How to Know if Your Pet is Underweight Symptoms and Signs your Cat or Dog May be Underweight

How to Know if Your Pet is Underweight
expert or vet photo
vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

Several symptoms can point to an underweight pet. Here's what you'll need to look for to watch your pet's weight.

To start with the obvious, the major symptom of an underweight pet is an abrupt loss of weight, or a lower-than-average body size compared to what’s typical for your pet’s breed. But the symptoms of problematic weight loss stretch beyond pounds and scales. Discover other revealing signs of your pet’s weight loss.

Eating Less

Is your pet eating less? A decreased appetite is common in the summertime, but could be a cause for concern, especially if it’s occurring in conjunction with some of the other symptoms listed below. If your cat or dog is new to your family, keep in mind that often pets eat less than the guidelines listed on the back of the bag of dry food or can of wet food. The measurements on food containers are just an average, so some pets will eat a bit more, and others a bit less.

Gastrointestinal Distress

As pets lose weight, you may observe them vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. Pets may also regurgitate food, or seem to have difficulty swallowing.

Visible Signs

Your cat or dog may seem lethargic, and have a lower energy level than usual due to a lack of nutrients. Underweight cats and dogs might move around less and avoid exercise. You might notice that your pet’s coat looks matted or dull, and that their grooming isn’t as thorough. With weight loss, your pet can also start to lose muscle mass. When pets are extremely underweight, their ribs can become visible.

How to Detect Weight Loss

Just as it can be hard to notice when a pet gains weight, it can be a challenge to detect weight loss since the change is often gradual, and not a dramatic overnight shift. If you know your pet’s typical weight range from vet visits, you can weigh your pet on the scale to check for a difference. If you’re dealing with a new pet, or aren’t familiar with your cat or dog’s weight, try standing above your pet and looking down. Pets should have a definite waist indentation, but an exaggerated hourglass figure could be a sign that your pet is underweight.

Another way to see if your pet is too skinny is to feel along his sides--this is actually the same way you’d check for obesity. When pets are a healthy weight, you can feel their ribs with a thin layer of fat over them. With overweight pets, you won’t be able to detect the ribs because of an obscuring layer of fat. Underweight pets have the reverse problem, and lack any padding between their skin and ribs. You should not feel like you are touching bones directly as you move your hand along your cat or dog’s sides.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if a cat is underweight?

If a cat is underweight, you will notice many changes in its body and attitude. The backbone and ribs of an underweight cat can be easily seen. You can even feel them if you gently touch the back of your cat or its belly. This happens because the cat loses its body fat. The minimal fat cover means you can also view the cat’s waist from above. You might even notice the cat’s abdomen tucked slightly inward. Underweight cats also tend to be less active. They also end up with a dull coat.

What causes cats to be underweight?

Two situations can cause cats to be underweight. First, it is possible that your cat is not eating enough. In this case, it could be that the food your cat is eating is failing to provide sufficient nutrition. It is also likely that your cat has a high metabolism and requires more food than what you are feeding it. In some cases, your cat might refuse to eat because of existing medical conditions. The second reason could be that your cat is spending more fuel than it is consuming. That means it is more active and burns more calories than its daily calorie intake.

What does an underweight cat feel like?

An underweight cat feels dull and sick. It usually has a pale face. You can also see the ribs and backbone. Upon touching the back or rib area, you can also feel them. An underweight cat tends to move slowly and avoid too much physical movement. It is usually tired and will in no way engage in play no matter how much you tempt it.

How do you treat an underweight cat?

Start by finding food that your cat likes or enjoys. You also have to ensure that the food you pick meets the cat’s nutritional needs. To ensure a normal weight, try feeding your cat small portions, but frequently. This will help your cat stay energized even if it is spending too many calories playing. You should also use treats to tempt your cat into eating food that is good for them but they refuse to eat.

Will Rice help cats gain weight?

Yes, rice can help cats gain weight. However, some cats are allergic to rice or might be sensitive to grains. Do not feed these cats rice at any cost.

Can a cat recover from malnutrition?

Yes, a cat can recover from malnutrition if you feed and treat it properly.
More on Recognizing Underweight Pets

Try the Tool: Is Your Dog a Healthy Weight?
What's Your Dog's Ideal Weight?

Great Cat Foods

Wellness Chicken Formula Canned Cat Food
Merrick Before Grain Chicken Dry Cat Food

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

Was this article helpful?

You May Also Like

Image for 9 Sick Dog Symptoms to Watch Out For
9 Sick Dog Symptoms to Watch Out For

Warning Signs That Your Dog Could Be Sick

Read More