My Cat’s Backbone Is Sticking Out – Is Something Wrong?

My Cat’s Backbone Is Sticking Out – Is Something Wrong?

If you start to notice your cat’s spine sticking out, this is what it might mean and when to be worried.

If you start to notice your cat’s spine when you haven’t in the past, there’s probably a reason for this – sometimes it’s health-related and sometimes it’s the result of the natural aging process. Whether you can suddenly feel your cat’s backbone when you pet them, or you’ve started to notice it visually sticking out a little more, you might be worried something is wrong. Let’s look at some common issues with cat spines and how to know if your cat’s backbone is normal.

A Normal Cat Spine Can Be Felt But Not Seen

Normally, your cat’s backbone will be easy to feel but will not be visible when you are looking at your cat. When you run your hand along your cat’s spine, giving them a nice firm stroke from head to tail, you will be able to feel the backbone with your hands. But in a healthy cat, there is a layer of muscle and fat between the skin and the bone itself, so you shouldn’t be able to feel individual vertebrae.

If you can see your cat’s backbone or feel like the spine is too knobby, then something else might be going on. Your cat may be underweight or losing muscle mass. It’s not a reason to panic, but spinal appearance and feel can be a good indicator of changes in your cat’s weight or musculature – something that should be noted as part of their overall health.

Is My Cat Underweight?

Being able to feel the knobby details of your cat’s backbone might be one indicator that they are underweight, but there are other ways to assess if your cat’s weight is within a healthy range:

  • Your cat’s waist should be narrower than their chest
  • Can you feel your cat’s ribs?
  • Cats have a natural tummy tuck
  • Consult your veterinarian about a healthy weight

A Healthy Cat Waist Is More Narrow Than Shoulders and Hips

When you run your hands along both sides of your cat, you should sense an hourglass shape. A cat’s chest is typically wider and broader than their waist, though not by much. You should also be able to visually see this shape when looking at your cat from above. If you feel that their waist has become more narrow (deepening the hourglass shape), they may be losing weight.

You Should Have to Press to Feel Your Cat’s Ribs

With the right amount of pressure, you will probably be able to feel your cat’s ribs, but it shouldn’t be easy. If you can easily count their ribs with a gentle stroke, they may be underweight. In a healthy cat, there will be a layer of fat and muscle between the bone and skin, making it difficult to count the ribs without applying a lot of pressure. Also, your cat’s ribs should be mostly hidden by their skin and fur – you shouldn’t be able to make out their ribs just by looking at them.

Cats Have a Natural Tummy Tuck Shape from the Side

When seen in profile, a cat’s chest usually hangs lower than their stomach. This means they have a sort of tucked appearance from the side. This is not an indicator that your cat is underweight – their stomach is supposed to be lifted from the ground and more narrow than their chest.

Determine a Healthy Weight Range for Your Cat

You can likely find a healthy weight chart for your breed of cat online, but it’s best to talk to your veterinarian to determine your cat’s appropriate weight range. They know about any extenuating factors, like your cat’s age, activity level, or other health conditions. Knowing your cat’s healthy weight and weighing them with some regularity will help you determine if their health is changing, which may indicate a problem that needs to be addressed.

A cat eating cat food off of a plate

Reasons Your Cat Might Be Losing Weight

If you’ve noticed your cat’s backbone and you think they’re losing weight, here are some reasons this might be happening:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Age
  • Parasites
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Stress

If Your Cat Isn’t Eating, They Will Lose Weight

It might seem obvious, but if you start to feel your cat’s backbone, it’s important to observe their eating habits. If they have started eating less, or are avoiding their food altogether, then they are going to lose weight rapidly. This is a very dangerous condition that needs to be addressed – contact your veterinarian immediately. Loss of appetite can be caused by a lot of health conditions.

On the other hand, if you notice your cat’s appetite and food consumption has remained consistent but you are still noticing weight loss, they might not be accessing the nutrition of their food because of another issue.

Older Cats Might Lose Weight and Muscle Mass

Like old humans, older cats tend to lose muscle mass as they age. If your cat is getting into their senior years, it is normal for their body to change. As long as they are continuing to consume their regular meals and staying hydrated and nourished, it’s normal for them to become a little more knobby and bony – especially along the spine.

Parasites and Worms Can Cause Sudden Weight Loss in Cats

You may be feeling your cat’s backbone because they are losing weight from a parasite. Intestinal parasites take away the nutrition from your cat’s body, so even if they are eating normally, they will start to lose weight.

Sometimes, weight loss can be the only indicator that a cat has worms. To determine if this is the cause, your veterinarian will do a fecal examination. They can then provide a dewormer that will solve the problem quickly, and your cat will hopefully start to regain the weight they’ve lost.

A Bony Cat Spine Could Mean Hyperthyroidism

A cat sitting down with its spine sticking out

If your cat’s backbone has become more knobby and visible because of weight loss, they might be having metabolism issues resulting from hyperthyroidism. This is when the cat’s thyroid gland becomes swollen and releases excess hormones in your cat’s body, and it can negatively impact many bodily processes. Weight loss (and a resulting bony cat spine) is a common side effect of hyperthyroidism in felines.

Loss of Weight and Muscle May Be from Kidney Disease

Kidney issues are very common in cats and might be a cause for weight loss. Kidney disease and other problems with kidney function can impact many areas of your cat’s health, including their ability to access nutrition from food. If your cat is eating normally and losing weight, causing you to notice their spine, kidney issues may be a contributing factor or the root cause.

Stress Can Make It Hard for Your Cat to Keep a Healthy Weight

Stress in cats contributes to loss of appetite, which results in weight loss that can make your cat’s backbone stick out. If you suspect your cat is so stressed out that they are eating less and losing weight, you’ll need to make some quick and significant changes to their daily life.

It isn’t always easy to identify what is causing your cat’s stress – it could be a new member of the family, an underlying health issue, or separation difficulties – but once you’ve found the culprit, eliminate it so your cat can relax and return to a normal weight.

If You Can Suddenly Feel Your Cat’s Backbone, Visit Your Veterinarian

Ultimately, the best move is to visit the veterinary clinic if you notice any sudden changes in your cat’s weight or appearance. A cat backbone that sticks out usually means there has been weight loss or muscle loss. While this is normal as a cat ages, it should happen gradually rather than suddenly. A cat spine that feels knobby isn’t always a cause for immediate concern, but it can be, so you should monitor your cat’s weight and habits carefully and consult your veterinarian with any questions.