At Risk

An obese cat is more vulnerable to health problems.


Obesity is a major nutritional problem in cats and dogs in the United States. The incidence of obesity has been reported to be somewhere between 19 and 40 percent of all pets. A cat is said to be obese if the body weight is 20 percent greater than the optimal body weight.

The U.S. government periodically releases charts that show the ideal body weight for people of certain heights and age groups. Although no such precise chart exists for cats, veterinarians evaluate a cat’s weight based on a body condition scoring system chart. After weighing the cat, doing a visual assessment and performing a hands-on physical exam, veterinarians will evaluate the cat on a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being grossly obese. A score of about 4 or 5 is ideal. (See chart.)

Difficult to Diagnose
Obesity in a cat can make a veterinarian’s job more difficult. For example, it is harder to see and feel the veins in an overweight cat. Obtaining urine for urinalysis is difficult because it can be hard to locate the bladder in an overweight cat.

“Obesity prevents ready sampling of blood and urine for much-needed lab testing,” says Robert Marrazzo, DVM, a veterinarian and owner of The Cat Hospital at Palm Harbor, in Palm Harbor, Fla. Palpation — the act of gently feeling the internal organs using our hands — is an important part of the physical examination.

“Obesity prevents us from getting a good feel of your cat’s organs when we palpate their bellies,” Marrazzo says. “In a lean cat, we can appreciate the contours of organs, such as the kidneys, for example, while with an overweight cat, all we may be able to feel is the fat surrounding the kidneys.”

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