why do some cats have low hanging bellies?
Questions About Cats

Why Do Cats Have a Hanging Belly?

Have you ever touched your cat’s belly only to discover that it sags? While it may feel like your cat is becoming fat, this saggy layer of skin is called the primordial pouch. Most cats have one in some shape or form, and this low-hanging belly is an essential part of a cat’s anatomy. How prominent the flap will vary between cats.

The primordial pouch is seen in many different cat breeds. It is located towards the rear of a cat’s body along the length of its stomach. The pouch protects a cat’s organs from predators and other cats during a fight. It also helps cats to extend when running, as well as twisting and turning while jumping. It is thought that the primordial pouch is also used to store food. This is most common in wild cats that have to find their own food and don’t know when their next meal is coming. 

The primordial pouch has evolved for many reasons, and without one, cats would struggle to survive in the wild. While the exact reasons for the primordial pouch are still unknown, many scientists and researchers agree that it is an essential part of a cat’s genetic make-up and is responsible for a range of important survival features.

Why Do Some Cats Have Low Hanging Bellies?

The primordial pouch is located along the length of a cat’s stomach towards the rear, just in front of its hind legs. It looks and feels like excess skin and can give the impression that a cat is overweight and needs to diet.

The primordial pouch will also swing from side to side as your cat walks. However, the pouch isn’t a result of weight loss or gain. It’s an extra pouch of skin and fat that is unrelated to a cat’s weight. Though an obese cat will store fat in its belly flap, so it’s important to ensure your cat maintains a healthy weight.

The primordial pouch or low-hanging belly, as it is commonly known, performs many vital functions. Experts aren’t entirely sure of the exact reason, but these are the most common theories:

Protects a Cat’s Organs

When cats fight, they can become very aggressive – especially stray or feral cats who have to defend themselves in the wild and compete for food. Bunny kicking is an effective move to gain dominance over a rival cat.

During this move, a cat will grab its target with its two front legs before kicking ferociously with its hind legs. Bunny kicking is also used by cats when playing with one another or with humans.

Therefore, the primordial pouch protects a cat’s vital organs from potential injury or damage during a fight. It also helps a cat wriggle out from the clutches of predators – a cat has loose skin over its entire body so it can quickly get itself free.

cats belly hanging down

Helps Cats To Extend When Running

The primordial pouch helps with a cat’s agility and ability to move. Cats are flexible animals, and their loose skin, including the pouch, enhances their extension to run and chase after prey effectively.

It also allows cats to take longer, more powerful strides to increase their speed. This is even more important when a cat needs to run away from predators or chase much-needed prey in the wild. Hungry cats will have less energy and may not be able to handle a long chase. Being more effective with their running and jumping abilities will help cats preserve energy until they find food.

Allows Cats to Store Food

The primordial pouch is thought to allow cats to store food. Unlike domesticated cats who receive daily meals at set times, wild cats often don’t know when they’re going to find their next meal. They have extra fat stores to help them survive.

These stores allow cats to gorge themselves on a surplus amount of food in case of a shortage. Therefore, the primordial pouch is thought to be an additional fat reserve to prevent a cat from starving to death and tide them over until they can find the extra sustenance they need.

When Do Cats Develop Their Primordial Pouch?

The primordial pouch is most common in adult cats, regardless of gender. But they can develop in cats of any age. There’s a common misconception that only spayed or neutered cats develop a primordial pouch, but this isn’t true. However, fat pads can develop around the incision area where a cat has been spayed or neutered. 

As described in a scientific journal on the US National Library of Medicine, acute changes in energy expenditure and energy consumption have been observed in neutered cats. While not well understood, a cat’s metabolism seems to slow down after the neutering procedure, causing some of its body fat to head to various areas of its body. 

The fat is most commonly redistributed to the abdomen, resulting in an abdominal fat pad that is often confused with the primordial pouch. 

There is a belief that only cats with a strong warrior gene develop a primordial pouch. Based on the “survival of the fittest” concept, the theory is that these genes have been passed down from cats who once thrived in the wild to their offspring. As a result, breeds who relied on their low-hanging belly to survive still have the pouch today due to evolution.

Cat Breeds with Primordial Pouches

Not all cats have a primordial pouch or at least one that’s noticeable. It’s common in domestic feline breeds – some more than others – and can be found in species of big cats. This includes the tiger, leopard, and lynx. The primordial pouch serves the same purpose for all cats that have one. The following breeds are most likely to have noticeable primordial pouches:

Pixie Bob

Pixie Bobs are a large breed of cat that looks a lot like a North American bobcat. A defining feature is a short or almost non-existent tail. Not all Pixie Bobs will have this, but even the long-tailed Pixie Bobs have a shorter tail than most other breeds. Cats will either have a long coat or a short double coat, both of which feel woolly.

The breed’s build is muscular and robust. Females are usually proportionately smaller than males but still grow to be a large size. Pixie Bob cats have large torsos with prominent shoulder blades. Their hips are also relatively wide and are set higher than their shoulders, which slope down to their tails. Pixie Bobs have a noticeable primordial belly pouch, making them appear larger and even more muscular than smaller cat breeds.

While the breed looks wild, they are kind and affectionate in nature. They can even be taught to walk on a lead like a dog. They like routine and structure and prefer to be fed at the same times each day. They’re highly intelligent and pick up new things quickly and efficiently. They enjoy games like fetch and problem-solving toys. They will also root through cupboards to find out what’s inside.

Egyptian Mau

The beautiful Egyptian Mau is the only cat breed with naturally occurring spots. Other spotted cat breeds have been bred to have them over time. While the breed’s origins are unknown, they have been an Egyptian companion for thousands of years. The modern Egyptian Mau was first bred in 1952 by exiled Russian Princess Nathalie Troubetskoy.

Egyptian Maus have large green eyes and beautiful facial markings. They also have a lean, muscular build. Despite their athletic appearance, they have a noticeable primordial pouch that allows them to twist and writhe in mid-air, giving them greater agility. The pouch also helps them to extend when running, enabling them to run faster than other breeds. For this reason, Egyptian Maus need a lot of space to jump and run around in.

On average, female Maus weigh 6-10 pounds, while males weigh 10-14 pounds. The breed enjoys good health but is sensitive to cold temperatures, as they only have a single coat. While a loyal cat, Egyptian Maus are shy around strangers and will run off and hide in the presence of new people. They’re sensitive cats that enjoy sitting on their owners’ laps, but they don’t like to be picked up.

Persian

With a flat face and short muzzle, the Persian cat is arguably one of the most recognizable cat breeds. Their defining feature is their thick, fluffy fur, which requires daily grooming to keep it free from knots and tangles. A Persian’s substantial coat will often make the animal appear larger than what it is, but Persians are considered a medium to large breed of cat.

Persians have prominent shoulder blades and medium-width hips that are set slightly higher than the shoulders. The back isn’t level but slopes slightly upwards towards the hips. Persians also have a deep flank and broad check, with a substantial primordial pouch that tends to hang low. Because of a Persian’s size and fur, their hanging belly is often mistaken for weight gain.

Persians are sweet-natured and love to switch between lounging and short bursts of energetic play. They’re not as active as other breeds and are happy enough as indoor cats. Their meow is musical and high pitched – they’re not shy about letting their owners know what they want. They love attention, and some (though not all) Persians allow their owners to carry them like babies.

Japanese Bobtail

The Japanese Bobtail is a rare breed of cat originally found in Japan and most of southeast Asia. As the name suggests, they have a short, stubby tail similar to a rabbit’s. The Japanese Bobtail cat is most famously depicted in figurines seen in establishments throughout Asia. These figurines show a short-tailed cat with one arm raised and are thought to bring good luck to the owner.

Japanese Bobtails are medium to large with a muscular appearance that gives them a distinctive hunter look. They have high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. Males tend to be bigger than females. Their body is lean and muscular with slender legs; though, the hind legs are slightly longer than the front legs.

Because the Japanese Bobtail is a slender, athletic cat, the primordial pouch is even more noticeable than with other breeds. Japanese Bobtails are highly active felines, so they need the pouch to help them extend as they run, play, and jump through the air.

Bengal

The Bengal is a beautiful cat with a leopard-like appearance. And that’s because it’s a cross between a domestic cat and the leopard native to South Asia. This has resulted in a series of wild markings that include an array of spots and stripes that they’re now known for.

Bengal cats are larger than most domestic cats. They’re supple and athletic, weighing up to 15 pounds and reaching 70cm in height. The top line of a Bengal cat is long, with a slope curving upwards. This then turns down at the pelvis and flows into the tail. Bengals have strong bodies that are supported by long, muscular legs.

Interestingly, a Bengal’s primordial pouch serves a slightly different purpose to other cats. Because they love to climb trees, the Bengal has evolved to stay in the air a bit longer to jump from branch to branch. Therefore, their large primordial pouch creates a gliding effect, increasing their ability to stay in the air for longer. To allow this, a Bengal’s primordial pouch is a touch bigger than what most other breeds.

why does my cat have a saggy belly?

Primordial Pouch vs. Obese Cat

If you think your cat is fat, it may be the primordial pouch – and vice versa. This is the first area of a cat’s body that stores fat if it becomes overweight. This will give the appearance that your cat is putting on excess weight in that region. 

If you’re unsure, there are some apparent differences between the primordial pouch and an overweight cat. These are some tell-tale signs:

  • Your cat’s belly doesn’t jiggle as it walks because the extra fat is keeping the skin taut. A cat with a saggy primordial pouch will wobble from side to side. Minimal fat is contained in the pouch.  
  • If you look down at your cat, you won’t see the primordial pouch because it hangs from the underside of the belly. In contrast, fat will appear rounded as it fills out the sides of your cat’s frame. A fat cat will look round from all angles, and when you touch a cat’s body, it will feel mostly solid. The pouch, in contrast, feels like loose skin.
  • A cat’s ribs will be hidden by fat if it’s overweight. To check, stroke your cat’s side to see if you can feel the ribs. If you can’t, your pet has put on too much weight. A primordial pouch won’t affect a cat’s ribs. 

As described in the US National Library of Medicine, feline obesity is a prevalent disease that poses a serious challenge. A preventative approach to weight loss often achieves the best results.  

Weight Loss Tips for Cats

If you’ve determined that your cat is indeed overweight and the primordial pouch isn’t to blame, you must get your cat on a weight loss program to preserve its health and wellbeing. Overweight cats are at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, joint injuries, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. But don’t be alarmed. Weight loss doesn’t have to be as tricky as it sounds if you follow these tips:

  • Feed your cat a calorie-controlled diet. Offer small amounts of food in a separate bowl two to three times a day, depending on what your veterinarian has recommended.
  • Choose the right food. A high protein, low carb diet is the quickest way to achieve weight loss. Some cat owners prefer to switch to a low-fat raw food diet to ensure maximum weight loss. However, dry kibble is fine if wet food doesn’t suit you or your pet.
  • Cut out treats and titbits for two weeks. Treats throughout the course of a day soon add up to additional calories, so while you might feel mean, stopping them for a short while can seriously help your cat drop the pounds. 
  • Encourage your cat to do more exercise. Cats are stalkers by nature and don’t tend to engage in aerobic activities. Instead, grab some cat toys and spend some time each day playing with your cat. Get them running up and down the stairs to get their heart rate up to burn the fat.

Can the Primordial Pouch Be Removed?

The primordial pouch isn’t the same thing as excess fat. Unfortunately, this means weight loss will not get rid of a hanging belly. Even if an overweight cat experiences extreme fat loss, the pouch will remain. It’s an essential part of a cat’s anatomy and is there for a good reason.

Surgery to remove the primordial pouch isn’t available either – it would be unethical to do so and would almost certainly have a detrimental effect on a cat’s health and wellbeing. The primordial pouch doesn’t cause a cat any harm and, in fact, does the opposite.

A low-hanging belly is something cat owners will have to live with, even if they believe the primordial pouch affects their pet’s overall aesthetic. Rest assured, it’s not the sign of an overweight cat.

Is My Cat’s Saggy Belly a Problem?

Primordial pouches are never a cause for concern unless your cat sustains an injury to it, such as a cut or scrape. As it hangs low, there is a risk that it could get caught on a fence panel or barbed wire, for example. If your cat fights with other animals, there is also an increased chance of scratches or bites. As with any injury, this should be seen by a vet. The wound may need to be cleaned or stitched up.

Otherwise, you just need to keep an eye on your cat’s weight, as this can cause a range of health problems. We’ve already offered some tips on how to tell if your cat is overweight. However, keep a regular eye on your cat’s shape and size as it’s too easy to assume that weight gain is simply the primordial pouch.

When you feel the pouch between your hands and fingers, it should resemble a half-full water balloon. If it’s solid, your cat may be putting on excess weight. Keeping an eye on this is the best way to ensure your cat lives a long, happy, healthy life.

The primordial pouch is an important part of a cat’s anatomy, especially in cat breeds that jump high and run fast. Understanding that it’s different from regular fat is important for cat owners, as it will alleviate any concerns about a cat’s low-hanging belly. It’s a charming feature and, while confusing to some, remains essential to their survival.