Have you noticed your senior cat is looking a little skinny in its old age? Weight loss is part of the natural aging process. This is because as cats age their metabolism slows down. Activity levels also decrease and so muscle mass is lost, specifically with an old cat losing weight in its hindquarters.
If your cat is losing a lot of weight it can be a sign of concern. You don’t want your furry friend becoming old and frail! But thankfully, this can largely be managed through diet. So, what do you feed an older cat that is losing weight?
You should find senior cat food for weight gain at most pet stores. Packed with calories and nutrients, this cat food will ensure your cat gains a few pounds. Plus, I share some other tips on how to make food easier for older kitties to eat and more appetizing and irresistible.
Why Is My Old Cat Losing Weight?
Did you know that 59.5% of cats in the US are overweight?
Indeed, many cat owners have had to put their cats on strict diets and encourage play so that they can shed a few pounds. But as cats get older the problem starts to reverse itself. Elderly cats tend to be skinny and underweight.
Losing weight in the later years of life is expected. It is a natural part of the aging process and a result of your cat’s metabolism slowing down. However, it can also indicate an underlying medical condition. Here is a quick look in more detail about why your old cat is losing weight.
1. Slow Metabolism
As cats age, their metabolism naturally slows down. This is nothing to be concerned about and is part of the natural aging process. They find it harder to digest and process the food that they eat. As such, their appetite is reduced. Because senior cats are then consuming fewer calories, they start to gradually lose weight as they get older and older.
Note that regardless of how slow your cat’s metabolism is, they should still be eating something. Not eating can be extremely dangerous. If you notice your cat not eating or drinking for 3 days, this is a medical emergency. A reduction in appetite is normal as cats age, but a complete refusal to eat is not.
2. Reduced Activity Levels
Senior cats will also be less active than when they were young cats. The age that you notice a drop in your cat’s activity levels will vary. My 13-year-old cat is as lazy as anything, whereas my 16-year-old still has a spring in his step. As older cats are less physically active though, they don’t need as much energy. Therefore, their appetite sees a further decrease.
At the same time, the muscle on your cat’s body will start to waste away. You know what they say: if you don’t use it, you lose it! Lazy and inactive older cats don’t use the muscles in their bodies for climbing, jumping, and playing. Gradually, this loss of muscle mass causes further weight loss.
3. Tooth or Gum Problems
Most tooth and gum diseases are progressive, meaning that seniors tend to be hit the hardest. Through years of living, their teeth and gums will gradually start to deteriorate. This can make it painful to eat, further contributing to a reduction in appetite and weight loss.
You will likely notice inflamed gums, bad breath, and drooling if this is the case. If you notice your older cat not eating but drinking along with these symptoms, you might want to get their oral health looked at by a vet. Likewise, if your cat has stopped eating dry food but eats treats their regular kibble could be too hard on their sensitive gums.
4. Underlying Medical Conditions
Weight loss is a symptom of many medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and kidney disease. Unfortunately, age is a risk factor for all of these diseases. This means cats 16-17 years old are going to be more prone to developing these conditions. But, do you know when is a cat considered a senior? Between 11-14 years! This means any cats ages 11+ are at increased risk.
Watch for any signs of illness and take your cat to the vet if you suspect something is wrong. Common symptoms to watch out for include:
- Being extremely tired and lethargic all the time
- A severe or complete loss of appetite
- Sudden changes in mood and behavior
- Being more or less vocal than usual
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
What Should I Feed an Old Cat That’s Losing Weight?
If your old cat is losing weight, you should always go to the vet. Weight loss can be a sign of illness and so you need to get these medical conditions treated or ruled out before you do anything else. Don’t hesitate to call your vet – the sooner the problems are found and treated, the better the outcome.
Once you have done this, you can also help counteract weight loss by controlling your cat’s diet. But, what should you feed skinny elderly cats to fatten them up? Here are a few things you should look out for when choosing a senior cat food for weight gain. Make sure you consult any changes with your vet first though.
Depending on your cat’s health status, some of these changes might not be advised.
1. High Calorie Content
All senior cat food for weight gain needs to be calorie-dense. This means your cat will get more nutrients per mouthful. Even if they don’t eat a lot, they’ll still be getting a fair amount of energy from what they do eat. When energy input is greater than energy output, cats will gain weight.
I recommend looking for high-protein cat food as these tend to be the most calorific. Cats are also obligate carnivores and need meat and protein to survive. As one of their essential nutrients, it is better to feed a diet high in protein than in carbohydrates. This is especially important with seniors – cats cannot digest carbs as easily, so older cats with slower metabolisms will find this even harder.
Another option is to feed senior cats with kitten formula food. As kittens are growing, these recipes tend to be extremely high in calories and nutrients. Their purpose is to facilitate the growth of your kitten, but they can also help your senior cat gain weight. Before switching to any new diet, always consult your vet though. You don’t want to make the issue worse.
2. Wet Cat Food
My next tip is to feed senior cats wet food as opposed to dry kibble. As mentioned, many older cats suffer from dental diseases. These conditions make eating painful, leading to an even bigger reduction in appetite. But switching to wet cat food can be hugely beneficial and encourage your cat to consume more. As they’re eating more calories, they’ll gain weight.
Wet cat food can encourage eating as it is a lot softer on the gums and teeth. If your cat is 16 years old and has no teeth whatsoever, wet food is also a must! Older cats won’t easily be able to chew and break down hard kibble, but they can sufficiently munch on soft, wet food. What’s more, wet cat food is also more easily digested in the stomach and further along the GI tract.
3. Small & Frequent Portions
Because older cats struggle to digest food, I also recommend switching to small yet frequent portions. One large meal morning and evening might be too much for their bodies to handle. Yet by splitting their food between five or six meals it isn’t as much for them to deal with at once.
This is also a great option if you keep spotting your cat throwing up after eating. Or perhaps your cat has runny poop all the time. These are both indicators that your cat is struggling with digestion and that they aren’t managing to absorb the nutrients from their food. Smaller, more manageable portions can mean your cat keeps its food down and absorbs as much goodness as possible.
4. Diet Supplements
If you still cannot get your cat to gain weight, you might want to consider diet supplements. Many of these come in gel form and can easily be added to your cat’s regular food. These contain high qualities of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and thus can help and restore lost weight rapidly.
Diet supplements are also recommended if your cat hasn’t been eating properly for a while. It is probably deficient in many types of vitamins and minerals that it can only obtain through its diet. These need to be restored so that the body can function efficiently. Speak to your vet for recommendations or head into your local pet store to see what they have available.
5. Low Sodium & Phosphorus
Many older cats suffer from kidney problems. If your cat does, you’ll need to ensure their diet is low in both sodium and phosphorous. Diets high in these substances can exacerbate the disease and can lead to metabolic acidosis. This is where too much acid is produced by the body that the kidneys are unable to filter out.
Unfortunately, many calorie-dense foods contain high quantities of these two substances. Therefore, check the ingredients before switching to any new diet if there are any worries over renal function. İf in doubt, always speak to your vet for advice.
6. Tasty Homemade Treats
Some cats are ridiculously fussy eaters. İf you know you have a fussy cat, a great way to sneak extra calories into their diet is through treats. You can purchase treats from pet stores or make them yourself at home, whichever you prefer.
I personally prefer making treats at home as I can ensure they’re healthy. Whenever I make a dish containing meat for myself, I always put a little bit aside and boil it in water for my cat. Boiled eggs are another healthy option. Make sure you cook the meat and eggs plain without the addition of any salt or spices. These can disagree with your cat’s digestion.
How Else Do You Fatten Up an Old Cat?
A little weight loss in a senior cat is expected, but it is important to ensure your cat remains in a healthy weight bracket. If your cat is underweight it isn’t getting enough nutrients and energy from its diet. To compensate, the body starts using its fat and protein reserves to provide energy. Using up these fat and protein reserves isn’t ideal for several reasons:
- The excess fat can put a strain on the liver and lead to liver failure
- When the reserves are used up your cat will have no energy sources available
- The protein reserves come from breaking down muscle, making your cat weak and more prone to injury
Therefore, it is important to fatten up your older cat so that they can maintain a healthy weight. Aside from feeding your cat calorie-dense food, here are some other tips you can try.
1. Make Food More Appealing
Switching to high-calorie wet cat food and adding diet supplements is only useful if your cat eats it. Unfortunately, many senior felines don’t seem that bothered by food. This is largely due to sensory decline, particularly in regards to smell. They cannot smell the food as well as they use to, and so it doesn’t seem as appealing.
Therefore, a great solution is to enhance the smell of the food. There are two main options if you want to do this. You can use either or both of these tricks:
- Heat the food so that the smell diffuses through the air more quickly
- Add smelly ingredients to the meal, such as water from a can of tuna
When you are adding other ingredients to your cat’s dinner, make sure that they are safe for cats. For example, cats shouldn’t eat anything that is high in salt or that contains too much fat. If your cat has diarrhea but seems fine, it might be that the additive is making your cat sick. Warming the food is, therefore, a much safer option, but the choice is yours.
2. Move the Food Bowls
Where do you feed your cat at the moment? Although you might not realize it, the location of your cat’s food bowls can have a big impact on how readily they eat. Some examples are as follows:
- If the food bowls are on an elevated surface, your cat might not be able to reach them easily. This is particularly an issue with senior cats who tend to have reduced mobility.
- If the food bowls are near the litter tray, this can deter a cat from eating. Some cats don’t like their food being placed directly next to their water bowls either.
- Feeling anxious and stressed around mealtimes can put cats off their food. If the bowls are near high-traffic areas or a loud appliance it can put them off their food.
- If you have more than one cat, there could be competition around mealtimes. Senior cats are often lower down the social hierarchy and get bullied out the way.
Think about where you currently feed your cat. Do any of the above apply? Or is there anything else nearby that could be deterring your elderly cat from eating? Try and put the bowl in an area that is: easy for your senior cat to reach; separate from other pets, the litter tray, and water bowls; quiet and low-traffic.
3. Encourage Exercise & Play
I also recommend encouraging your cat to exercise. This might sound counterintuitive – surely more active cats will burn more through more calories and lose more weight? In reality, encouraging your senior cat to remain active helps them maintain muscle mass. With enough protein, you might even be able to help your senior kitty build more muscle back up again.
When you increase muscle mass, you also boost metabolism. The better your cat’s metabolism, the easier it can digest food. This means their appetite will increase. Plus, they can effectively extract all the nutrients from every single mouthful.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Now you should know what to feed your old cat that is losing weight! With these tips, your cat should gradually gain weight in a healthy and natural process.
Stick with calorie-dense senior cat food for weight gain which is high in protein. You can also use treats and supplements to deliver more calories each day. Remember to feed small yet frequent portions as well so your cat can digest it more easily, and stick with wet cat food where possible.
Before you make any diet changes though, make sure you speak to your vet. You need to rule out underlying medical conditions as a cause of weight loss. Be particularly cautious about diet changes if you have a cat with kidney issues as well. Your vet knows best, so don’t be shy to ask for help.
Janice Olson says
My 14 year old neutered male cat is losing weight, has gotten picky about food, eats little and hides. Seems normal otherwise, vet says he looks healthy but there is certainly a concern for his well being. Blood work and X-rays have found nothing. He eats Temptation chicken treats and soft push up treats for seniors. Ate Recovery for a while, not now. Where do I go from here? Vet has no solution or any further suggestions or advice.
JEANNE ILLENYE says
My 15 yr. old female cat has lost weight & is soooo finicky. We feed her only wet foods, all brands, all flavors. What she loves today she will not tomorrow. I also give her our food such as beef or chicken, plain, cut super tiny which she loves as well as sardines. Keep trying new cat food brands. We get tons of those tiny double peel back packs in numerous flavors. We put fresh food out all day and leave new food out at night. She does finally eat but a little at a time & goes back to it often if she likes it. We also put several bowls of asst foods out at once & she seems to like that variety, going back & forth which seems stimulating. The little packs are expensive but we put leftovers outside for our feral cats & wildlife.
JEANNE ILLENYE says
I should have said COOKED beef & chicken. We tried the raw food approach for one of my boys and that was not a good result. Sardines for people we also give her from the can, chopped. Also tuna water. I won’t give any other fish…unless cat food. When she has soft stool I added cooked WHITE rice chopped tiny & mixed in her food. She wasn’t thrilled so maybe it was too much, but it fixed her stool issues.
My 18yr old female cat is eating lots but seems to just lick the gravy off her wet food. She has lost weight and needs to be shaved as her hair is very matted. Is the anything else I can try?