Have you ever noticed that many cats, even those that don’t seem to be particularly overweight, develop a saggy, hanging belly? Unlike most dogs that generally have firm bellies, this pouch of saggy skin just in front of the rear legs is common in cats and can often be seen swinging merrily from side to side as the cat trots along. While some people mistakenly assume the cat develops this excess flesh as a result of being spayed or neutered, it’s actually a normal part of your cat’s anatomy.
The technical term for this flap of skin and fat, which often feels like a half-full water balloon, is the “primordial pouch,” and you can also observe this feature on some big cats like lions and tigers. This bit of loose skin and padding at the belly provides extra protection and insulation to your cat during fights when a cat’s practice of “bunny kicking” with the rear paws could result in severe abdominal injury to their opponent. In fact, cats have excess skin covering the entire body which helps them squirm out of the grasp of other predators.
Another function of the abdominal flap is to allow the cat freedom of movement to fully stretch and extend the back legs when in full stride. It’s also theorized that in our cats’ wild ancestors, the flap allowed the stomach to stretch to hold extra food when necessary, such as when gorging after a large kill in the wild.
A visible primordial pouch is actually a part of the breed standard for certain cat breeds such as the Bengal and the Pixie Bob. The size and appearance of the primordial pouch varies quite a bit amongst cats. My own petite 8 pound cat has a fairly large pouch that I affectionately refer to as her “cookie pouch” while my large 12 pound male cat has just a small, barely noticeable flap of extra skin.
While the primordial pouch is a normal part of a cat’s anatomy, you still need to make sure your cat stays at a healthy weight so excess fat isn’t stored in your cat’s abdominal flap.