FAT CAT vs Skinny Cat

By: Jennifer Oldfield

So you’re thinking, what’s the big deal, right?  I mean many of us carry extra weight, it’s just part of life… isn’t it?  As someone who is by no means a skinny cat, it is a big deal.  There are many side effects to carrying access weight that we don’t tend to think about.  As a human it is hard to shed those access pounds, we have to exert our own self-control, which can be so tough with the onslaught of delicious food choices and a busy, often sedentary life style.

cat-eating-food-in-bowlOur cats on the other hand are at our mercy – we control the food.   We can control how much and when they get to eat.  Unfortunately many of us grew up thinking you just pour food in a bowl, walk away and do it again when the bowl gets low or (God forbid) empty!  If you currently feed your cat this way I want you to do a self-test:

  • Measure how much food you tend to pour in the bowl (is it half a cup, a whole cup, two cups?)
  • Pay attention to how long it takes for the bowl to be empty (half a day, a whole day, several days)
  • Now mark down how many pets eat out of that bowl
  • Calculate who ate how much per day
    • Example: there is 2 cups and it takes a day and a half for the bowl to be empty with one cat eating out of it: approx. 1 and 1/3 cup eaten per day

So how did you fair?  Is there more than one animal eating from the bowl?  Did you realize you have no way of knowing who ate how much?  Often when there is more than one eating from the same dish you tend to have a heavy cat and a slim cat.  It is obvious who is getting more, the question is, is the slim one getting enough?

Did you know on average a cat should eat only 1/2 cup (240-250 calories) PER DAY!  If you have discovered that indeed you either don’t know how much your cat is eating or they are definitely eating too much, don’t fret.  One of our Nutrition Consultants will gladly assist you with transitioning to meal feeding and finding the right amount of food for your particular pet.

Now, let’s look at what the extra food, creating the fat, is doing to the body;Fat Kitty

The red arrows indicate two areas of fat pockets (there is more below the pink arrow, however we aren’t as concerned with that for the purpose of this blog).  Notice the compression on the stomach, intestines and colon (plus the other organs above and beside those are hard to even see).  Also note that the fat pockets will also be pushing into the chest cavity compressing the area available for the heart and lungs.

The pink arrow indicates the colon which has an uphill “S” shape making it so that the body has to work harder to move fecal matter out.  This is part of why overweight cats often have issues with constipation.

Looking at this x-ray it may not seem too bad, but let’s compare to a cat that is at a nice lean weight:

Skinny kitty

Notice how the stomach, intestines and colon are able to spread out in the body cavity.  Plus we can see other organs we couldn’t see on the previous x-ray.   The pink arrow here shows the colon again.  This time you can see that it makes almost a direct straight path out causing no extra work or strain to defecate.

Aside from cats, dogs would also have issues with excess fat causing strain on the organs in the body.  For both species fat pushing on the lungs and heart mean that both have to work harder.  Often pets that are overweight have difficulty breathing.  In dogs you notice they pant more.  Think of it is this way: in the heat we often have issues breathing, we find the air heavy on the lungs.  Now imagine not only breathing that heavy air but that your lungs are unable to expand fully.   Breath is more rapid and shallow – you can’t get that nice deep breath.

The good part is that, because as mentioned at the beginning, we control the food, it is easier to work to get your pet to lose weight than it is to do so for ourselves.  There are some fantastic diets available in-clinic that help to increase metabolism of your pet without needing to decrease the amount of food they eat.  There are also other store brands that are reduced in fat and calorie content to help, if not lose weight, at least prevent the further gain of weight.  Plus there are easy ways to increase the activity of your pet to help burn off that access weight.  Yes, even your cat can increase activity at home to loss weight.  See Amaya’s success video.

When deciding to proceed with a weight loss plan, keep in mind loss should be gradual.  Losing weight too quickly for a pet can be detrimental to their health.  Seek guidance from your veterinarian: contact us to make an appointment or to speak to one of our Nutrition Consultants today.


Body Fat Index – What Does That Mean?

We have all heard of BMI (body mass index)  – even if we weren’t sure what it stood for – we know it has to do with our body weight.  It indicates what is considered to be a healthy weight based on your height and age.  In animals we use the term BFI (body fat index) to determine how over (or under) weight a pet is.  The calculations are based on weight and specific measurements across the body to determine ideal body size.

We often don’t think of our pet being overweight when we are told they need to drop about 5 lbs.  We think – 5 lbs?, that’s it? – that isn’t very much at all.  Well it is true that 5 lbs isn’t much… on a adult human body that weighs over 120 lbs.  However 5 lbs on a dog that weighs only 30 lbs is about 20% of their total body mass.  Think of that on the average adult human.  Let’s say the adult is 145 lbs, 20% is 29 lbs!  Now that seems like a fair bit, doesn’t it?

To give an even better perspective let’s take a look at our Biggest Loser Contestants.  In this chart it shows each contestants weight, ideal weight, what that equates to in terms of BFI and how much weight they need to lose to reach an ideal weight.  Ideal weight is considered to be a BFI in the 20% range (from 16-25%) in both cats and dogs.

Contestant Starting Weight Ideal Weight Current BFI Lbs to Lose
JoJo 4.3 kg / 9.5 lbs 2.4 kg / 5.3 lbs 55.0% 4.2
Poko 9.6 kg / 21.1 lbs 5.4 kg / 11.9 lbs 54.6% 9.2
Piper 8.5 kg / 18.7 lbs 4.4 kg / 9.9 lbs 57.8% 8.8
Gunner 20.2 kg / 44.4 lbs 11.4 kg/ 25 lbs 54.6% 19.4
Lucky 9.1 kg /20 lbs 5.7 kg / 12.5 lbs 47.4% 7.5
Playdoh 5.7 kg / 12.5 lbs 4.6 kg / 10.1 lbs 35.0% 2.4
Aspen 38.6 kg / 85 lbs 23.6 kg / 52 lbs 50.9% 33

Now let’s look at these BFI’s on a human adult.  This chart shows how much an average adult male would weigh if he were the same BFI percentage as the animals above and how much he would need to lose to get back to the healthy weight.

Healthy Adult Male   OverWeight  Lbs to Lose
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs if 55% BFI then    –> 148.6 kg / 327 lbs 143.3
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs  if 54.6% BFI then –> 147.2 kg / 323.8 lbs 140.1
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs  if 57.8% BFI then –> 158.4 kg / 348.5 lbs 164.8
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs  if 54.6% BFI then –> 147.2 kg / 323.8 lbs 140.1
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs  if 47.4% BFI then –> 127 kg / 279.4 lbs 95.7
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs  if 35% BFI then –> 102.7 kg / 226 lbs 42.3
83.5 kg / 183.7 lbs  if 50.9% BFI then –> 136.8 kg / 299.6 lbs 115.9

Let’s look at a couple cross comparisons:  Jojo is at a BFI of 55% and ideally should weigh 5.3 lbs, she needs to lose 4.2 lbs to get to her ideal weight.  The same BFI in an adult male who should ideally weigh 184 lbs, would need to lose 143 lbs to achieve that goal.  The 2.4 lbs that Playdoh needs to lose is equal to this adult male needing to lose 42.3 lbs –  and in both cases that puts this male at a BFI of 20%, which in humans is actually still quite high.  Really this male would need to lose even more weight to reach what is considered a healthy BMI comparable to the equivalent healthy BFI in your pet.

Now let’s look at some food comparisons (provided by Hill’s Pet Nutrition):  whole bar

Did you know that for a 10 kg (22 lb) dog, 1 small oatmeal cookie is the caloric equivalent of 1 hamburger or 1 entire chocolate bar for a 5’4″ person?

How about  if a 5 kg (11lb) cat ate just one 28 gram cube of cheddar cheese? That would be the same as if a 5’4″ person ate 3 1/2 hamburgers or 4 whole chocolate bars!

What about if a 5’4″ person ate 3 hamburgers or 2 whole chocolate bars? That would be the same as a 10 kg (22lb) dog eating just 1 hot dog!

burgerNow what about that 5 kg (11 lb) cat again – what if he ate 1 whole potato chip or drank an 8 ounce glass of milk?  That would be the equivalent of a 5’4″ person eating 1/2 a hamburger or 1/2  a chocolate bar for the chip or 4 1/2 hamburgers or 5 chocolate bars for that glass of milk.

It isn’t uncommon for us all to think – awe it is just a little treat.  It can’t hurt, and maybe if it only happened that rare once in a while, it wouldn’t be so bad, however, we need to remember to think of everything in terms of the lesser size our pets are compared to us.  If they are only 1/5 our size (or even less) than that treat that seems small to us, is probably really big for them.

There are certainly health risks that go along with an unhealthy weight.  As the body fat increases, so to does the risk for both cats and dogs on:

  • Shortened life expectancy
  • Diabetes
  • Reduces mobility
  • Arthritis
  • Increased physical injury
  • Respiratory disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis

and also for cats is an increased risk for:

  • Hepatic lipidosis (Fatty liver which can lead to liver failure)
  • Bladder stones

Now you are probably wondering how you can assess your pet at home to know if they are in the healthy range or heading their way towards unhealthy.  The images (provided by Hill’s Pet Nutrition) below show how your pet looks physically and how that corresponds with each BFI value.

BFI Charts1

 Dogs Ribs Shape from Above Shape from the Side
20 Slightly prominent, easily felt, thin fat cover Well proportioned lumbar waist Abdominal tuck present
30 Slightly to not prominent, can be felt, moderate fat cover Detectable lumbar waist Slight abdominal tuck
40 Not prominent, very difficult to feel, thick fat cover. Loss of lumbar waist, broadened back Flat to bulging abdomen
50 Not prominent, extremely difficult to feel, very thick fat cover. Markedly broadened back Marked abdominal bulge
60 Not prominent, impossible to feel, extremely thick fat cover. Extremely broadened back Severe abdominal bulge
70 Unidentifiable, impossible to feel, extremely thick fat cover Extremely broadened back, bulging mid-section Very severe abdominal bulge

BFI Charts



Abdomen Shape from Above

Shape from the Side

20 Prominent, very easy to feel Loose abdominal skin, easy to feel abdominal contents Marked hourglass Moderate to slight abdominal tuck


Not prominent, easy to feel Loose abdominal skin with minimum fat, easy to feel abdominal contents Slight hourglass/lumbar waist No abdominal tuck


Not prominent, can feel Obvious skin fold with moderate fat, easy to feel abdominal contents Lumbar waist Slight abdominal bulge


Not prominent, difficult to feel Heavy fat pad, difficult to feel abdominal contents Broadened back Moderate abdominal bulge


Not prominent, extremely difficult to impossible to feel Very heavy fat pad; indistinct from abdominal fat, impossible to feel abdominal contents Severely broadened back Severe abdominal bulge


Unidentifiable, impossible to feel Extremely heavy fat pad; indistinct from abdominal fat, impossible to feel abdominal contents Extremely broadened back Very severe abdominal bulge

One thing for us to remember is that our pets are certainly smaller than us and a little is really a LOT for them.  Reducing their weight even just a little towards the healthy ideal can go a long way in improving your pet’s quality of life and reducing their risk factors for certain health conditions.

If you have concerns about your pets weight, give us a call.  There are diets that are specifically designed to help your pet lose the weight without you feeling like you aren’t feeding them at all.  Many of our staff are trained nutrition counsellors and are here to assist you.