If your cat looks like a beach ball, it might not be because she’s obese. Most cats have what’s called a “primordial pouch.” That’s a cool term for what’s essentially an extra flap of skin under the belly. While it can vary from individual kitty to individual kitty, the primordial pouch is more visible in some cat breeds than others.
A hanging primordial pouch can make it seem as if your cat has put on some flab. But if you inspect your cat’s tummy closely, you can easily tell whether you're dealing with a primordial flap or a case of too many treats.
A primordial pouch or too many treats?
The primordial pouch is a skin flap. This tends to jiggle from side to side as your cat walks. An obese cat’s belly won’t jiggle, though, since the extra fat stretches the skin taut.
The flap is on the underside of the belly. You might not be able to see it if you’re looking downwards at your cat. If your cat’s obese, though, it’ll be rounder overall. This is much more noticeable from all angles.
The “rib test” is the easiest way to check if your cat’s obese. Stroke your cat’s side. If you can’t feel her ribs, she’s put on an unhealthy amount of weight. If you can feel them, you're just dealing with a visible primordial flap.
Some cat breeds are known to have noticeable primordial pouches. The Pixie Bob, the Mau, and the Bengal are cat breeds for which a pouch comes standard. It’s actually a breed requirement. Plenty of other cats have one too, though.
What’s the purpose of a primordial flap? Is your cat cousins with a kangaroo? She probably isn’t, but the surprising thing is that scientists aren’t sure what the pouch is for, either. There are a few reasonable theories, though.
Why some cats have primordial pouches
The pouch exists to protect your cat’s internal organs. When cats fight with each other, they tend to aim for the vitals with their claws. Cats use a move called “bunny kicking” to target a rival’s sensitive belly. Out in the wild, abdominal tearing from a kick would be very bad news. The primordial pouch might serve as an extra layer of protection.
The pouch helps cats maintain optimal running speeds. When chasing after prey, cats stretch their fore and hindlegs for maximum speed and jumping height. A loose skin flap would make stretching less uncomfortable. This would let them run faster and longer. Cats are acrobatic, too. The pouch might help your cat stretch as it dive-bombs off your couch.
The skin flap might exist to allow the cat’s belly to expand. Out in the wild, cats don’t get to eat regularly. They feast when prey’s plentiful and starve when there’s nothing left to hunt. The primordial pouch might allow the cat’s stomach to expand when feeding. That way, it can stock up on nutrition when food’s around.
We aren’t quite sure what the pouch is for. It’s quite likely that it’s a combination of all these reasons. But it’s not the only flappy bit of your cat’s anatomy.
Compared to dogs, cats generally have much looser skin. This may have evolved to help them wriggle out of tight spots in the wild. The scruff of a cat--the loose skin around her neck--is a much better-known part of cat anatomy than the pouch. The expression “by the scruff of the neck” comes from mother cats carrying their kittens around by the scruff, using their mouths. You probably don’t want to try this out, though.
It’s important to understand that your cat’s pouch is nothing to worry about. It isn’t a sign of feline obesity, and it’s not an abnormality either. In fact, your cat’s more likely suffering from issues if she doesn’t have one.
If you’ve noticed that your cat has a primordial pouch, there’s no need at all to worry or get the vet involved. It’s just another part of your cat to love! 🐈