Should You be Able to Feel a Cat’s Spine?

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We all know cats come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From svelte to brawny, we want all our furry friends to be healthy. Maybe you’ve noticed the distinct feel of your cat’s spine while petting it, and it has you concerned. Should you be able to feel a cat’s spine? We’ve done some research and have some important information for you.

When running your hand down the length of your cat’s back, you should be able to feel the cat’s spine. However, you should not be able to feel each vertebra. There is a layer of muscle/fat between the spine and the skin, and if this layer is sufficient, the cat’s spine should not be knobby. Also, the spine should never be visible.

Now that you know it is okay to feel your cat’s spine let’s discuss what an unhealthy spine in a cat would look and feel like. Many things could cause an underweight cat. Continue reading to learn more.

A man stroking his cat outside his house, Should You be Able to Feel a Cat's Spine?

How Do You Know If Your Cat Is Too Skinny?

First of all, be aware any health concerns should be addressed by your cat’s veterinarian. The advice in this article is for educational purposes only and is in no way a substitute for medical advice.

If your cat is underweight, you might be able to feel the knobs of their vertebrae when running a hand across their spine. In severe instances, the knobs and spine itself might be visible, as well as the cat’s ribs. If, when running your hands across your cat, any of their bones (ribs, spine, hips) feel extremely knobby like your knuckles, they could be underweight.

Why do cats lose weight?

There are a variety of reasons a cat might lose weight, from the obvious to the subtle. Only a veterinarian can diagnose whether or not your cat is indeed underweight, and if so, why. Common reasons for weight loss in cats include –

  1. Lack of food
  2. Oral and dental problems
  3. Stress and emotional trauma
  4. Diabetes
  5. Gastrointestinal issues
  6. Tumors and cancer
  7. Hyperthyroidism

Let’s take a close look at each potential reason.

1. Lack of or Difficulty in Finding Food

The most obvious reason for a thing cat is lack of caloric intake. This, in and of itself, could be caused by a variety of reasons.

If the cat is feral and has no access to food from humans, they could have difficulty finding enough prey added to the output of calories during the exertion of hunting. If the cat isn’t getting enough to eat, they will be thin and likely underweight. Feral cats are domesticated animals and need human care. Feeding ferals can help them maintain healthy body weight, but make sure to spay and neuter them as well.

A man stroking his cat outside his house

Read more: 9 Practical Ways For You To Help Feral Cats

2. Oral and dental issues

Cats might have issues with their mouths preventing them from eating, such as dental pain, mouth sores, or jaw and throat issues. If it is painful for a cat to eat, they will avoid it, even if they are exceptionally hungry.

3. Stress and emotional trauma

Stress could also cause a cat not to eat. A scared cat in a new environment would often prefer to stay hidden rather than show up to eat. That’s why stray cats often lose weight. If you bring a stray home, the cat may prefer to spend a lot of time in hiding, at least until they become comfortable and feel safe around you. Make sure Kitty has plenty of food available in their safe room, and stay away for long enough to allow them to come out and eat.

Read more: How To Get A Cat To Come Out Of Hiding?

4. Diabetes

When a cat has diabetes, it could eat what seems like massive amounts of food and still become underweight. This is because diabetes doesn’t allow a cat to properly utilize the calories it intakes due to the disease.

5. Gastrointestinal Disease

Intestinal parasites, infections, or inflammations could cause your cat to cause weight. Some of these diseases could cause a lack of absorption of nutrients leading to extreme weight loss.

6. Tumors

If your pet has a cancerous tumor, this could cause weight loss. Some cancer cells consume calories, diverting the sorely needed nutrition from your kitty.

7. Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can cause your cat to burn more calories than normal. It increases the metabolic rate, requiring a larger intake of calories for your cat to function.

Seek Medical Attention

All of the above conditions would require a diagnosis from a vet to ensure proper treatment. When it comes to your pet’s health, don’t put off a vet visit, as some of these conditions can be fatal.

Can A Cat Be Naturally Thin?

Some cats are naturally thinner than others. A lot of this depends on genetics and the environment. Some cat breeds are extremely svelte, such as the Oriental Shorthair and modern purebred Siamese cats.

A gray oriental cat isolated on a white background

This cat has a bony appearance without actually showing any visible bones. It’s only if you feel the knobs of a cat’s spine or see their ribs or other bones that you should become concerned.

Extremely active cats will have a svelte appearance; if your kitty spends a lot of time tromping through your hallways, climbing their cat trees, and pouncing their cat toys, they will naturally have a slim appearance. This should not immediately cause alarm.

How Can You Fatten Up A Skinny Cat?

The first step to fatten up a skinny cat would be to take them to the vet. The vet will rule out any underlying health conditions or treat those underlying health conditions if needed.

Ensure your cat has access to food all day. Most cats tend to graze as opposed to just eating a few meals. By making sure the food bowl has food all day, your cat has multiple opportunities to keep a full stomach.

If you have multiple cats, your cat may be frightened by the others. Try placing a food bowl in a place where your frightened cat doesn’t feel threatened by the others.

Some cats are finicky and won’t eat certain types of foods. Try different kinds of food in search of your picky kitty’s favorite. If they turn their nose to dry food, try adding wet food at times or vise versa. Be diligent in your search for the best food for your cat.

View this wet food on Amazon.

Try heating your cat’s food in the microwave for a few seconds to enhance the aroma. This will help your cat eat more. Adding a small amount of chicken or beef broth to wet food and warming it will entice your pet even more.

Make sure your cat feels safe. Move the food bowl to a quiet spot and ensure it’s not near anything loud, such as cycling appliances or furnaces.

Read our post, “Are Alternative Treatments Safe for Cats?” to determine if there are alternative methods that could aid your cat’s appetite.

What Is The Best Appetite Stimulant For Cats? 

True appetite stimulants generally need to be prescribed by a veterinarian.

While there are plenty of over-the-counter nutritional supplements, the longest used appetite stimulant is a drug called cyproheptadine. This drug is classified as an antihistamine but works by antagonizing serotonin. This has generally been the go-to for appetite stimulation in cats, but another drug called mirtazapine has overtaken it in popularity in recent years.

Mirtazapine is actually an antidepressant used for humans but works well in cats. This drug antagonizes serotonin similarly to cyproheptadine but can be given less frequently and in different doses with similarly great results.

If you’re looking for an over the counter option, there are many with great reviews. Vetoquinol oral gel supplement is affordable and replaces lost nutrients and a high number of calories in a simple gel.

View this nutritional supplement on Amazon

For more information on getting a cat to eat, read our post, “How to Get Your Cat to Start Eating Again.”

In Closing

If you can feel your cat’s spine, this isn’t immediately a reason to worry. Palpate your cat’s torso and spine. Ensure you can’t feel knobby bones or see your cat’s ribs or spine. If your cat has no protective layer of fat between their bones and skin, it’s time to seek out the opinion of your vet. Remember, just because your cat is slim doesn’t mean it is unhealthy, but o one knows your cat better than you do. Any dramatic changes in your cat’s appearance or appetite are well worth looking into.

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