How to tell if your cat is underweight and what to do about it

Cats are pretty good at maintaining their own weight and will eat – or not – depending on how hungry they are. But not all cats can do that, and there are a few situations where a cat can eat too much or too little.

Today we’re discussing what to do when your cat eats too little.

Underweight cats aren’t as common as overweight ones, but it’s still something we need to monitor if we want them to live their best life.

If you have a naturally thin cat and they have always been that way, there’s no reason to be concerned. But if your cat hasn’t always been thin and is losing weight over time, there’s likely a reason for it.

That’s what we’re going to tackle in this post.

How to tell if your cat is underweight

Putting your cat on the scales isn’t the best way to monitor their weight. It may give you a rough idea, but unless your cat has been the same weight their whole life and has suddenly lost or gained weight, it’s a little inexact.

If your cat is a healthy weight, you should:

  • Feel a thin layer of fat and skin over their body
  • Not be able to see their ribs or spine through the fur
  • See a small stomach behind their ribs
  • Notice their usual energy and willingness to play and engage.

If you see all these things, your cat is likely not underweight. If their behaviour changes, you may want to visit a vet – just in case.

There are some physical signs your cat is underweight, which can give you a clue:

  • You can clearly see or feel your cat’s ribs
  • Your cat has a distinct waistline that’s very obvious
  • Your cat doesn’t have a belly or it’s tucked up behind the ribs
  • Their spine is clearly visible and obvious under their fur
  • There’s no thin layer of fat over their body
  • They have a lack of energy or stamina.

These are all signs of an underweight cat, but they can also indicate other problems. If your cat is happy and healthy, try some of the tricks below to manage their diet.

If they aren’t their usual happy self, take them to a vet just to make sure.

Risks of having an underweight cat

The risks of having an underweight cat depend on how much and how quickly they lose weight.

If your feline friend is a standard-sized cat one day and then skinny a short time later, there’s a reason for it.

The main risk of having an underweight cat is poor nutrition. They won’t be getting what they need from their meals, so their body won’t be able to fight off infection and cope with minor injuries and diseases like it usually does.

Your cat may also lack energy and their usual playfulness. And while this is not physically dangerous, it can have a psychological impact on both you and your cat.

We won’t labour the point here. Essentially, if you have a thin cat and they weren’t always that way, it’s time to do something about it.

How to encourage an underweight cat to eat more

Just like their humans, cats don’t always share the whole story of what they’re eating and when.

You may be giving them food, but that doesn’t mean they are eating it or keeping it down.

Set mealtimes are an excellent way to monitor your cat’s food intake. You can maintain the schedule with an automated pet feeder if you’re out of the house.

Alternatively, if your cat prefers to eat little and often, free feeding could be a good alternative to set mealtimes. As long as they are eating the required daily intake of calories, to help them gain extra weight, both methods are effective.

Here are some tips to help encourage an underweight cat to eat more. With any luck, you can turn your skinny cat into a healthy cat in no time at all!

  • Make sure their food is not near their litter tray or toilet area, as cats don’t like to mix the two activities.
  • Ensure there’s also a gap between their water and their food, as they prefer space between them.
  • Move cat food away from the door, so they can relax and enjoy their dinner without being on their guard.
  • Buy good quality food that’s appropriate for their age – kitten food for kittens, adult food for adults and senior food for older cats.
  • Consider changing the food if your cat isn’t eating. They can go off food for no reason, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • If your cat isn’t eating at their set mealtimes, it might be worth trying free feeding and let them graze on their food throughout the day.
  • Feed them both wet food and dry food, with the dry food available to graze on between mealtimes.
  • Use a microchip cat feeder if you have more than one cat to stop one cat from eating the other’s food.
  • Use a water fountain to simulate running water to keep your cat hydrated.
  • Monitor mealtimes from a distance to see if there are any changes in behaviour.
  • Clean your cat’s food and water bowl every day.
  • Remove strong colours, smells and sensations from around the dinner area.
  • Add treats to their day – fresh fish, tuna (oil or water, not brine), plain cooked chicken or something else.

Try any or all of these over time and monitor your cat’s condition. If they gain weight, you may have tackled the problem. If not, perhaps it’s time for a visit to the vet.

Helping your cat gain weight

A thin cat or skinny cat is not their natural condition. They should have enough fat to protect their organs and keep them warm, but not so much that they wobble as they walk!

Cats will usually manage their own food intake, but sometimes they need a little help.

If you recognise any of the symptoms above, you may have an underweight cat. It usually isn’t anything to worry about, unless that weight loss was fast, but you should do something about it.

If all else fails or you’re concerned, take your cat to a vet for a check-up. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!