things that stimulate the cat’s need to hunt. And don’t forget the other side of weight loss — exercise! Even trying to get an overweight cat to move around five extra minutes every day can be a great start on a weight loss plan. Set a time, and get that feather toy out!”

Age matters when it comes to your cat’s weight

Monitoring your cat’s weight is important throughout the lifetime of your cat. From kitten to senior cats, being overweight will impact the health of your cats in negative ways. Dr. Renee Rucinsky, a board-certified feline practitioner, cautions that the younger a cat becomes overweight the more concerning it is for his health. This is because the younger the cat is, the earlier he will start having obesity-related health conditions.

Slim down your overweight cat.
Photography — All Icons ©Getty Images. ©Photoartbox | Getty Images.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Casey Elise Photography. 

About the author

Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author whose novels have been honored by the American Library Association and the Lambda Literary Foundation. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor who shares her home and writing life with three dogs, two bossy senior cats and a formerly feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

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6 thoughts on “5 Health Risks for Overweight Cats”

  1. Pingback: How To Help Your Cat Lose Weight [10 Easy & Fast Solutions]

  2. What do I do when I have six cats and only one of hem I seriously weight, and two are seriously underweight? The overweight cat steals the food from all of the others, and we can’t deprive the underweight cats of food.

    1. I have 5 cats and one is overweight; one of my females. She doesn’t eat anymore than the others. I have her sibling from same litter and she is fine but obviously from different father.
      In the morning I divide up a total of 8.8 oz. wet food. My large male Maine Coon gets the most and Ruby (chubby) gets the least. They have an automatic feeder with grain free high end food that I put away at aprox. 5pm daily.
      Same advice for me?

  3. I feed threes Ferals , They all get the same food all the time they do not leave my property but one of them is so fat he’s a year and a half all needs 25 pounds black and white kitty I don’t know how I can help him in anyway?

    1. Find a weight control cat food……and only feed the suggested amount on bag .And dont give him amount it says for the weight he is.Give him the amount for the weight he shud be.

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