I can feel my cat’s spine when I pet him

If you can feel your cat’s spine when you pet him, he might be underweight. I say “might” because it depends on how pronounced the spine is and how firmly you push into the skin covering the vetebrae. I consider my cat to be an ideal weight. Sometimes, I can just about feel his spine. I don’t want to feel it because I don’t think I should be able to feel it. However, I think this is more a personal preference because it is okay to be able to feel your cat’s spine provided it is not pronounced. It should be a subtle feeling, just a hint of the presence of the vertebrae of the spine beneath subcutaneous fat and skin. And don’t push too hard into the spine. If you do you are bound to feel it.

Perfect weight

Perhaps like most other people, I would expect that a cat of perfect weight should have enough fat to cover the spine so that it can’t be felt when gently petting her but don’t obsess over it because if the bones are felt almost imperceptibly I am sure it is okay.

Gabriel – Gabs – Gabby. Photo: Michael at PoC.
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It’s not that my cat has lost his appetite or underfeeds. It’s just that he is very active and eats a normal amount of food which slightly predisposes him to being slender. I think he’s in the right weight range but occasionally very slightly underweight or let’s say fighting fit.

Poor appetite typical health symptom

You will see starving cats. You don’t have to feel the spine as it is painfully visible which is distressing to see. Obviously if a domestic cat is underweight (and it is normally quite clear that they are) you have to look for the underlying reasons. Being underweight is a very common health problem symptom. It should be accompanied by a loss of appetite which is also a very commonplace symptom for feline health problems.

Weight loss in very elderly cats suffering from a chronic condition is commonplace but set against this health issue is the prevention of obesity which is a very important factor in prolonging the life of an older cat.

My cat shortly before I said goodbye
My very old female cat shortly before I said goodbye looking painfully underweight. Photo: Michael

Encourage eating

Nasal infections caused by the feline viral respiratory disease complex may result in reduced appetite. You can encourage a cat to feed by providing his favourite aromatic foods. You can add juice from a can of tuna to regular cat food and gently warm the food to make it smell more (cats use their noses to decide if they like the food). An antihistamine can be used as an appetite stimulant; cyproheptadine. Your veterinarian can prescribe it if they think it suitable. The amino acid, lysine, can be added as a supplement and it may help decrease herpesvirus in the respiratory tract.

Palpating to check weight

The veterinarians say that there should be a layer of subcutaneous fat over internal structures such as ribs which provides padding and installation but should not be too thick. Cat owners should be able to feel a cat’s ribs as individual structures but not see them. Looking from above, a cat should have a narrowing of their body below the rib cage and above the hips. Being able to feel the vertebrae is okay provided it is not too obvious.


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