How Do Cats Get Chubby Cheeks?

Anatomy of a Cat’s Face

Cats have a complex set of facial muscles underlying the skin that allow them to make intricate expressions. The muscles are attached to the skull and skin in ways that create the appearance of chubby cheeks when relaxed (Cat anatomy, Wikipedia).

There are fat pads on a cat’s face that sit above the jaw muscles and below the skin. These fat pads contribute to the rounded, chubby look of a cat’s cheeks when they fill out. The fat pads are located alongside the jaw muscles and primarily on the sides of the face (2021 Ultimate Veterinary Guide to Cat Anatomy with Images, Vetcheck).

Additionally, cats have buccal fat pads located along their cheeks. These fat pads fill out the area between the jaw muscles and the skin, creating an appearance of fullness in the cheeks (Cat anatomy, Wikipedia). When relaxed, the buccal fat pads give cats their characteristic chubby cheeks.

Kittenhood Development

Kittens are born with very small, underdeveloped faces. Their facial features steadily mature and grow during the first several weeks of life. One key development is the enlargement of facial fat pads. These fat deposits help shape a kitten’s cheeks, chin, brow area, and overall head.1

Fat pads on a kitten’s face start out very small. But as a kitten nurses and gains weight during the first month, these fat stores expand. By around 4-6 weeks of age, a kitten’s facial fat has increased substantially. This growth gives them fuller, chubbier facial features compared to their skinny newborn appearance.1

While facial fat pads continue enlarging as a kitten matures, the most rapid expansion happens in the first weeks after birth. The accumulating fat deposits give kittens their signature chubby cheek look that owners find so adorable.

Breed Differences

Certain cat breeds are genetically prone to having rounder, chubbier cheeks compared to other breeds. For example, Persian cats are known for their sweet, chubby-cheeked faces. According to Catster, “The Persian has a round head enhanced by full, chubby cheeks.”1 The British Shorthair is another breed with signature chubby cheeks, often described as having a “cobby” body type with a broad, rounded head and cheeks. Other breeds like the Exotic Shorthair and Himalayan also tend to naturally have fuller faces and chunky cheeks compared to slender-faced breeds like the Siamese or Abyssinian. So genetics play a clear role in some breeds being prone to having naturally chubbier faces and cheeks versus other breeds with more angular facial features.


Overfeeding cats a diet high in calories can lead them to become overweight or obese. Just as in humans, overfeeding causes an overall increase in body fat in cats, including on the cheeks (Green Cross Vets, 2022). Feeding cats more calories than they need leads to weight gain. Cat owners who free-feed kibble or frequently give high-calorie treats and table scraps increase their cats’ risk for obesity. Obesity puts cats at greater risk for diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and other weight-related conditions. To keep cheeks from becoming chubby, cat owners should follow the feeding instructions on their cat food packages based on their pet’s age, life stage, and ideal weight. Provide measured meal portions rather than free feeding, avoid table scraps, and use treats only sparingly in healthy play and training. With proper care, cats can maintain ideal weight and healthy, proportionate cheeks.


A cat’s genes play an important role in where fat gets deposited on the body, including in the cheeks and jowls. Some cat breeds are genetically predisposed to developing fuller cheeks, such as Persians and Himalayans, who tend to have round faces and chubby cheeks. The genes responsible for facial conformation in cats cause the deposition of excess fat in certain areas like the cheeks. Selective breeding in pedigreed cats has led to exaggerated facial features, like pushed-in snouts and chubby cheeks in Persian cats. Domestic shorthairs and mixed breed cats can also inherit genes from their parents or distant ancestors that lead to plumper cheeks.

According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association, “The ideal Persian should have large, round eyes; a short, cobby body with broad chest; short, stubby legs; a short bushy tail; small ears with rounded tips; a rounded head; full cheeks; and a short, square muzzle with the nose leather directly below the lower eye rim.” This ideal facial structure lends itself to fat accumulation in the cheeks. Genetics dictates where cats will store excess fat, so some cats are prone to gaining weight in the face and cheeks first before other areas.


Neutering, or castration, is the surgical removal of the testicles. It is a common procedure done on male cats to prevent mating behaviors and spraying urine. Neutering can cause an increase in facial fat deposits and lead to chubbier cheeks in some cats.

When male cats are neutered, their testosterone levels drop significantly. Testosterone is responsible for maintaining muscle mass and inhibiting fat storage. Without this hormone, neutered cats tend to gain weight more easily and lose muscle tone.

Several studies have shown a correlation between neutering and increased body fat percentage in cats. For example, one study found neutered male cats were 3.4 times more likely to be classified as overweight compared to intact males [1]. The fat often accumulates in the face and neck, resulting in noticeably chubbier cheeks.

However, neutering itself does not directly cause fat accumulation. The weight gain is due to increased appetite and decreased activity levels after the surgery. With proper diet and exercise, neutered cats can still maintain a healthy weight and facial features.

Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions can cause swollen or chubby cheeks in cats. For example, according to an article on Yahoo Finance, “[The cheeks] increase in size mostly due to fighting, when the body develops scar tissue” ( Swelling and inflammation from infection, abscesses, or trauma can all potentially lead to enlarged or chubby cheeks. An article on also notes that “In neutered male cats or female cats, swollen cheeks may be caused by a medical issue” (

Conditions like stomatitis, tooth decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancers can cause painful inflammation in a cat’s mouth and cheeks. Allergies, autoimmune disease, and immune-mediated inflammation may also result in puffy cheeks. Kidney disease can lead to fluid retention and swelling. In some cases, swelling in the cheeks may be a sign of a tumor or cyst. It’s important to have a veterinarian examine any abnormal swelling or enlarged cheeks in cats to diagnose and properly treat any underlying medical condition.

Grooming Styles

Some grooming styles can accentuate the appearance of chubby cheeks on cats. Longer facial fur that frames the face tends to highlight and amplify the fullness of a cat’s cheeks. Styles like the lion cut and teddy bear cut involve leaving longer fur around the cat’s face, which can make their cheeks look rounder and fuller. Trimming the facial fur very short creates a sleeker look that slims the face. So grooming choices can definitely play a role in enhancing or minimizing the chubby cheek look.

Owner Perception

Many owners perceive their cat’s cheeks as chubbier than they actually are. This is often due to a phenomenon called “baby schema,” where humans are evolutionarily predisposed to find rounded, plump facial features cute and endearing [1]. Features like big eyes, round faces, and chubby cheeks trigger caregiving instincts in humans, making us want to nurture and protect animals that exhibit these traits.

In the case of cats, their cheek and jaw structure lends itself to appearing chubbier, especially in kittens and certain breeds like Persians. Even when not overweight, a cat’s cheeks may seem puffy and full compared to the angularity of other facial features. This effect is heightened by fur, which can add roundness. So while an owner may lovingly refer to their cat’s “chubby cheeks,” the cheeks may not actually carry excess fat.

Ultimately, perceptions of chubby cat cheeks reveal more about human nature than the cat’s weight or health. But owners should ensure their cat’s diet and activity levels support a healthy weight, not just chubby cheeks that owners find cute.

Enriching Chubby Cheeks

Chubby cheeks in cats can have benefits but also risks to a cat’s health. Some benefits of jowls in male cats include showing social status and attracting a mate. However, chubby cheeks should be monitored by a vet to ensure the cat stays at a healthy weight. Obesity can lead to diabetes, joint issues, and reduced lifespan.

Neutering can help reduce unwanted behaviors associated with intact male cats like spraying and roaming while also reducing cheek size. Keeping cats active through play and exercise is key. Adjust portion sizes if a cat becomes overweight. Most importantly, schedule regular vet checks to monitor weight, run bloodwork, and address any emerging health issues.

While chubby cheeks may look cute to some owners, a cat’s health is most important. With proper care and vet supervision, cats with jowls can live long, enriched lives. Focus on maintaining ideal body condition through diet, enrich their environment with toys and climbing areas, and nurture their best life through veterinary care and love.

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