Is it just me, or does your cat look a little ... paunchy? It's not a big deal. That's the ol' primordial pouch, aka a belly flap. All cats have them, to varying degrees. It's even prized in some breeds.
The Primordial Pouch
If you've got more than one cat, you may have noticed how they kick at each other's stomachs when they're fighting. That's just play, but the tactic is the means by which they kill prey. Cats have belly fat, like most animals, to protect their viscera. All domestic cats have a loose flap of skin, often called the primordial pouch, which protects their stomachs. It almost looks as if they've swollen to Garfield-sized proportions, slimmed down, and retained the extra skin.
Spaying, Neutering, Aging and Weight Loss
After cats are spayed, it often looks as if their stomachs (and by extension, their primordial pouches) hang lower. Along with this, their skin flaps appear elongated. This also happens to male cats after neutering, as well as aging female and male cats. The sagging largely is a skin elasticity issue. Cats who lose a lot of weight, be it through disease dieting, still have these flaps, too. The primordial pouch is normal and doesn't merit concern.
Breeding & Purpose
Two cat breeds are noted for prominent stomach flaps: the Egyptian Mau and the Bengal. Both have spots, too -- a trait that strongly ties them to their big cat brethren.The flap allows the Egyptian Mau to twist and jump more agilely, according to the Cat Fanciers' Association. It's noteworthy that the Cat Fanciers' Association, one of the largest such groups, doesn't recognize the Bengal breed on the grounds that it's allegedly achieved through the breeding of wild and domestic cats. Still, their observation about the Mau also applies to the Bengal. Both breeds also are noted for speed.
Functionally speaking, the primordial pouch serves another practical purpose: It allows the stomach to expand and swell with food. In wild cats, this allows them to consume a large meal while the getting is good. In domestic cats, this also allows them to consume a large meal while the getting is good, but you should be feeding your cat regularly enough that he doesn't need to gorge himself in one sitting. Incidentally, a 1997 study from Cornell University found that about 25 percent of cats in a veterinary survey were heavy or obese. Granted, the study was limited in scope, but it also pointed out the health risks of cat obesity, which include disease and death. Knowing about your cat's primordial pouch can help you tell whether he's overweight or not. A view from above affords a good gauge. Consult your vet if you're concerned.
- The Cat Breeders Handbook: Glossary of Terms -- Belly Flap
- Cat Fanciers' Association: Breed Profile -- The Egyptian Mau
- Cat Fancier's Association: Breeder FAQs
- American Cat Fanciers Association: Bengal Breed Synopsis
- Cornell University's Cornell Feline Health Center: Spaying and Neutering
- Cornell University's Cornell Feline Health Center: Science News Press Release, March 25, 1997