What scale for weighing my cat?
November 8, 2017 6:49 AM   Subscribe

My vet recommended that we track our cats' weight between visits. Most bathroom scales aren't accurate enough, most baby or pet scales are bulky and expensive, and most kitchen and postal scales are too small. Can you find the right scale for my cats? (I'm sure it's impossible without photos...)

The vet suggested a regular bathroom scale for weighing myself holding the cat. But though they display to the .1 place, Wirecutter found that even the best ones are not as accurate as that display would imply. E.g., their winner: "... detects changes in weight of a few tenths of a pound, whereas most other scales will only respond reliably to a weight change on the order of half a pound." Our smaller cat was 6.4 lbs at the last visit, and the vet would like us to call if she drops below 6 lbs, so a few tenths of a pound is too big of a difference.

The scales I've found specifically for babies or pets are expensive, bulky, or poorly reviewed.

I started looking at kitchen and postal scales, but most of them are too small. Also, my cats won't sit where they're placed. But they are susceptible to Feline Attracting Devices (also known as cardboard boxes). So, I thought I could place a box on the scale and then wait for the cat to jump in and be weighed. I'd need the scale to stay on for long enough to out-wait a cat, or to turn itself on when the weight on the platform changes. If it's off, I'd never get close enough to turn it back on without the cat jumping away. Likewise, it can't beep or shift position or otherwise startle an unsuspecting cat. Unfortunately, platform size and these other characteristics are very hard to search by.

I thought that this one might be ideal, but the Q & A says it turns itself off after a few seconds, and someone says that "though the cat seemed still, the weight display kept changing." I think this one is identical, just branded differently.

TLDR criteria:
- At least 7 lb capacity (9 lb preferred for our other cat too).
- Accurate to ~ an ounce (or .1 of a pound) -- not merely that it displays that granularly, but that it's actually that accurate.
- Large enough for a cat in a box, but not bulky to store.
- Will stay on, or turn back on when a cat climbs on, and won't beep, lower, or otherwise startle the cat away.
- Decent reviews (or no reviews, but not poor reviews).
- Low-ish cost (<$40?).
posted by daisyace to Shopping (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have two suggestions:

1) Find a baby scale you like, then buy it via Craigslist from someone whose baby is no longer a baby. There are a lot of no-longer-useful baby scales out there. I've used one for cats myself.

2) Use a luggage scale (test it for accuracy), and figure out a secure way to weigh something they enjoy being inside (or a cat carrier). I had a big basket with a single overarching handle that kitties used to _love_ being inside, and it was pretty easy to get them to fall asleep in it. I've also had a few that liked being in a cloth tote bag with a handle (gradually introducing them to it helped a lot) -- that was very easy to weigh with the fabric handles.
posted by amtho at 6:58 AM on November 8, 2017

Oh, and the thing you're really interested in is any _change_ in the cat's weight. So, if you at least get _consistent_ results from your weighing device, you can figure out how that maps to a standard scale later.

I mention this partly because using an analog luggage scale may be a good option, and it's hard to trust those if you're used to digital stuff. However, if you take care of them (store with consistent temperature and humidity) and learn to read them consistently, they might be a good choice, with reproducible results. Mine is analog -- Travelon, I think -- and it worked better than most digital scales I tried.
posted by amtho at 7:03 AM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

We use a luggage scale and an Ikea bag, which the cats are (usually) happy to hang out in.
posted by pullayup at 7:05 AM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hadn't thought of luggage scales (or, similarly, fishing scales), and that's a good idea. But I don't think there's anything that my cats wouldn't jump out of as soon as they felt it move at all. And, if I closed them in something (like I do with a cat carrier), they'd hate going in that thing again for a long time (like they do with the cat carrier). Also, I don't know whether luggage scales are more accurate than bathroom scales.
posted by daisyace at 7:10 AM on November 8, 2017

The great thing about most luggage scales is that they'll mark the highest weight, so that you can still read it even if you drop the bag (or if the cat escapes). An analog luggage scale is cheap enough they're often given away as freebies, and if you test it with some other things of similar weight to your cat you can probably learn how to use it consistently.

Another option would be taking your cats to the grocery store and weighing them on the produce scales. If you do that, pictures are definitely required.
posted by asperity at 7:18 AM on November 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Use a box or box-like enclosure - What you need is something enclosed that your cat will enjoy being inside, and will fall asleep inside.

If they like being inside cardboard boxes already, then you're golden. You just need to find or make a rigid box-like structure, add a handle mechanism that you can hook the luggage scale to, and then wait for your cat to fall asleep inside -- or let him be mellow, and your actions gentle, enough that he barely knows you're weighing him.

Oh, and weigh the enclosure (and any bedding) beforehand, of course, so you can subtract that from total weight.

Just hook the luggage scale to the top of the handle mechanism and lift gently enough that the box barely leaves the ground. If you have a second person to read the scale (in case it's too low for you to see well), that's helpful; otherwise, add a strap/hook link so that you _can_ have the scale at eye level when you barely lift the box up.

One option: gradual acclimation

You might want to start by lifting the box just a wee bit (not even off the ground, really), when your cat is inside. Set it down immediately. Then gradually increase the amount of time you're lifting, and then the distance lifted. You don't have to end up lifting it very high or for very long.
posted by amtho at 7:26 AM on November 8, 2017

Your cats are beautiful!
posted by shoesietart at 7:31 AM on November 8, 2017

I think Pips (the one who most needs weighing) is too high-strung to get used to anything being lifted, even a bit, with her in it. When I was thinking about that postal scale, all I'd have to be able to do is turn it on when she was sitting in a box on it. So for a few days, when Pips was in a box, I tried getting close enough to push an imaginary button in front of it (with my toe, even). No dice.

But that's interesting that analog luggage scales mark the highest weight. So if I were to, say, rig up a kitty hammock hung from the scale somehow, I could just leave it out and check it now and then to see what she weighed when she last went in it... Hmmmm.
posted by daisyace at 7:56 AM on November 8, 2017

Marking the highest weight might sound like a good idea, but would actually work against you, in that it's really measuring force not mass - as the cat jumps away, she pushes with her back feet, and that would make a spike in the measurement.
posted by aimedwander at 8:19 AM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

We had a similar problem; what worked for us was to get a heavy-duty postal scale, meant for measuring large & heavy packages. It is accurate to a tenth of a pound. It has a wide measuring platform base.

First, I stand on the scale and weigh myself. Then I pick up the cat and weigh the two of us together. Getting the cat's weight is as simple as subtracting the former from the latter.
posted by muirne81 at 8:34 AM on November 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Use the bathroom scale method. Accuracy to a half-pound is good enough for your needs
posted by Thorzdad at 8:34 AM on November 8, 2017

If the cats tolerate being held, why not weigh yourself+cat on the bathroom scale, then weigh yourself and subtract?
posted by ktkt at 9:17 AM on November 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sorry -- I see you addressed this a bit. My experience with the bathroom scales not registering small changes is the following: mine seems to be programmed to simply not tell you when there is a very small change. If I weigh myself two days in a row, and the weights are very close, then on day 2 it will simply show day 1's weight again. However, if I first weigh myself with a small dumbbell or a full water bottle (basically something that will throw it off by a few pounds), and then just weigh my actual self, I'll get a real update even if it's just 0.2 pounds or whatever. (I believe the purpose of this "feature" is to discourage obsessive weighing, though I am not totally sure.)

If you alternated weighing with cat and no cat, I don't think this issue should affect you.
posted by ktkt at 9:23 AM on November 8, 2017

I understand your skepticism about your bathroom scale. If you wanted to check it out, one way would be to take a few weights from around your house, and compare how it measures (you+5lb dumbbell+24oz can of tomatoes) vs (you+5lb dumbbell+16oz can of beans) It's a weight change that you know exactly what effect it should have. You can try a few different known pantry items and see how well your scale does. Who knows, maybe it'll actually work.
posted by aimedwander at 10:09 AM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I worked for an old timer vet back before electricity, we used a bathroom scale, weighed ourself, then again holding the small cat or dog and subtracted to get a weight. It worked very well, except for huge, heavy or esp squirmy animals.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 10:42 AM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Interesting! Anyone want to try out a version of aimedwanderer's method with their bathroom scale and report back results? (I don't own one yet.)

muirne81, I suspect that scale will have the same accuracy as the same company's similarly-priced bathroom scales, displaying to the .1 lb level but not necessarily detecting weight to that level of precision. So I'd be interested if you try aimedwanderer's test, too!
posted by daisyace at 11:34 AM on November 8, 2017

I don't have an answer to your original question, but aimedwander's answer is complicated by the fact that the oz measurements of cans are fluid ounces (volume) not ounces (weight)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:42 PM on November 8, 2017

This scale gets a good review in The Wirecutter (which says it is good to within a gram most of the time) and according to the questions on Amazon, the auto-off feature can be turned off. I'd disable that function, turn it on, tare it with your favorite box on it, and sit in wait. Only problem I can see would if the cat knocks the box off the platform in the course of jumping into it.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:57 PM on November 8, 2017

I have a postal scale, works up to 86lbs. It's $20. Put a box on the scale, zero it out. Add cat. Done.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:37 PM on November 8, 2017

Lots of good ideas -- thank you everyone! I'm going to try out a bathroom scale at a friend's house or a store, with known weight changes like a stick of butter or a bar of soap or whatever, and see how they do. I'll make sure to "throw it off" in between, as ktkt suggests. If they're as inaccurate as the Wirecutter says, then I'll go back to looking for a kitchen or postal scale that's big enough to be stable for when the cat jumps in to a box on it, and with over-rideable auto-off, like the one 2 cats in the yard (!) suggests. Or else I'll look for a not too bulky, used baby scale as amtho suggests.
posted by daisyace at 7:43 AM on November 9, 2017

FYI - you can usually rent baby scales from larger specialty pharmacies.
posted by dancinglamb at 9:49 AM on November 12, 2017

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