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Should a Healthy Cat Have a Sagging Belly?
On an obese cat, it's not surprising to see a low-hanging belly. But is it normal for slim, well-conditioned cats to have them as well?
If your cat is a healthy weight but has what looks like a saggy belly, rest assured all is well
Sagging bellies on cats aren’t bellies at all, but primordial pouches designed by nature
This pouch, comprised of fat, skin, and fur, sits below the internal organs and is likely there for protection of those organs during fights; to help cats move faster with greater flexibility; and to store the “leftovers” of a big meal for future fueling
Both domestic and wild cats have primordial pouches; domestic cats begin to develop theirs at around 6 months of age
It’s important to recognize the difference between a primordial pouch and an overfed tummy on cats
Many cats, no matter their weight, appear to have an extended, saggy belly. On overweight and obese cats, a low-hanging belly isn’t so surprising to see. But many a cat parent has watched with wide eyes as their slim, well-conditioned feline family member’s belly swings to-and-fro as they walk or trot. The cat in the rear in this video is a good example of a normal weight cat with an obvious primordial pouch:
So, what’s going on here?
Why Cats Have a Primordial Pouch
Believe it or not, that saggy belly, aka paunch, isn’t really a belly at all, but a feature of feline anatomy known as the primordial pouch. It’s comprised of fat, skin, and fur and sits below a kitty’s abdominal organs. This protective layer is entirely normal and healthy — it’s just that it’s more obvious on some cats than others.
All kitties have a primordial pouch, but they vary so much in size that some are nearly invisible, while others are plainly obvious. Purebred cats in which the pouch is most obvious include the Pixiebob, Egyptian Mau, Persian, Japanese Bobtail, and the Bengal.1 There are three main theories for the presence of the primordial pouch:2
It protects a cat’s internal organs in the event of a fight; the extra layer of fat defends against claws and teeth
It helps cats move faster because it stretches as they run, allowing extra flexibility and the ability to cover more ground while pursuing prey or evading predators
It provides extra food storage space; cats in the wild eat when they can, and may store fat from a big meal in the pouch to fuel them until they can eat again
In domestic cats, both males and females, the pouch starts to develop around 6 months of age. As cats age, the pouch often becomes much more noticeable.
It’s also important to note that feline family members aren’t the only cats with primordial pouches — big cats, including the tiger, leopard, and lynx have them as well.3 In the following blink-and-you’ll-miss it video, you can see this handsome guy’s pouch through his front legs as he walks:
Primordial Pouch or Belly Fat?
It’s important to know whether your cat has an obvious primordial pouch or is overweight. Kitty’s shape is the first clue, since overweight and especially obese cats have rounder bodies, whereas normal weight cats with large pouches do not. The belly of an obese cat pretty much starts under the neck and continues all the way to the backend, whereas primordial pouches start farther back.
Another way to tell if your cat is overweight is to look down at him and check for a waist or an indentation at the hips or press gently on his sides to feel for his ribs. If you can’t feel them, he’s probably overweight. Perhaps the best way to tell if your feline BFF is sporting a primordial pouch or excess belly fat is that the former swings when kitty walks or runs, while the latter doesn’t.
More Unique Feline Features
Cats have five toes on their front paws, but only four toes on back paws.
Cats have excellent hearing; they even hear better than dogs.
The ridges on a cat’s nose pad are as individual as human fingerprints.
Papillae, which are tiny elevated backwards hooks that help hold prey, are what make a cat’s tongue scratchy feeling.
Humans shouldn’t pick up a kitten or cat by the scruff of the neck — only mother cats can do this safely, and only with kittens.
Cats can squeeze through any opening that is not smaller than their heads — their bone structure is narrow at the shoulders, and they can easily rotate their bodies through tight spaces.
Cats have over 100 vocal sounds; dogs have around 10.
Fossil records have shown that cats have been around for thousands of years, without much change in their shape or behaviors.
Your carnivorous cat's mouth is designed to devour prey; the jaws move up and down, but not sideways.
Cats are uniquely flexible; the pelvis and shoulders are only loosely attached to the spine, which is part of what makes kitties able to squeeze into tight spaces.
Tail positions differ between domestic and wild cats; the domesticated kitty is the only feline species that walks with its tail held vertically, whereas wild cats position their tails horizontally or tuck them between their legs while walking.
Healthypets Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Dr. Karen Becker cannot answer specific questions about your pet's medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship. Your pet's medical protocol should be given by your holistic veterinarian.