Have you got a skinny cat that just can’t seem to gain weight? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! In this article we’ll talk a little bit about skinny cats, some of the causes of weight loss, and how to help your cat gain weight.
Is your cat underweight?
The first step for getting your cat to gain weight is recognising that they’re underweight. This might seem obvious, but lots of people with healthy cats of an ideal weight feel that their pet is too skinny, so it’s important to know how to properly evaluate your cat’s weight rather than risk them becoming obese.
A cat is considered to be underweight if their ribs are visible through their coat.
Similarly, if the spine or hip bones are easily visible, they may need to gain a little weight. If you aren’t sure whether your cat needs to put some weight on, it’s a good idea to pop them into the veterinarian for a quick check-up.
Is there anything else wrong?
There are lots of reasons why cats lose weight or are unable to gain it. The four most common reasons for cats to lose weight are diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney failure and cancer, and none of these is going to respond to feeding more food.
If your cat has experienced recent weight loss, it’s a good idea to go to the vet for an examination and some blood tests to rule out these diseases before attempting to get your cat to gain weight.
This is especially true if they’ve shown other signs such as drinking more, using the litter tray more, behavioural changes, vomiting or soft stools, as these are all signs of something more serious occurring.
If your cat hasn’t recently lost weight, but has never been able to gain it, it’s also worth a visit to the vet. Cats can be born with conditions that cause them to be less able to digest food, resulting in poor weight gain.
Your vet will likely have to do some blood tests to rule out these diseases.
How to get a kitten to gain weight (pre-weaning)
Very young kittens may struggle to gain weight for a number of reasons.
Firstly, a quick check of the roof of their mouth to ensure they’re not suffering with a cleft palate is sensible – your vet can do this for you if you aren’t sure. If all looks ok, check that they’re receiving enough milk. This means double-checking your quantities if you’re hand-rearing, or possibly supplementing mum’s milk with a bottle.
Ensure you’re using a good-quality paediatric cat milk and you aren’t watering it down too much, as this fills them with water rather than calorific milk. You should mix it exactly to the recommendations on the label.
How to get a weaned kitten to gain weight
Once your kitten has reached weaning age, they may slow down their weight gain.
Whilst it is normal for them not to grow as quickly as they did at first, you certainly don’t want them to be struggling for nutrition to grow and put on the muscle they need to be healthy.
Ensuring your kitten is on a high-quality kitten food is important (you can see our list here), and you may need to supplement their diet with a little milk for the first week or two to ensure they’re getting everything they need. Don’t forget to worm them regularly as they grow – worms are a common cause of ill thrift.
Once cats reach about six months of age their body growth slows hugely, and excess calories at this point can cause them to put on a lot of damaging internal fat, so don’t forget to reduce their food slightly as they reach this age to stop them from going too far.
Keeping touch with your veterinary practice with regular visits is a great way to ensure your kitten is gaining weight safely and appropriately.
How to get an adult cat to gain weight
The vast majority of adult cats don’t need to gain weight – in fact, more than 50% are obese and actually need to lose it. However, there are situations when adult cats need to gain weight.
Cats that used to be stray, have gone missing for a long time, have been recently rescued, or are in recovery from a serious disease may all need to gain a little weight. For many of these cats, feeding a high-quality food is enough, but some may need a little more help.
Firstly, worm your cat to ensure that no little parasites are going to be chowing down on anything you feed your cat. Next, find a food your cat enjoys – dry, wet, or both, and feed it freely. This usually means having dry food down all the time, and feeding wet in several small meals throughout the day.
If your cat appears to be ‘bored’ by their food bowl, consider whether allowing them to ‘hunt’ the food using treat balls or even throwing treats for them would spark their interest. You can also try heating the food up to entice them in with the smell – just make sure it’s not hot enough to burn!
If your cat is still not gaining weight, try adding in a small amount of kitten food. This food is higher in calories and has a lot of protein. It shouldn’t be fed to adults long-term though, and you shouldn’t feed it to cats with kidney problems – which is one of the reasons it’s so important to check there’s not a medical reason your cat is underweight first.
Don’t forget that you don’t want your cat to put on fat – a healthy muscle gain is more important. This means not stopping exercise or removing climbing frames etc for your cat, otherwise they’ll get fat, not healthy!
However, a cat that spends a lot of time outside and that needs to gain weight could be restricted indoors for a couple of weeks to ensure they aren’t over-exercising.
Getting a senior cat to gain weight
It’s quite normal for older cats to lose a little condition and muscle mass as they get less active, so giving them the extra nutrition they need to keep everything ticking over is essential. But getting a senior or geriatric cat to gain weight is much more difficult than with other life stages.
They’re much more likely to have a condition stopping the weight gain, for one – so it makes it essential that you get that check-up done to make sure there’s nothing medical stopping them from gaining weight.
They’ve also got very specific needs and feeding them a bit of kitten food as a top up could be very damaging. Some brands of cat food make senior cat food, and others go even more specific – they have several different senior foods depending on whether they’re a healthy weight or not.
One example would be Royal Canin’s Senior Consult Stage 2, which is specifically designed to meet the needs of cats showing obvious signs of ageing. They also do a high calorie version, which contains extra calories whilst remaining gentle on the kidneys.
If your senior cat has had a full check up and bloodwork at the vets and has been signed off as healthy, a senior diet like these could be what they need to help them to maintain their healthy weight.
Whether your cat is very old or very young, keeping them at an ideal weight is important.
Remember that the vast majority of cats are overweight, not underweight, so if you’re not 100% sure your cat needs to gain weight it’s a good idea to check with your vet first. It’s also a good idea to check your cat isn’t showing any signs of illness that could be causing weight loss or lack of weight gain, as some diseases such as hyperthyroidism won’t respond to extra food and will only get worse if not treated.
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