Weight loss can be a significant health problem for cats who are aged 15+. It’s not uncommon for a feline in their twilight years to start losing weight and muscle mass, particularly in the hindquarters of their legs. Older cats that struggle to maintain an optimal weight must be monitored closely.
Encouraging an older cat to gain weight may initially feel a little strange. You’re used to controlling how much food a pet eats, but it’s usually about consuming fewer calories each day. Senior cats need to stay healthy, and guide will help you manage your cat’s diet accordingly.
Why Will My Older Cat Not Eat?
Older cats can sometimes start shedding weight suddenly, and for seemingly inexplicable reasons. If you’ve noticed that your pet is thinner than usual, you’ll have to take action. Check whether they are still eating food and drinking water. Older cats can lose their appetite for many reasons.
Some of these explanations include:
- Stress and anxiety. Appetite can be the first thing to suffer if a cat is stressed. Ensure that your pet is comfortable, and follows a familiar and comforting routine.
- Oral pain or discomfort. Their teeth are not as strong anymore. You may find that your cat’s food hurts them to eat it. Alternatively, they may be living with tooth or gum disease.
- Large meals are becoming overwhelming. You may find that their appetite reduces. The idea of eating a large bowl of food in one sitting becomes intimidating.
- Other cats are behaving territorially. If you have several cats, they may fight over territory and food. An older cat may lack the energy or inclination to do battle every mealtime. If you find that your cat avoids eating with other felines, separate their feeding bowls.
- No sense of smell. As cats age, their sense of smell starts to fade. This can be a problem for senior felines, as cats rely heavily on scent to negotiate the world.
- The food is not fresh. Older cats can get picky about their food. If you provide them with wet cat food, ensure that it’s fresh. However, don’t serve food straight from the fridge. Your cat will not be able to smell cold food, and it will taste unappealing. Serve at room temperature, warming for a few seconds in the microwave if necessary.
- Too much stimulation. As we have just mentioned, senior cats can tend to get fussy, Move its bowl to a quieter place, where they can eat in peace. If there is too much noise or general excitement around them, a cat may not eat.
Eating sensibly and regularly is crucial to older cats. Felines are considered senior from the age of 7. Help your cat to eat right, however, and you can still share many happy years together.
How to Fatten Up an Old Cat That Refuses to Eat
Some older cats lose weight because they lose their appetite. If you’re attempting to encourage your cat to start eating again, try some of these techniques:
- Feed them little and often. Older cats can be intimidated by large bowls of food. Try breaking down their allowance into multiple, smaller servings.
- Ensure that the food is fresh and appealing. The more meat the meal contains, the better. It will smell and taste appealing, and the protein will do your cat plenty of good.
- Switch your cat from dry food to a wet alternative. This will be particularly appealing if your cat is struggling to crunch hard food. Just ensure that it’s a senior-specific meal.
- Add something that smells strong and will tempt your cat. If your pet is fish-focused, a spoonful of tuna will help.
- Elevate your cat’s bowl if they seem to be struggling to reach it. As cats grow older, they are less mobile. It may be awkward or painful for your pet to reach their food.
- Offer your cat treats every now and again to encourage them to eat. Be sparing and careful here, though. Some treats are loaded with sugar, which could harm an older feline.
Of course, an animal losing their appetite entirely is rarely a good thing. If the behavior continues, you should seek the advice of a vet. There may be a medical explanation for your cat’s reluctance to eat.
My Senior Cat is Eating Normally, But Still Losing Weight
If your pet appears to have a normal appetite, there must be a medical explanation. DVM360 stated that some ailments that can cause older cats to drop weight suddenly include:
- Internal parasites. If your cat has an infestation of worms, they will consistently shed weight. Ensure that all preventative treatments are up to date.
- Feline dementia. Senior cats can start to suffer from cognitive dysfunction. One of the symptoms of this condition is a loss of appetite.
- IBS. Cats can experience gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease. This will prevent them from digesting their food properly. If your cat is also vomiting and struggling with diarrhea, see a vet.
- Arthritis and other forms of lameness. If your cat is growing increasingly immobile, the stress on their joints may cause weight loss.
- Hyperthyroidism. Dramatic weight loss is a common sight in cats living with an overactive thyroid. If your cat has hyperthyroid, see a vet before they experience heart problems.
- Liver disease. If your cat’s liver is under threat, they will drop weight at a rate of knots.
- Diabetes. A cat with feline diabetes will always be thirsty and hungry, but lose weight. If your pet is eating and drinking more but dropping pounds, have a vet check them out.
- Cancer. Weight loss is a common warning sign of cancerous tumors. If you are concerned about this, an X-ray from a vet will reveal the truth.
It’s never good when an older cat inexplicably and unexpectedly drops weight. If this happens to your pet, and they can’t regain the lost pounds, seek professional help. Time may be of the essence.
How to Get a Cat to Gain Weight
Cats may need to gain weight for many reasons. If you have adopted a stray, they may be dangerously underweight having spent years scavenging. If your cat has recently been ill, they may have lost weight in the process. And if your cat is in their twilight years, they could be unwell.
It may be that your underweight cat needs to pack on a few pounds. If you are sure that your pet is not sick, you can vary their diet. It’s possible that your cat is no longer consuming as much protein since they stopped hunting. In this instance, increase the meat content in their meals.
Your cat will gleefully accept this lieu of the empty calories found in carbohydrates. The latter is hard for a cat to digest anyway, and should be avoided.
If your cat is otherwise healthy, they should require little encouragement to eat more than usual. If your cat is steadily gaining weight when you up their calorie intake, carry on as you were. Naturally, however, you will need to understand when to stop! An overweight cat can be in just as much danger as an underweight feline.
High-Calorie Cat Foods for Weight Gain
The science behind weight gain is theoretically simple. If your cat consumes more calories than they burn off, they will put on weight.
If this is your intention, and your cat is capable of eating hard food, use a dry diet for a while. These foods are more calorific than wet meals. Pick something organic and natural, though. Cheaper dry food brands tend to be bulked out by plant products. This will not help your cat to gain any weight.
If your cat is adamant that they’ll only eat wet food, consider a supplement. Most reputable pet stores will stock high-calorie gels and treats. If you prefer a more natural approach, offer your cat some eggs or tinned tuna. Go easy on the canned fish, though. Most brands will contain mercury. And remember that certain human foods are toxic to cats.
Whatever decision you make, pick the highest quality food that you can. A balanced diet is essential to cats, regardless of their weight. If they are not getting sufficient nutrients from their food, cats will suffer other health problems.
How Much Should a Senior Cat Weigh?
This will depend on the breed and gender of the cat. Male felines tend to be heavier than females, and different breeds have different optimum weights.
Pet Obesity Prevention has a loose guide to how much you may expect your cat to weigh:
- Siamese cats are usually very light. This means they could weight between 5 and 10 lbs.
- Persian cats are slightly larger, but still smaller than most domestic breeds. Expect these felines to weigh in between 7 and 12 lbs. and remain healthy.
- The average domestic housecat should be somewhere between 8 and 10 lbs. If an average cat is any heavier than this, it may be time for a diet. If they’re any thinner, they could be in just as much danger.
- Large breeds, such as the Maine Coon, are much heavier by their nature. They could be as light as 10 lbs., or one of these felines could tip the scales at 25 lbs. This sounds like a lot, but this breed can still be healthy at such a weight.
For a more scientific assessment of your cat’s weight, check out PetMD’s healthy weight calculator. Entering your cat’s breed, age and weight will give you an indication as to their health.
As a general rule, use the following rules:
- If your cat’s ribs, spine or other bones are visible, they are underweight. Even if they’re not immediately clear to the eye, easily feeling these bones is a worry.
- On the other hand, you should not have to work hard to feel these bones. If your cat’s skeleton appears shielded by layers of fat, and their belly sags, they may be overweight.
- The sweet spot is being able to feel your cat’s ribs and spine without being able to see them. Naturally, they also shouldn’t have too much of a belly.
How Much Should a Senior Cat Eat?
Feeding your senior cat an appropriate quantity of food can be a balancing act. As cats grow older, they exercise a little less. This means that, on paper, their calorie content should be reduced.
That may not be the case, however – especially if your pet struggles to maintain its appetite. Your cat could drop weight at an alarming rate, which is just as concerning.
In many respects, how much senior cats eat is less important than what they feast upon. Feed your pet a food appropriate for their age. As cats start to grow older, their bodies require more assistance from vitamins in their food.
What Makes Senior Cat Food Different?
Many things may prevent an older cat from enjoying their food. Senior cat food is designed to counter this. Some of the perks of using specialist senior cat food include:
- Stronger Smell. A cat’s sense of smell starts to fade. Senior cat food will have higher meat content, which will smell stronger and thus more appealing.
- Softer Texture. They may lose teeth. Even if this is not the case, they could experience dental pain. Senior cat food tends to come packaged in smaller, softer chunks, making it easier to eat.
- Lower Calories. Senior pet food will contain fewer calories to counter your pet’s more sedentary lifestyle. This may seem counter-productive if you want your cat to gain weight. The good news is that senior food contains more protein. This is a healthy way to gain energy.
- Vitamin E. Among the essential vitamins packed into senior cat food is Vitamin E. This will help your cat stay healthy by boosting their immune system.
When you’re ready to move your cat onto a senior diet, consult a vet. Make the change slowly and steadily, so as not to upset your pet’s digestion. In the longer term, however, your pet will be grateful for the switch. In theory, senior cat food will help them maintain a healthy weight.
How to Make a Cat Gain Muscle
Sometimes it’s not just weight that you need to help your cat gain. A loss of muscle definition, following a period of illness, for example, can be dangerous.
If your older cat loses muscle mass, its mobility will be significantly impacted. This could cause your cat to become anxious, which sets you back to square one.
You don’t necessarily need to use food or supplements to improve your cat’s muscle mass. Simply massaging their legs will stimulate their circulation. This, in turn, will keep your cat supple. Providing stimulation, such as cat trees to climb, scratch and hide within, should also prove irresistible.
If you do decide to introduce an external element, consider lysine supplements. Most pet stores will stock this product, and it’s a favorite of many vets.
You could also consider whey protein, which is popular with bodybuilders looking to build their muscle. You’ll need to find a lactose-free brand, as most cats cannot process dairy.
What to Do if a Senior Cat Can’t Keep Food Down
If your older cat cannot seem to digest their food, there could be a handful of explanations. If it has been an ongoing concern, you should already have an idea of what is causing the problem.
Vomiting foam is concerning. This suggests a problem with your cat’s liver. The foam will be bile they are expunging from their body. It appears in the form of foam as your cat has an empty stomach.
If this inability to keep food down has developed suddenly, it could be a result of:
- Medical side effects. If your cat has seen a vet for any reason, medication may impact on their body. If they recently had surgery, their body may be in shock.
- Allergies. Your cat does not need to have been born with an allergy. Sometimes, they emerge later in life. It’s entirely possible that your cat has developed sensitivity to their food ingredients.
- Toxins in the body. If your cat has failing senses of sight and smell, they may accidentally eat something toxic. This will have to be purged, one way or another.
- Gastrointestinal difficulties. If your cat has any problems with their digestion, they will struggle to keep food down. Older cats often experience problems with their intestines. Your pet may need an X-ray.
Vomiting, regurgitation, and diarrhea should never be taken lightly in a feline. Any of these symptoms can explain weight loss, as your pet will not be processing calories. In addition to this, these issues can cause further health complications.
Very occasional incidents, with your cat acting fine afterward, are usually nothing to worry about. Just keep an eye on your pet. If it happens more than once in 24 hours, however, seek professional help. Something is amiss, and your cat may be in trouble.
Thankfully, most felines are happily food-focused. You may also find that cats eat more food during the winter. This means they should not require much encouragement to be fattened up. If your cat stubbornly refuses to gain weight, however, see a vet. There must be an explanation for this, and only an expert will be able to find it.